The Niagara Straw:
159 posts • joined 19 Aug 2010
The Niagara Straw:
Apologies to those who've seen me post this link before - Lloyd's of London have done some modelling on the likely impact of a Carrington Event - you can find the pdf to download here: https://www.lloyds.com/~/media/lloyds/reports/emerging%20risk%20reports/solar%20storm%20risk%20to%20the%20north%20american%20electric%20grid.pdf
Up voted for use of the term "nut job" to describe squirrels
ISTR hearing* of an individual who registered with several different agencies on learning his role was potentially up for grabs. Meanwhile, perused Sits Vac for an alternative option.
Ultimately, found himself applying for what appeared (from advert) to be his dream role. His disappointment on discovering that it was actually the job he already held, but viewed through the rose tinted lenses of a recruitment droid, was tempered only by the discovery that meanwhile his boss had selected his own (anonymised and "edited" by the recruitment agency) CV for interview at 1.5 times his current salary to replace himself in his own job.
So now I need to damp the speaker cones down with blutac as well as having masking tape across the camera?
HMRC's MTD would shift everyone onto digital, and save HMRC some of our money - they reckon £945m a year of tax would be properly classified, and an unknown amount saved in their own systems (although they've been offered £1.3bn to make it work in the first place which'll need to be recouped; any guesses on how far that £1.3bn will go over budget and eat further into the "profits"?)
But the FSB reckon it'll cost their members and average of £2,770pa to implement - across the 5m or so small/medium businesses in the UK, that's a cost of about £13-14bn pa, and it'll cost big business even more to change their systems to meet HMRC's specifications as well as their own commercial requirements.
And that's before we start on infrastructure readiness, digital assist/digital exclusion stats and the costs from errors. To err is human, but to truly foul things up takes a computer - a good accountant can normally fix a shoebox full of receipts and an exercise book full of double(ish) entry and sums. But stick all that lot into a computer and it can be utterly unresolvable; Excel is bad enough, but on proprietary integrated accounts packages it's simply impossible.
Society's meant to be about a joint effort between citizen & state; changing stuff just for one party's benefit is the wrong way to go about it.
For navigating on maps, I use a device called a romer - you can buy them ready made, but using a graphics programme & suitably accurate printer I've made my own, printed on acetate sheets, with various tweaks - the most important of which is a single vertical arrow with a patch of red colour to the left, green to the right. Placed on the map with the arrow facing in the direction of travel, the colour of the patch tells you whether to shout "left" or "right" (yes, turning the romer over is theoretically possible, but there's a fair bit of text on it so you'd normally notice). It works whether you are moving up, down or across the map; being comfy with red/green it works for me, but you could do your own with the words "left" and "right".
(Prompt for that particular addition to the romer was "once bitten, twice shy". I don't normally struggle with L/R issues, but as you emerge from the forests onto a main road at 3am in the middle of Wales it can happen. And did; took us 40 minutes to realise as I just assumed the mismatch between what was expected from the map & what was on roadsigns was down to them being in Welsh. I know that doesn't make any sense *now* but after 17hours non-stop rally driving it did; we actually made up a fair bit of the time after realising & doing the U-turn and were only 45 minutes late into the 2 hour breakfast [nap] halt, but losing 45 minutes of precious rest time was a hard learned lesson...)
The other thing I've learnt from years of navigating is the word "right" is reserved for directional instructions; agreement or confirmation is always indicated with the words "that's correct". Otherwise you get the inevitable "Do I go left at this crossroads?" "Yes, that's right" confusion. Amusing to watch when it afflicts the car in front of you; less fun to be involved in.
I read "bars" as a verb in the headline so this wasn't quite the story I was expecting
Lloyds of London looked at some of the possible impacts of a serious outage in the US a couple of years back - predicated on a Carrington event rather than "local" storms, but some of the findings are potentially worrying. You can get hold of the whole paper via https://www.lloyds.com/~/media/lloyds/reports/emerging%20risk%20reports/solar%20storm%20risk%20to%20the%20north%20american%20electric%20grid.pdf
Can't believe there've been >50 comments before anyone offers the obligatory beer for finding some Be Bop Deluxe to brighten the day
But @Buzzword, where do you think Parliament gets its ideas from?
