Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:And yet rock stars flee the UK (Score 1) 219

They do? Perhaps you meant literal rock stars rather than the colloquial "good programmers" meaning? Because the programmers I see going to the US are mostly doing it because average programmer salaries in the Bay Area are probably at least 2-3x what most of the developed world pays, because you even consider the start-up scene and potential for never-work-again money if your employer has a successful exit.

Comment Re:Wages are always more (Score 1) 219

You don't really need statistics to see how this works in the UK, just the basic tax rules.

If you had a salary and additionally received stock worth a similar amount of money as a "bonus", one way or another you would immediately have a tax liability on the stock that would eat a substantial chunk of your total income for no immediate benefit. You would either have to sell much of the stock immediately to cover the tax liability or use much of your basic salary to pay for it (after the salary was already taxed, probably much of it at the higher rate in this sort of situation).

In contrast, if you have options, they are firstly not going to incur an immediate tax liability and secondly only going to incur a liability on the gain if you later exercise the options and then sell the stock at a higher price. In other words, you only incur the tax liability at the point when you actually have real money to pay for it. In addition, there have often been favourable tax regimes for employee stock options to incentivise this sort of arrangement, for example having the tax liability taper off over time, making it even more cost-effective.

This doesn't just make sense for start-ups or pre-IPO businesses where employees couldn't just sell the stock immediately anyway. It makes sense for almost any business that wants to reward its employees and expects it value to be higher in the future than it is today.

Comment Re:I'm going to incorporate myself. (Score 1) 219

If you're in the UK, I'd like to introduce you to IR35, and a hostile HMRC and Treasury.

In a nutshell, IR35 are the rules that say if you're incorporating purely as a tax avoidance measure and otherwise working like an employee, you're required to declare this and pay tax and NI as if you were an employee anyway.

Added to that, the last budget was almost incredibly hostile to small businesses, which was very surprising from a Conservative government. Most importantly, from next year, most dividends are effectively going to be double-taxed at a much higher rate than before. That means operating a small business through something like a limited company that pays out most of the money through dividends will work out almost as expensive as operating as self-employed and paying the corresponding NI if you're at lower levels of income. If I've done the math correctly, it will actually be much more expensive at higher levels of income, because the NI contributions have upper limits whereas there is effectively no equivalent cap on the extra 7.5% or so of tax on dividend income.

I can see why the government might want to do this out of frustration with IR35's apparent ineffectiveness, because obviously some people were just doing it to dodge tax. Unfortunately it's a huge blow to anyone who really is running a small business as a genuinely independent operation, whether it's a well paid IT consultancy or a small family with a corner shop. It also appears to be a huge barrier to starting a "proper" business through a company that could then do things like taking on other employees or working for larger clients. I don't really understand how anyone thinks this is a good thing for the economy, but maybe that's why I don't get to be Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Comment Re:Transfer pricing (Score 1) 219

There's actually a very simple reason the tax auditors can't trivially do that: sometimes, businesses really do spend a lot of money buying rights or services or other assets from abroad. It is very hard to define objective criteria for when this is being done legitimately in the normal course of business and when it is being done artificially as a tax avoidance scheme.

This is particularly true when the assets in question are intellectual property like trademark or patent rights. Often in such cases there will be a reasonable argument that the revenues are only generated at the level they are because of the work previously done in another country to develop the assets and so transferring significant compensation is justified.

If two completely independent businesses were dealing in this way, they'd most likely be transferring significant compensation from one to the other, and essentially the same accounting rules apply to big multinationals with national subsidiaries.

Comment Re:Transfer pricing (Score 1) 219

That looks like a reasonable summary of what is actually happening. Given the reported revenues, number of staff, and staff compensation, it's plausible that there really wouldn't be much left as profit.

The thing I'm most surprised about here is that their UK revenues (not profits, revenues) are reported as a little over £100M, which based on their most recent published results seems to be only around 1% of their total global annual revenues.

What (non-employee) shareholders would think of a company at Facebook's scale making effectively zero profit from an entire national operation is a different question entirely, of course. If they were in the same position everywhere in the world or maintained that position for very long then you'd expect some serious questions be asked.

