Saturday, 26 September 2009

Atheism is the new religion

While the world fights over itself to say how stupid, irrational, bigoted and down right idiotic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is, amongst the postulating, and postering.. and general 'we're tougher than you are' stuff, has anyone considered what a curious situation it is where the thought of bombing a place where nuclear material is produced is considered to be a 'good' idea?

When I say curious, I mean 'dangerous', or perhaps 'frightening'. When I say 'good' idea.... well, let's be thankful that George Bush isn't still in residence at The White House, as he probably would have already bombed the shit out of the place.

You've got to like the 'dammit we got caught' reaction from the Iranians, realising that their secret nuclear base had been discovered, was to admit to having it to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Not even worth trying for a minute to say that it's someting else ? Well, that's progress. Now they're almost admitting to stuff after they've been caught.

Let's just hope that the 'intelligence' on this occassion is a little more robust than some grad student armed with nothing more than a furtile imagination and Google.

But still, hey, it's ok, because the most trustworthy countries in the world, (USA, UK, France and Israel) have all said that they're sure the Iranians are 'up to no good'. The Iranians say that they aren't. It gets more and more like when teacher tries to figure out who really started the playground fight. 'He pushed me first', 'He said I was a .....', etc. etc. Usually in that scenario, they all end up getting detention. Not quite sure I like how the punishment stacks up on this one though.

Don't get me wrong, If I was Iran, I'd hardly want to believe their neighbours' promises that they don't really need such powerful weapons. Think I'd stop an awful way short of such mindless bigotry (like there's any other kind) about the hollocaust, and how wiping an entire race of people out would be a good idea. Mad. Scary mad.

The people I really feel sorry for, in all of this, are the Iranians. Because either way, they're the ones that are going to end up suffering, and I don't think any amount of tweeting is going to save them from that.

It's the civilians that are going to get hurt by the bombs, it's the ordinary people that are really going to pay the price of any further sanctions. What can we do ?

Sometimes, you have to think that it's easier and cheaper to quietly give money to the people who want to overthrow the government you hate in their own country. (Wonder if anyone's paying to do that here). It was a policy that worked so well before, right ? When I say worked..... That stupid and shortsighted idea that the enemies of our enemies are our friends is, was and still is.. well shortsighted, and stupid. I mean that lead to such fantastic ideas as the west training the resistance fighters in Afghanistan, helping them get rid of the Soviet invasion. Giving money, weapons and training to such regular stand up fellows as Osama Bin Laden. There was an awful lot of money shoved the way of a certain Saddam Hussein and his rather brutal regime, because the alternatives, or his enemies seemed like a worse bet.

It's true that sometimes there just are NO GOOD CHOICES, and only bad or terrible ones. Lesser of two evils. I wonder if 'keeping your ore out' and leaving it to the people that actually live there to figure out what they want is a strategy worth trying.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Where did all the downloads go ?

Reading today, as I often do, something on the BBC Technology website a nice little piece about how research has shown that the 'kids' do actually want to buy CDs.

Having just spent the better part of two days getting my CD collection onto my Mac Mini, I have to agree... and .... well disagree.. Personally, being a bit of a geek, and loving all this internet malarky, I love the idea of being able to download music that I like off the internet.

Love the idea. The practice, just doesn't work as well for me. Maybe it's something I do, but I don't like the fact that when I buy a piece of music, digitally, I don't actually own it. I can't do what I want with it, in the way that I can with a CD.

I can copy the CD onto my computer, I can transfer it to my phone, I can lend it to someone else (who of course won't copy it, but will play it to see if they want to purchase same CD or not). If all fails electronically, if my hard drive packs up, or I sell my computer, I haven't lost my music collection, because try as I may, I can't port the music I've brought off the internet from one computer to another. I'd have to buy a fresh download. Why the hell would I want to do that, when if I have the CD I can reload it onto any platform I chose? I don't know what my future needs electronically are going to be, but I can pretty much guarantee that whatever form my computing takes over the coming decades, I will be able to play a CD on it (somehow).

Aside from the overall question about future proofing our data.. and how we have realised that lots of data stored 10, 20 years ago, electronically is now unaccess-able as the formats or medium of storage are no longer supported. (I might come back to this question later - might).

