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Comment: Who can I vote for to stop this kind of thing? (Score 1) 44

by tomtomtom (#47495569) Attached to: UK Government Faces Lawsuit Over Emergency Surveillance Bill

The main three parties were all in favour of this. This wasn't just a stitch-up amongst the leadership with the MPs given a free choice - the party machinery was obviously forcing their MPs to vote in favour too. At this point I feel deeply embarassed to be British, as the way our elected representatives have acted makes the rubber-stamp parliaments in third world military dictatorships look better. I don't understand why even the Lib Dems were for this - electorally they have pretty much nothing to lose at this point and it would at least make them look like they had SOME of the principles people thought they had.

I'm not fortunate enough to have a local MP who voted even half-against this. I wrote to her and she wrote me a long, obviously cut and pasted email response (even down to the differing font sizes for different sections of text). Didn't even mention her personal views, just what Ed Miliband (the leader of the Labour party) had as his soundbite of the day.

So what I'd desparately like to know is, who can I vote for at the next election who won't stand for this sort of bullshit. If there is someone who is actually against this, and who has proper credibility (i.e. not the Lib Dems), I'd love to know. I'd rather not vote for the Greens (I am naturally a free market sort of person and would like to see a libertarian conservative type of candidate elected) but if they're the only option, they've got my vote as a result of this.

Comment: Re:Governments are main Reason (Score 1) 538

by tomtomtom (#47297551) Attached to: Teaching College Is No Longer a Middle Class Job

The result is that tuition has gone through the roof. The same degree that was free for me 25 years ago now costs £9,000/year ($16,400/year). It is also now a 4 year degree (used to be 3 years) because of the lower standards in school. Of course this means that students acquire so much debt that they have to be extremely concerned about their potential salary after graduating. The puts an increasing pressure for universities to shift from the academic institutes of higher education which have served society for the best part of a millennium (or possibly longer in some cases) towards becoming vocational training colleges where each course is targeted to a specific career which provides enough income to pay of the massive debt so good luck finding the next generation of teachers!

The current UK system for tuition is really much closer to a graduate tax than "tuition fees". Everyone automatically gets a loan for the fees. The amount you repay is collected through the tax system, based on a percentage of your income above a certain level, after you've graduated. If you never earn above that amount (£25k currently), you never make repayments. If you reach age 65 without repaying the "loan", it gets written off. If you make yourself bankrupt, it doesn't go away. About the only meaningful differences are (1) you still have to pay it even if you move abroad/out of UK tax, (2) you can eventually pay it all off if you earn enough and (3) you can pay the fees at the time if you want to instead.

Compared to the "golden age" which many people think of in terms of UK university education, there's not much difference. Marginal personal tax rates are lower now than they were in the 60s, 70s and early 80s so people may well be better off on graduating than they would have been under the old system if taken in its totality.

The real difference is the fact that students are now expected to cover their own living costs while studying, vs previously receiving grants to cover these. That is a meaningful disincentive to go to university but the constant bluster from student "unions" that student debt is a problem is, I suspect, putting far more people off university under what is basically a relatively fair system.

Comment: Re:Maybe forr once they really have to keep it sec (Score 1) 240

by tomtomtom (#47170243) Attached to: UK Seeks To Hold Terrorism Trial In Secret

Invalid passport, copy of a booklet or even possession of illegal weapon are insufficient to prove that someone is a terrorist.

True if you are talking about the common language definition. But absolutely not true if you are talking about the legal definition. For example, how about this woman who was convicted (although this was later overturned on appeal) of terrorism for possessing books (including poetry she herself had written).

Comment: Re:Not necessarily hate (Score 1) 1482

by tomtomtom (#46635009) Attached to: OKCupid Warns Off Mozilla Firefox Users Over Gay Rights

Eating pig? sin.

I've seen this repeated a few times in this thread (and indeed whenever the intersection between homosexuality and Christianity is raised as a topic), however it is a misunderstanding of the theology of the most common Christian traditions. The dietary laws of the Old Testament are generally viewed in these traditions as forming a part of the Old Covenant which came to an end with Jesus (along with other laws which separated Jews from Gentiles) and were not a part of the New Covenant. This article has more detail on the differences between traditions.