(Hint: Margaret Hodge let rip in one of her PAC hearings on what a stupid idea REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are, and how no-one in their right mind would have put them into law. Cue "helpful" researchers checking Hansard and confirming that REITs were a single item amendment to the Finance Bill, for which Hodge M had duly voted in favour. In fairness, she was a Cabinet Minister at the time, and voting against a government amendment to Finance Bills is unheard of, *even if she'd had a clue what she was voting on*.
MPs aren't tax experts, and have to rely on Civil Servants for a lot of the ideas and all of the implementation)
"The source of may problems has been the absence of a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work" National Audit Office, Universal Credit: Early progress,HC 621, 2013, p. 33
So now that lesson has been learned there won't be any similar problems with HMRC's MTD initiative then. Which is bigger, more complicated, covers more systems and has an even more compressed timeframe.
(For those of you not aware, there's a summary of some of the impacts of MTD at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/making-tax-digital-for-business-an-overview-for-small-businesses-the-self-employed-and-smaller-landlords - basically, HMRC want you to keep your business records in their prescribed format on software you'll have to buy from their approved suppliers, and send them details 5 times a year; basic info if you just want to keep them off your back [but you won't get any benefit from it] or detailed info if you want them to estimate your final tax liability so you can budget for it)
If you're worried about having to use engager's kit, Hall v Lorimer (1993 Ct App IIRC) is your friend - as the vision mixer on Have I Got News For You, he was able to successfully rebut* HMRC's argument that using the BBC's 8' wide mixing desk was an indicator that he was an employee. Apparently, in The World According To HMRC(TM) any self respecting self-employed vision mixer owned their own £250k mixing desk and hawked it around the country, from show to show. Thankfully, the Court of Appeal had a slightly closer grasp on reality than HMIT Hall, and we now have a persuasive precedent that actually accords with the world as experienced by normal people. [for anyone who wants to know just _how_ close a grip the senior judiciary keep on reality, the excellent Steve bell cartoon at http://www.belltoons.co.uk/bellworks/index.php/if/1985/1082-0-0-85JUDGESPAYCLAIM should help. nb it's 30 years old now, so the inflation rates are a bit crock)
*I think I've got the right word there, but if it should be refute I apologise. It's late... *checks watch* ... early and I've had a long day. And a glass or two of wine. Sorry; it's the weekend.
There are three bits of case law which say the same thing. They're quoted here https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/396179/gaar-part-abc.pdf in the guidance on the implementation of the General Anti-Abuse Rule which Graeme Aaronson QC developed for the government, specifically to displace that case law precedent. He's gone so far as to openly declare that in public lectures. Subsequent statute trumps case law I'm afraid, even House of Lords.
If you attempt to rely on "the Westminster principle" in front of a UK tax tribunal these days they'll ignore it. (There are some jurisdictions which still operate on that basis, but it's a diminishing proportion. Civil Law codes have never really gone for it at all, generally incorporating some abus de droit principle. Which is why UK VAT avoidance disputes, relying on the European civil code background of VAT, always played to a different set of rules to direct tax avoidance)
It's not just IT - see my post below - but the second leg of the test (is there an intermediary, ie company/partnership which you, broadly, control) is where eg accountants tend to get out of the scope. Either that, or the individuals doing the work under consultancy contracts are employees, so there's no tax to find. There are documented cases where IR35 was potentially in point for non-IT contractors; see eg http://www.taxjournal.com/tj/articles/student-loans-chief-advised-account-tax-under-ir35-40091
By shifting the burden of IR35 compliance up the chain, they'll create an environment where the non-application of the anti-avoidance rule has to be documented up front by either the agency or the public sector body. And that'll have to be done for every contract where there might be disguised employment in HMRC's eyes - not just the hiring of specific individuals for specific roles, but also the more generic stuff like typing, gardening, plumbing etc. where it could be done by an employee (but isn't).
And contrary to popular belief (and HMRC's proposals) it doesn't have to be via a company; the law allows for an IR35 charge to hit partnerships or even individuals who subcontract their work. ( http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/1/part/2/chapter/8 specifically s51, 52, 53. nb changes to s49 re office holders via "view outstanding changes"). And this rule will apply to every GP surgery, every parish council, every police force and every other public body in the country. That's 9,637 parish councils who need to document the IR35 position for their website manager, maintenance contracts, typists and (joy of joys) auditor. (Auditor's a funny one; they're "officers" so de facto caught by IR35 *unless* they can demonstrate there's no "intermediary" within the statutory definition).