There's just something preferable to being able to hold the CD.... I recently ordered two CDs shipped from the USA, because I'd heard some of the music, and I liked it that much. I didn't even entertain the much easier idea of downloading those tracks. Pah ! I want to hold and see the CDs thank you very much.

The fact that other people seem to identify with the temporary nature of downloaded anything, that when it comes to music the 'kids' are saying that they still would like CDs because that gives them control over what they do with the music. So, is DRM to blame ? The rights ownership information on digital downloads that stops you copying it either at all, or to more than a certain number of devices or times ?

Is the only thing that makes downloading attractive in the first place is the cost, compared to physical CDs ? (For me it's not cheap enough, and I'd rather pay that bit more and have the CD in my hand). Is the real equation then, not that downloads are cheaper, but that 'real' music is still too dear ?

Now that's the suggestion that brings the music business out in cold sweats nearly as much as people 'sharing' their music online in P2P. The argument's as old as the music industry itself. Back in the day, we used to tape (that's with a tape recorder) music from the radio. Hours wasted, trying to copy the song off the radio, hoping that they wouldn't cut the song off near the end, or talk over the track (which I'm sure they did in an effort to thwart that very activity). We'd copy music off our friends... but I don't remember that much of my collection being copied. I remember making lots of 'compilation tapes', where I would select tracks that I liked, and record (tape) them onto a blank tape, so that I could listen to them on my personal stereo.

Oh the days of cassettes, and trying to coach another 15 minutes of playing out of a set of obviously dead batteries, the fact that your music rattled (the heads on the cassette).. how we all hated the CD and hoped that it wouldn't catch on because it would be the death of music as we knew it.

Truth was, the death of music as we knew it, had nothing to do with the technology used to record or distribute it, but like everyone before us, 'our' music was destined for history as the next generation of angst ridden teenagers came up and set about rewriting all the rules.

The 'kids' of today aren't stupid, they're actually very savvy, and perhaps they have realised, that official digital music, is layered with lots of control, they, quite rightly, might be thinking that they don't want their enjoyment of music controlled. Not by anyone, no way, no how.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The business is killing me....

You can tell it's the weekend, when I have had time to opine about two different stories in one day. I stumbled upon this alarming story on the BBC news website.

Twenty-Three employees of the French telephone company, 'France Telecom' have committed suicide since the beginning of 2008. Twenty-Three ? I would have thought that one would have been one too many. It appears that this is 'explainable' as being the national average.

Explainable ? Well, statistically, they point to the fact that in 2000, there were actually 28 suicides within the firm. So this is an improvement, right ? This is progress. There is apparently a lot of stress in the company, specifically among those that worked for the company prior to its privatisation - they are finding it hard to adjust.

Was such 'Thatcherism' met with fatal reaction from employees in other privatisations ? If the company, are really trying to convince people to leave, or accept new conditions, to lower the number of workers, without actually having to sack them, then good news... at this rate, it will only take them 44 years to get rid of all of the staff. Assuming, of course that they do not replace any of those that take this most permanent form of leave.

I find it disturbing that there is such a human cost to the world of business. Oh, I know that it is the people that get short changed and are the first to fall at any hurdle the business faces, but this ?

To know that a female member of their staff leapt to her death off the office building last Friday, or that another member of staff, who is still alive, and in hospital, had plunged a knife into their stomach after being told that they were being transferred.

Bloody hell, and I thought things were stressful in my office.

Underlying all of this, is the sadness that these people feel that work is so bad for them, that they see the only way out, is to exit the world entirely. I have to be honest and say that there have been times in my career, when I've felt very desperate, and not known which way to turn. But I can honestly say, I haven't linked the feeling that 'I can't do this anymore' to 'I don't want to live anymore'. I don't know if these people had families, loved ones, or even children. But it must be terrible to find yourself in a situation where you can imagine no other way out. Is work really that important ?

If you exclude a paper round, I have only worked for three companies. The first, in numerous roles, but for 17 years. In the end, it was, ironically much longer than my marriage would last. None the less, it took great courage to leave that first employer. Despite how miserable I had become working there, and how I was convinced that there was nothing else that I could do, having left school with few decent grades. I had spent half of my life working for the same company. I had grown from a teenager to a man with a house and family whilst in their employ. The blanket that was strangling me, was the same one that kept me warm, protected. I was safe in the security of the misery that I knew. Oh and know the misery I did.