Comment: Re:OK (Score 2) 134

by tomtomtom (#46150849) Attached to: NZ Govt May Gut Privacy Laws For US Citizens and Ex-Pats

This is apparently an issue particularly in Switzerland where the local banks now won't touch anyone who is even married to a US citizen (even if they are not themselves a US citizen). Many banks and other financial institutions have also closed the existing accounts of US citizens at very short notice and as a consequence US citizens are now excluded from a large part of the financial services market in that country.

Even if you agree with the concept of "global taxation" of foreign resident citizens, FATCA in particular seems to have been pretty counterproductive. Those who are truly evading US taxes and have dual citizenship could presumably bank with one of the local banks who don't share any information and declare themselves not a US citizen (using their second country passport as "proof"). Meanwhile those who play by the rules get stuck with access to at best a limited banking market which will presumably charge them heavily for the privilege of dealing with them.

Comment: Re:Not going go down well (Score 1) 273

by tomtomtom (#46105975) Attached to: UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source

MS can't even make their own products backwards/forwards-compatible without subtle formatting or processing bugs creeping in - so even with the best will in the world I'm just not sure this is an easily solvable problem.

The other big problem is that LibreOffice Calc in particular is still a long way behind Excel in terms of functionality. Even ignoring VBA, the basic formula support just isn't there. I don't know if this is lack of work, copyright/patent issues or something else but it means I simply can't use Calc for work at the moment. Anyone who needs to interoperate with Excel needs to buy Excel, and that means forcing people to use something else is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

I expect what will actually happen is that we'll end up with a (long) period of "Works best in Internet Explorer"-style hell. People who need to work with government will resort to doing their work in MS products then copying the outputs into LibreOffice, or using PDFs, or other equally time-wasting strategies. Everyone will hate it. And everyone will blame LibreOffice (and by extension, OSS) for it.

Comment: Re:And avoid NSA spying (Score 1) 273

by tomtomtom (#46105595) Attached to: UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source

What is more interesting is the Cabinet Office banning (excpet under 'expcetional' circumstances) all IT projects billing more than £100M - in order to stop them being locked into a few big integrators. You never know, perhaps they'll start delivering IT projects that are semi-functional and only a factor two over budget - that would be a real improvement.

I'll believe that when I see it. Every IT project of that size was already "exceptional" in terms of trying to deliver some promised huge benefits to someone (service users, taxpayers, etc). If they really meant it they would be banning "transformational" projects of any type in government (whether IT-related or not) and just get on with trying to cut small incremental levels of cost out of how they run the current system each year.

Comment: Re:So which is it? tens of millions of pounds" ? O (Score 5, Insightful) 273

by tomtomtom (#46105525) Attached to: UK Government May Switch from MS Office to Open Source

I've been using the Ribbon format for about 3 years now and I STILL hate it. The newer versions of Outlook are the worst - the combination of the ribbon and the way MS couldn't be bothered to reimplement the compact header format really eat up vertical screen space for those of us who prefer the bottom preview pane layout (yes I know I can hide the ribbon but then I lose all the buttons which do what I use all the time, which is mainly the quick search box). On a laptop with only 768 vertical pixels (when I'm not docked) that is a serious headache which leaves me using OWA instead of the full blown outlook usually.

As you point out, the 2003->2007+ switch was therefore a huge opportunity for OpenOffice/LibreOffice/whichever fork is your favourite. The UI is great, easy to understand and the small differences from Office 2003 (like where the cursor ends up mid-editing a formula in Excel) are actually mostly positive incremental steps. You theoretically get the usability benefits of 2007+ (particularly for Excel, where memory/size constraints in 2003 were getting to be a problem for many).

Unfortunately though, interoperability is extremely poor - LibreOffice simply can't handle a big Excel spreadsheet (which is in my experience at least 60% of what most businesses buy Office for), and I've sent docx files from LibreOffice where, when people open them in MS Word, all the line breaks are suddenly gone or other formatting oddities appear. As another example, trying to use LibreOffice's "track changes" equivalent functionality left me with a docx file that Word (and often LibreOffice itself) is unable to open.