The argument about social contribution vs tax paid vs benefits supplied by the state is a valid one, but this is a particularly wasteful way to go about policing it, without in any way addressing the underlying issues.
Or at least, set up your legislation and leave it alone for a bit while the IT estate catches up. Unless of course you're looking at a situation where you may have <2 years from a given future date to completely rewrite the basis of one of your most important taxes (£119bn pa at last count) and there's a policy incentive to do away with the existing return regime in favour of real time reporting.
Doctor Syntax is right that there are deliberate attacks against physical property, just like virtual assets - but I think the risk with cyber insurance is that (for the time being) we can't tell if someone's about to invent the equivalent of skeleton keys for every physical lock in the country, or a pocket sized laser type device powerful enough to cause ignition of any combustible building material up to and including steel RSJs at a range of up to 3km but which retails for £5.99. Until the underwriters are happy that it's not a risk they need to worry about, setting premiums will remain rather more risky than they're comfortable with.
I now have a lovely mental image of him trying to cycle up hill with 4 bodyguards hanging off the corner mounted footplates of his bicycle (a la Presidential Lincoln)
AC above is not quite right - there are occasions when you *must* file on paper; you can find the list here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/516189/2016-exc-indi.pdf
If you can get yourself into one of these, then you can, nay must, file on paper. Admittedly, they're not all necessarily practicable, or indeed necessarily attractive options - MPs are among the groups who file on paper (although interestingly it's nothing to do with shortcomings in HMRC's calculation software, but due to "security reasons". Not sure why they're mandating online for the rest of us when it's too dangerous for them to even attempt it).
My thought was more "how?" As I understand it, a significant proportion of claimants are still being processed manually because the IT can't do the job yet at all. Not sure quite how it could get worse...
I just get the luminous solar system set up on my daughter's bedroom ceiling ("Pack contains 8 planets and a Pluto" before you ask), all orbits proportionately scaled (sort of; the planets themselves are too similar in size - and an orbit accurately scaled to the size of the Earth model would have required a 5 mile wide bedroom) and now this.
I suppose we'll just have to blutack a bouncy ball to the bathroom ceiling or something.
You only need one type of tax if you are prepared to be awkward enough about it
And although the consumer may not notice VAT, businesses do. There is probably not a pet shop in the land which correctly accounts for the VAT on every item they sell, since feed etc for working animals is zero rated while for pets, goods are standard rated.
As for yanks dribbling at the simplicity of PAYE *for the employee* - well, yes. If it's done properly. (Google NPS and Dave Hartnett, or ESC A19 for examples of when they didn't). But it is still a right royal PITA for businesses. (Google RTI Accountingweb )
And we have tax elections driven by the phase of the moon, not to mention the joy of devolution. And we're the only country in the world to run their tax year non-coterminous with a calendar month. The idea of accounting for VAT (monthly/quarterly annual), CIS (ditto), PAYE (Ditto plus every time you run payroll... which is daily for pension providers) CT (annual) NICs (weekly) and SMP/SSP offset (take your pick) in one place.... Yep, this is all arse about face.
1) The "research" they rely on is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/understanding-the-impact-of-reporting-cycles The subjects interviewed were too few, and the wrong balance - but more fundamental was the aim of the research; they were asking "what should HMRC say if it wants to sell this stuff to the SME population?", not "will this stuff work for SME/micro population?"
2) Cash is naughty - see the Autumn Statement consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/cash-tax-evasion-and-the-hidden-economy-call-for-evidence Which is why they're trying to outlaw it, and why build systems for a dying concept?
3) Tax, like the world, has always run on an annual cycle. Either they need to change us to a non-annual basis [a suggestion which would have Sir Humphrey reaching for a large pitcher of sherry and opening the thesaurus at "foolhardy"] or acknowledge that the first 3 (or 4) returns will always be estimates and there'll be an additional reckoning up at the year end. Which is not actually a simplification or reduction.