Comment Re:Moral of the story: (Score 3, Insightful) 146

The standard is not whether something worked a year or two ago, but whether it followed the recommended best practices in effect at that time.

The important thing is always whether something works properly. Everything else -- formal standards, compatibility work, portability work -- is just a means to that end.

If you write a site using standards on the verge of being declared obsolete, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Which is an easy argument to make until someone points out that in these cases the people declaring something "obsolete" are frequently biased and, in particular, advocating a new and inferior replacement.

Dependence on NPAPI plugins hasn't been best practice for a long time now, much longer than one year

And yet viable alternatives to the things we've been doing successfully with various plug-ins for literally a decade or more have barely been around that long, and in many cases are still obviously and objectively worse in significant respects today.

Flash is the only plugin with any widespread support left, and it's been on its way out for a while.

Not in corporate use. Not even close.

Sites which depend on such plugins already fail on mobile browsers, which are becoming more and more popular and haven't even supported Flash for several years, much less other plugins.

And the corporates mostly don't care, because they have real work to do and provide their staff with real computers to do it. No-one is preparing their quarterly accounts presentation on an iPhone.

Plugins, on the other hand, have always been a compatibility nightmare—non-standardized, proprietary, and non-portable.

And yet Java applets were recognised as early at the <applet> tag somewhere back in the 90s, while Flash has been one of the most successfully standardised parts of web history in terms of both portability and longevity. I suspect only HTTP, HTML 4 and CSS 2.1 have been more successful in those respects.

If you like standards and cross-browser compatibility, you should be backing this change.

I like things that work. To be fair, I also like the new "standard" and "cross-browser compatible" features, but for a very different reason: they are still so badly implemented so often, and broken so often by browser updates, that I make an awful lot of money fixing things that rely on them.

fewer one-off, closed-source, browser- and OS-specific binary plugins

Because ECE for multimedia playback and graphics drivers to accelerate WebGL are so much better?

IE itself is deprecated

It really isn't, in any practical sense. Realistically, Microsoft are going to continue supporting it until at least 2020 because of the Win7 support, and because dropped it would cost them the support of the business community that makes up the lion's share of revenues.

For perspective, that is more than 30 six-weekly update cycles of various other major browsers where businesses don't have to worry unduly about something they rely on being arbitrarily broken.

Comment Re:Moral of the story: (Score 1) 146 isn't unreasonable for ancient, unmaintained web sites using obsolete plugins to require a contemporary web browser.

Where by ancient you mean written more than a year ago, by unmaintained you mean without dedicated resources available to rewrite the entire thing every few months, and by obsolete you mean no longer working in browsers with rapid updates but still working just fine in trusty, stable IE?

The idea that something that worked just a year or two ago should no longer work on today's browsers is unreasonable. Much of the reason the web has been successful is that it has been standardised and future-proof. There were widely respected and mostly reasonable standards. There were multiple browser implementations that would let you view anything developed using those standards. Content on the web has been widely and permanently accessible for as long as its host cared to provide it and anyone else cared to visit the host's site. Sacrificing all of this just to make life easier for browser makers who prefer to write fire-and-forget software with no longevity is not progress.

Comment Re:Moral of the story: (Score 4, Insightful) 146

I make browser-based user interfaces for a living, and I can say without hesitation that a lot of these new technologies aren't ready for prime time yet (though that's not going to stop Google, Apple and Mozilla treating them as if they are).

SVG and Canvas performance is highly variable. There are sometimes serious rendering glitches in some of the browsers as well, even looking at quite simple cases. Plus issues with events not propagating properly, which variation of animations we're supporting this week, etc.

MathML is only supported usefully in Firefox and Safari.

HTML5 audio/video is just a gigantic mess, not only in the lack of any portable format for each that works just about everywhere, but also in terms of browser controls, cache behaviour, even basic stuff like triggering corresponding JS events at the right time or showing the right poster image for a video. Plus of course there's the whole ECE mess, which is corrupting the open web with DRM, creating whole new attack vectors, or just another kind of plug-in that now needs to be developed and then ported across platforms instead of the old ones, depending on who you'd like to hate it the most right now.