I would love to think that if the UK Government does move to LibreOffice they would fund someone to provide decent support who can fix a lot of these issues - that is supposed to be how the model works and fixing these issues would be of huge benefit to everyone. Unfortunately I can't really see that happening. I suspect instead it will end up being a typical government cock-up and massively overspend/under-deliver. I just hope that people don't end up viewing "Open Source" as the problem reason as it will be nothing to do with that and entirely to do with yet another display of civil service incompetence.

Comment: Re:Ob frosty (Score 2) 263

by tomtomtom (#46052541) Attached to: Cameron's IP Advisor: Throw Persistent Copyright Infringers In Jail

Interestingly, digging a bit deeper and looking at the average sentences (in 2009, the most recent year available) for those given immediate custodial sentences (which is not all of those convicted), the statistics say 33.6 months was the average for robbery and 48.7 months for sexual offences (which are statistically the longest sentences on average). Of course the lengthiest of sentences for those offences will have been much longer but as a taxpayer the cost of jailing this guy Vickerman for 5 years for what was, after all, a non-violent crime doesn't sit well with me in context (although admittedly I know nothing about the details of the case). See here, page 40 for the stats.

This brings up an interesting division in how people think about crime. Some (many?) people would say that stealing a penny each from 5 million people is a crime for which a lesser punishment is justified than stealing £50,000 from one individual, despite the monetary amounts involved being the same (and the first scheme being more audacious). The debate over whether harsh penalties for infringement of IP laws are justified (leaving aside the issue of whether the existence or persistence of the IP in question is in itself just) is really another version of that debate. I wonder if perhaps a generational difference in attitudes about this aspect of morality (ie older legislators and executives appear to view infringement so much more seriously than younger people).

Comment: Re:This model works better for software (Score 1) 437

by tomtomtom (#46031829) Attached to: You Might Rent Features & Options On Cars In the Future

I'm actually not so bothered by this as a business practice per se. When e.g. MS does the same thing with CALs etc, the issue is really about lack of competition in certain segments. Noone else has a product as slick as Outlook or Excel otherwise they would take MS's business in a shot. Economists might desscribe this as MS "adding value" (much as I'm personally loath to think of Outlook and Excel doing that...).

Back to the car market and in theory, a competitor with the same cost base may well be able to offer a product which is priced at, or slightly above (to account for marginally reduced total volumes) the weighted average price of the SKUs offered on this model while offering ALL the top-end features - so the market ought to ensure it disappears except for features which are truly unique to one or another manufacturer (which tend to be right at the top end anyway). Seat-heaters don't really qualify for this IMHO.

So the fact that this is happening indicates, to me, that there is an (at least slightly) disfunctional market operating in the car market in the US. That is certainly not down to this practice and is, I suspect, more down to things like import tariffs and regulations making it difficult for new competitors to enter the market.

Comment: Re:Only for original purchaser? (Score 1) 437

by tomtomtom (#46031653) Attached to: You Might Rent Features & Options On Cars In the Future

Really? I've seen cars which pre-dated the Model T and are still road-legal (at least in the UK) at vintage/veteran car events.

It is expensive to maintain (and run, if you drive long distances - at least compared to modern cars which are vastly more fuel-efficient) older cars properly if you're used to something <3 years old - but compared to the cost of maintaining an average 1980s (ie 30-year old) car, there's not a huge amount of difference. The main difficulty with replacement parts is you need to find an engineering shop which will do one-offs for those more often than not. But there are a *lot* of people (not owners) who will do this as (at least in part) a labour of love, just for the pleasure of seeing these machines continue to run.

Fuel also isn't a real issue. Leaded petrol (and additives for unleaded) are still available, at least in the UK, from specialist suppliers. For older cars, it was never an issue anyway - as they were never built for leaded petrol anyway and the move back to unleaded petrol was actually a positive for those owners if they hadn't converted their cars. Have a look here for example.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll

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