Bottom line? All they want to do is accelerate tax so it's paid closer to transactions; it's about cashflow acceleration, and they're going to do it to us under any guise they can. But the sentence that chills me to the heart is the one from the 4th pillar, "Tax in one place" from the Digital Roadmap, "To deliver these changes, HMRC needs to reconfigure its internal systems significantly" I hope that I don't need here to list out the reasons why that's terrifying...
They've misinterpreted "digital", and have come up with a proposal which embodies sticking two fingers up at the taxpaying population.
I know it's not quite what they mean, but I do like the way half the SU pumps are described as "pointless" in the Holden catalogue...
Velv is spot on. Irrecoverable VAT is the biggest tax that FS businesses suffer - way more than CT, NI etc. And it's thanks to the UK's contractor population that we have such an enormous FS sector - London is not just the biggest capital market in Europe, it's actually bigger than the whole of the rest of Europe put together.
Interestingly, there's an article on the FT discussing much the same point about tech prediction (behind the paywall at http://on.ft.com/1MQx9U4 ) - other commentards here may remember one of the sources they discuss, "Future Stuff" by Malcolm Abrams, in which a non-technical author successfully predicted a range of outcomes (if not the underlying research) which "experts" regularly missed in favour of eg telling us the Segway would change the world.
Yes, but I think that was originally aimed at the body panels... John Wyer, team manager at Aston Martin in the 50s and 60s, subsequently confirmed that management regarded the body work as "consumables" - although they'd never actually shared that particular element of management strategy with the drivers. And indeed they're still disposable today... http://www.bathchronicle.co.uk/Huge-drama-dominates-Castle-Combe-Circuit-s/story-27940805-detail/story.html
@Steve Davies 3 - all of the above, plus you can actually wander into the paddock and talk to the crews and drivers, even sit in the cars at some events. The vintage guys do it for love, not money, and will (mostly) happily talk to an interested spectator; not something you'll be able to do at an F1 race.
The main problem they had to start with was that none of their springs were stiff enough. The drivers sat in the pits, blipping the throttle, and the car flexed up and down as the fan kicked in. On the track, they just drove round the other cars in the corners.
In practical terms it was a bit of a dead-end, since there's no off-track application for it, and taken to its extremes on track you'd have ended up with cars pulling more Gs in the corners & braking than the drivers could have coped with. But a marvellously inventive way to get round the fact that everyone else was running a V-configured engine & could do "passive" ground effect with venturis; simply not something we get to see under modern regs. (along with 6 wheelers and the like...)
Not sure if they can't run at all - but given the cost of repair if it went catastrophically wrong, would they want to?
In a similar vein, I know that there's a whole generation of Group C Le Mans racers that are unlikely ever to turn a wheel again as they run the earliest iterations of engine management software. When the teams broke up/were sold off, the cars went in a different direction to the computer kit and no-one had the tools to get them running/remapped. A far cry from the rebuild of the BRM V16; someone went & copied the numbers off the wall of the shed where they'd been scribbled during development work before the shed got knocked down...
Having dabbled in Linux of various flavours over the years, but stuck with Win XP then 7 as default out of comfort/inertia/ease of integration with work (which is not in the IT field, I'm just an interested amateur), I've now had it with MS after weeks of trying to keep this "upgrade" at bay.
There's a couple of old programmes I use and like which may not run well in Linux, so I'll need to figure out running Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs in a VM, but otherwise I know MS offers me nothing I need that I can't get for free in LinuxLand.
In the long run I'd rather spend hours of my free time learning useful skills on an OS I know I'll be hanging on to than spend hours trying to keep an OS I don't want away from my PCs. They're not to my mind particularly old machines, and do everything I want them to, but they won't benefit at all from any of the features Win10 offers on the hardware front, and if I have to have the hassle of learning new ways to do stuff on the software front I'd rather do it with a setup that will make my PC run faster rather than slower.
Don't they use pigeons for that?
(Sorry about the icon; closest I could get)
That's one day of the children's half term taken care of.
IIRC, a pint can actually steady the hand - in the fogs of memory, images of the snooker player Bill Werbenuik (hope I've spelled that correctly) come to mind; he used to down several pints a session as the alternative Beta Blockers were a banned substance under tournament rules. I may have remembered that wrong, but still, it's a good excuse...