WebGL is interesting but support is generally still patchy. It's also worth noting that like any of the other hardware-accelerated features here, it's going to create more attack surface, which is why the argument that browser features are somehow more likely to be secure than the equivalent plug-in features they're replacing is just silly.

As a final comment, a lot of those sites using plug-ins that you call "legacy" were doing things the only way they could just a few years ago. Even if they all worked properly today, those technologies I mentioned above have only been viable alternatives very recently. It's not realistic to expect everyone who has been developing tools built with plug-ins and sunk large amounts of time and money into developing them to just do a Big Rewrite into HTML5-friendly technologies to suit the browser makers. Given that most of those browser makers have made it abundantly clear that they don't really care about providing meaningful long term support for anything any more, I suspect before long they are going to start reaping what they have sown as they find people who build web apps increasingly sceptical about relying on unproven features. Ironically, they could even be strengthening the native software and mobile app markets in the long run.

Comment Re:Moral of the story: (Score 4, Insightful) 146

It's not even as if Java is a huge security problem today. It's effectively been click-to-play by default in all major browsers for a long time, and the plug-in itself then has a bunch more security safeguards before it will trust remote code to do just about anything.

As I seem to have to point out every time this subject gets raised, this is a horrible move in terms of preserving useful content on the web. A lot of things that have been done with plug-ins like Java or Silverlight are small and in-house, like the math lecturer's interactive visualisation of something in their course, or the applet some guy in sales wrote a few years ago for the intranet so the group managers could see a quick overview of how everything is going and copy the data straight into their Excel spreadsheet. Of course they have also been used for a lot of GUIs for networked devices, where things like drawing interactive charts wasn't possible using native web technologies until relatively recently.

Many of these useful tools won't have dedicated maintainers and they aren't magically going to get rewritten to use the new blessed technologies. Closing them off in Firefox as well just means anyone who actually relies on them is now left on IE forever. Again.

Comment Re: It's not what Google wants.... (Score 1) 422

You're talking about reading the ODBII data. That's a very different application to an information display that most drivers will be using routinely. So if nothing else, there's probably a good chance that many of those downloads were professionals who work on cars. Most of the rest were presumably enthusiasts who enjoy tweaking, and if you reckon you've personally saved $5-10K just on diagnostics with Torque then clearly you're not a typical driver.

Comment Re:It's not what Google wants.... (Score 1) 422

But lets see if you can compromise it without taking off a panel, disconnecting a wire, or otherwise having privileged access to it.

Does your definition of privileged access include being within radio range? Being within radio range when the legitimate owner activates a remote feature? Gaining access to the manufacturer's facilities, either to extract sensitive information or to initiate contact with vehicles through the manufacturer's own remote access tools?

(If you're wondering if these questions aren't random and this line of questioning is a trap... Yes. Yes, it is.)

As for "infotainment" systems you can't have a bad system without a good/better one to compare it to.

I hope we could all agree that, for example, a system that allows a potentially dangerous compromise of the vehicle's control systems is bad even if all cars have the same defect.

Also, the standards of presentation of these systems are awful. There is nothing good/better for comparison only if you exclude pretty much the entire field of user interface design in modern technology outside of cars.

Comment Re:FUD (Score 1) 422

The auto manufacturers are looking for this data themselves -- this is a matter of public record in some cases, and widely acknowledged privately in others -- and so it is logical that they will choose their commercial partnerships in light of that. If Google want to keep that data for themselves but someone else will implement more integrated telemetry that lets the manufacturers spy on drivers and send the data to insurers, the second person is probably going to win the deal, unless and until the privacy regulators start stepping in.

As for ads, just tracking the locations someone visits regularly is a treasure trove of mineable information, and you can probably tell a lot about someone from their driving style as well. Of course, the implications of commercial services literally tracking our every move are pretty unpleasant for some of us.

You are in a maze of UUCP connections, all alike.