I had never really been serious about leaving, despite many, many, times saying that I would leave. How would I find something of the same wages, move out of that field (food retail) when I had no experience at anything else, and no education to help me ?

It was this that had trapped me for so long, and then in a fit of unreasoned logic, I figured that I would find something, if the pressure was on, and I had to in order to pay the bills. So I handed in my notice, and took holiday for all of it. Effectively, despite making myself ill with so many pressures in, or out of work, I added one that I would rise to.

So I left. I got a job, on a much lower wage, working in a call centre. The work wasn't particularly stimulating, but the people were nice. It was good not having to deal with the pressures of leadership. Even the reduction of nearly 50% in my salary didn't stop me feeling more free, and alive than I had done in years.

After 6 months of that, I got the chance to go work for another company, in a management role, with wages closer to those that I was getting originally. The conditions and hours were much better than before.

Now nearly three years on from that move, I find myself considering that it was not the right decision to have made. I find that where the work once left me excited, elated and energised, that I had strong belief in the organisation I work for. Now I feel drained, incapable, impotent. Unable to add anything of value, and straining to deliver even the smallest achievement. I have lost faith in the company too.

I don't expect that work should be an exercise in skipping through the tulips, but should it really be that bad that it leaves me feeling drained and exhausted. I can't see the wood for the trees anymore, but I don't think the solution is to chop down all the trees.

My Mother's always said to me that we 'work to live, not live to work'. It has taken me far too long to really understand the true meaning of the phrase. Stupid actually, as it's not exactly cloaked in hidden meanings. I've proven to myself that I can survive on less money. I've proven to myself that status or power are not the things that I crave. I've demonstrated that I am not trapped by the environment, and it is in fact my decision if I stay or go. It only needs now, that leap of faith, that jump off the edge of .... well, not cliff, but it feels more like a moving ship. Jumping off a moving ship. Before the anticipated crashing into the icy waters below, I anticipate a floating on the gentle, embracing sea air first. That'll blow away the cobwebs.

Glass is half full, or glass is half empty. I'm not getting any younger. No, but if I leave it longer, I'll be older then. What would be the point of that ? Why make things harder. There are things that I have wanted to do my whole life. Things that I have always known that I was destined to do, and should at the very least have a bloody good try at doing them, before I take my leave of this world. It's not a return ticket after all.

There's no coming back on the same journey, but really, I suppose, there never was.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Those damn banks

Ok, so far be it from me to take the mickey out of some other poor sap's misfortune......

This story from the BBC news website, about some poor woman who accidentally sent £2000 to someone by mistake, when she wanted to transfer it to her savings account, well it raises some pointers, and like pretty much everything in life, I find myself unable to resist the temptation to comment.

There's no redress with the bank, because it was her mistake, made when she was using their internet banking website. There's nothing that the banking ombudsman can do, because they are there to regulate the banks, not the actions of their customers.

The bank can't disclose the details of the person she sent the money to, under the data protection act. This means that the poor woman can't claim the money back from them through the small claims courts.

Who has someone's bank details stored on their computer without attaching a name to them in the first place ? Surely that would be common sense... (sorry that phrase again).

'I'm not a dizzy person, I'm not an idiot' she says. You don't have to be a card carrying moron to do stupid things. We all do it. I know I do. I just don't think it's anyone else's fault when I do. (I've accepted my fallibility - see).

It's sad that she's lost the money, but let us not forget, it was her that lost the money. If she had sent a cheque in the post to an old friend, at their address, only to find out that they had in fact moved, and someone else, with the same name had cashed that cheque, would it be any different ? You wouldn't be able to complain to the post office for (god forbid) delivering the letter.

The real thing that disturbs me, is that she works for one of the high st banks. Does this mean she is less or more careful with other people's money than she is with her own ? Because the banks will happily tell you these things 'don't' or 'can't' happen.

Well tada ! Newsflash ! It doesn't matter how good your computer system is, if the person inputing the data, or clicking the mouse, doesn't actually read what it is they are clicking 'ok' to.