I never quite understood the logic of deliberately burning more fuel at a specific level of dirtiness just so that a provenly inefficient and expensive piece of additional kit could then strip out the pollutants, rather than getting down to that level of pollution by just, er, burning less fuel in the first place, and making less pollution that way.
Icon because what else do you use in a discussion about explosions?
It used to be the case (under the 18something-or-other Bills of Exchange Act) that acceptance by a bank of a clearly deficient document would 'rectify' the document - by honouring something which they should have realised should not be honoured, they made themselves liable for that error.
Or in other words, a personal cheque for John Smith signed (legibly) Mickey Mouse or equivalent, if honoured, then became binding on the bank that honoured it, regardless of whether there were funds available on the original personal account - even if the cheque were otherwise clearly deficient, eg for £1m on an overdrawn current account. The principle was based on something to do with international letters of credit, but at the time was still also applicable to personal cheques.
Can't remember all the details, or whether it's still effective, as it was a long, long time ago that I did a Masters in International Commercial Law, but I do remember discussing in detail with an ex whose friend had written her a £1m cheque signed Winston Churchill...
I spent 3 months on the 10th floor of 1 Canada Square (*the* Canary Wharf tower, for those of us old enough to remember it in Long Good Friday era and immediately afterwards). The whole floor was being used as teaching/lecture space, so only had about 2 PCs on it. Unfortunately, the building and associated systems had been built on the basis that every desk would have a PC & CRT monitor pumping out heat - so there was an overabundance of cooling, and no heating at all. As a result, we were sat there in an August heatwave, clustered around 3 hastily purchased fan heaters, because every floor on the building was cooling for all it was worth and the "natural" temperature had settled at about 10 degrees celsius.
Around that time, there were constant grumbles from the management company, because all the excess heat was vented out the roof resulting in plumes of what one local resident thought was smoke. So every other morning, he rang the fire brigade & triggered a callout, which by this point were costing the owners about £20k a pop.
If selling garments trimmed with goat skin, you need to be able to distinguish your Tibetan goat from your Nepalese one. Seriously. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/vclothingmanual/VCLOTHING3100.htm (When I shared this with a bunch of tax professionals on Twitter, several thought it was a spoof. It's not)
SME Tax Gap is estimated (Guestimated?) at £6bn per year. That's almost entirely made up of small numbers, which HMRC can't ignore just because each one is small - they really do all add up. .
And not every big business is on the fiddle. One of my most used anecdotes from when I was in practice as a tax adviser was the UK inbound group who had a s343 transfer of capital allowances claim denied. We felt it was a good claim, and advised responding accordingly. Client consulted with head office, in the light of HMRC's second letter, which basically said that if they didn't give up the s343 point then HMRC would open an enquiry into the group's UK capital loss position. The s343 claim was "real cash" which the group would see quite quickly - 50% within 4 years, and 95% over 20. The capital losses were unlikely ever to crystallise into real cash, but did count on the head office financial accounts (deferred tax asset). Head office were terrified of losing >£1.5bn of deferred tax asset from the numbers, and instructed UK to abandon the capital allowances. HMRC got £145m extra tax out of 2 short letters; I have no idea how long it takes to get that much out of dodgy plumbers & scaffolders...
Captain Underpants has it about right. I work in a totally different field to IT*, and face a similar problem trying to get people interested in the stuff that I do; simply jumping up and down an shouting "this is important - you have to listen to me, however bad I am at communicating it!" doesn't seem to work very well, and you just get sidelined by more interesting alternatives, which is a bad result for everyone.
Of course not every IT bod has to be a polished communicator; the underlying technical skills are way more important. But someone, somewhere, has to work out how to do for infosec what Brian Cox has done for astrophysics and actually get ordinary people engaged with it, using language and imagery that they can understand.
*I do tax policy. Sometimes I liken tax systems to an oil refinery - everyone can have an opinion on where it should be built, and what you'd like it to do (pollute less, focus on certain outputs), but when it comes to the actual design you should defer to the guys with the qualifications who actually know which valve should go where, and why you need to use high grade steel and not just leftover bits from your kid's Lego Technics to build it with. I'm working really, really hard to try to get some of the important messages about how tax systems work, and fail, across in accessible language in a desperate attempt to raise the tone of the debate, and it sounds like Captain Underpants is trying to bring a similar level of professionalism to infosec. (Yes, I find it deliciously ironic that we're getting lectures on professional conduct from Captain Underpants - but that doesn't affect the validity of the message.)
I misread this as being some new form of IT derived from furniture components. Which would probably be about right actually...
Not quite so advanced, but I use PSP7 to create custom Romers/Roamers - little map reading tools, with scales etc printed on them. Simply set your pixels to the right number per centimetre & draw away. Used an Epson printer (now sadly defunct) to tun them off on transparency sheets - far more accurate & useable than commercially sold alternatives, and marginal cost so low that I carry half a dozen spares around with me & hand them out to novice navigators who haven't yet got one at all.
Way back when in the BC years (Before Children) I used to sprint someone else's historic racecar. Even without the capital outlay on the vehicle, I worked out that just the fuel, licence, and entry fees made it a more expensive hobby, in terms of "thrill minutes per pound" than a cocaine habit*. No idea how addictive cocaine actually is, but time on track certainly haunts you forever.
*Using figures from the Daily Mail for drug costs, before you ask.
My brother did some work auditing (in the financial accountant sense) a rather well known large financial sector outfit with its own datacentre(s) - all 3 UK sites were below the water table & in flood risk areas (London, South Coast and another; I forget where). Access to the racks was through a secure airlock (vertical glass tube affair) with scales in the floor - if you weighed more on the way out than the way in it triggered an alarm. [Yes, I know, carry a bag of sand in under your jacket etc]
Unfortunately, the colleague accompanying my brother was quite large - so large in fact that he didn't fit in the tube. "No worries" said 'Security', and they opened up the delivery shutter at the other end of the room - which was quite literally big enough to drive a truck through.
(Of course, the actual audit/stocktake was laughable - all the units' ID stickers/serial numbers were either round the back, or obscured by the locks & cages everything was secured in; they just had to take the client's word for it that this row of identical black plates with flashing LEDs on it corresponded to that set of entries on the ledger)
Fail safe systems only fail when they fail to fail safe.
There's an anecdote to the effect that the UK importer of De Tomaso cars employed a related tactic to deal with the reported overheating of the cars in UK traffic - he removed the bulbs from the dashboard warning lights, and owners stopped coming back to complain about the warning light.
Another tax user here - and one who also has to find stuff in other jurisdictions - the other day it was EU, Ghana, Singapore & Uganda. I found all the legislation I needed on the relevant sites; little bit of URL juggling required, but nothing tricky.
The next day, I needed to get a copy of an HMRC document which I knew, *KNEW*, existed as part of their budget output (I had a paper copy). Took me longer than finding a 50 year old Ugandan statute. The ordering of information is just bewildering. The search function is appalling. (Maybe that's what the "random page" generator is for? Has anyone checked to see if the traditional search link is still there?) How can they have taken something which used to work and made it so, so awful?
I've given up on putting detail into the "what's wrong with this page" dialogues and just point out that it's rubbish. Won't make any difference to GOV.UK, but helps keep my blood pressure just a little bit lower. And sadly, it's not necessarily helpful even if your affairs are relatively simple - see the list of gems here: http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/containing/1796280
I tried matching company turnovers to GDPs not long back using wikipedia - while the figures aren't directly comparable, let alone reliable, it was the quickest way to get a feel for a hunch/concern I have that we now have corporate bodies (MNCs, multinationals, call them what you like) which have more economic power than some countries, aka tax jurisdictions. (Someone has also done a similar exercise mapping English counties to African countries - the most heartbreaking statistic I know is that economically we seem to put the same value on DRC (area 905k square miles, pop'n 77m) as we do Devon (area 2.5k square miles, pop'n 750k). )
Thinking about companies again, if taxes exist for the good of society, but the corporate body does not consider itself a part of that society, can we be surprised when the corporate bodies start to operate in their own, rather than the society/tax jurisdiction's interests? Especially if they are "bigger" than the tax jurisdiction...
They've already confirmed it's integration in a public sector environment; the (lack of) success thing is kind of a given.