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Comment Re:Something's fishy (Score 1) 214

I don't know how you can possibly read anything about EU subsidies into anything I've written here, but if it makes you feel any better, my businesses have never taken any form of EU subsidy. In fact, from the point of view of my own businesses, the EU probably does more harm than good as things stand today, and in isolation we'd be a bit better off without it. But of course we're not operating in isolation, so the interesting questions are really about whether the EU is a net win or net loss in the big picture, and those are much harder to answer (despite the number of people who seem to think it's an easy question and if you voted the other way from them you're obviously some sort of clueless idiot).

Comment Re:Something's fishy (Score 1) 214

It's not quite that simple, unfortunately.

The EU operates what is termed a "single market" or "internal market", which actually includes the EU member states plus a few others via separate international agreements. This is a region in which the "four freedoms" apply: goods, services, labour and capital may be moved freely between the participating states as if within their own country.

This relatively close relationship is generally seen as good for trade between members of that single market. It means there are no government-imposed tariffs on imports/exports, there are common standards and regulations for what you're allowed to sell throughout the market, and so on. This is why some people in the UK are currently arguing that on leaving the EU as a whole, we should seek an agreement to remain within the single market (a form of "soft Brexit").

However, membership of that single market isn't necessarily a win in all respects.

One issue is that the freedom of movement of labour means member states can't limit immigration from other member states. This has been controversial recently for a number of reasons. In the UK specifically, some people argue that immigration is putting an unsustainable burden on our national infrastructure. Others argue that immigrants are both helpful and in some cases necessary to keep our economy running and support that very infrastructure. Some point out that while we receive many immigrants from elsewhere in the single market, many of our own citizens also choose to work or retire abroad, and that travelling within the EU without visas is beneficial. Across the EU more widely, there is an issue at the moment with the number of refugees from elsewhere in the world who are entering member states close to troubled areas but then able to move around within the EU relatively freely. And on top of all of this, there are all the "free movement, but with strings attached" arrangements where the politicians and diplomats have been trying to dance around the problems without giving up the benefits.

There has probably been more objectively wrong nonsense said about immigration than any other issue around Brexit, but unfortunately it's long been a difficult subject and a certain part of the population in most EU states, including the UK, isn't very nice when it comes to foreigners. And just to throw one more ingredient into the mix, of course the UK also has people moving to and from non-EU states, but our visa and immigration system is overcomplicated, dysfunctional and a huge burden on those people and businesses involved. The natural assumption is that the same currently awful system would apply to those coming from the EU in the event of a "hard Brexit" where we cut ties like single market membership as part of leaving the EU, which some people see as too high a price to pay pragmatically, even if they don't in principle mind immigration from the EU being subject to the same rules as from anywhere else.

Another issue with the single market is that it is also what is called a "customs union". That means that while trade within the market is free, any member state importing from outside the market is required to impose a certain level of tariffs, regulations, and so on. That is usually seen as bad for trade with partners outside the EU single market, for much the same reasons that trade within the market is good. For the UK specifically, although it does a lot of trade with the EU, it actually does a bit more now with other partners outside the EU, and the external trade is also growing a bit faster. And of course a lot of goods and services are both provided and consumed internally within the UK. As long as the UK is within the scope of the EU arrangements, it therefore has to apply the EU rules even to internal matters and to trade with non-EU partners. Depending on who you ask and what line of business they're in, this is either no big deal or a crippling burden on trade and our national economy.

Crucially, the UK is also not free to negotiate its own trade deals for more favourable terms with non-EU partners, because the rules say that only the EU itself can negotiate trade deals on behalf of the bloc as a whole. This goes along with the whole single market/customs union deal, but if you're looking at increasing trade with, say, North America or Asia, it's a big barrier. And as we've seen recently with proposed trade deals like TTIP and CETA, being in the EU is no guarantee that your diplomats will actually close good trade deals on behalf of the member states. Apparently negotiating on behalf of the whole EU bloc, when in the real world those member states naturally have different priorities and goals and when they also have varying levels of veto powers, isn't always easy!

In the end, a lot of the controversy around Brexit is whether the known, established benefits of being an EU member state outweigh (and would continue to outweigh) the potential benefits of being free to negotiate independently with non-EU partners and to set our own rules for our home market. It's not really about "losing access to the single market" or "preventing immigration". Trade between the UK and EU member states would still happen even if the UK left the single market, just as obviously the UK trades with many other nations around the world. Likewise, people would still come and go. But there would potentially be significant extra barriers to trade and movement within the EU, and potentially lower barriers to trade and movement elsewhere, and the long term pros and cons of those arrangements are hard to predict.

Comment Re:Hardware is so much better? (Score 1) 78

I wish my experience were similar, because I'm also the kind of person who doesn't buy cheap tat and does do his research. I only buy from reputable sources. I typically buy mid-range products at minimum, and often towards the higher end. And I have still encountered dramatically more failures generally but also dramatically more deliberate crippling of products in recent years.

I do agree that there is some element of modern technology simply being more complex and/or working on smaller scales and so inherently having less margin for error. Whether I really need a more vulnerable 4TB hard drive instead of a more robust 1TB drive if I only have a few hundred GB of data to store anyway is a different question, of course, but bigger numbers presumably shift more boxes so that's what everyone supplies.

There is probably also an element of dumb luck in my personal anecdotes. I had an amazing lack of failures for many years, with not so much as a hard drive giving out on me during its working lifetime across many different machines. Statistically, I was well into the long tail for that period, and what I've seen more recently may in part just be reverting to the mean.

But that doesn't excuse things like printers that decide your ink/toner has run out after a fixed number of pages when you can see there's plenty of supply left, or tablets that get security patches for barely a year or two before some OS update designed for newer hardware leaves them barely able to run any more, or cars where diagnosing a warning light on the dash means an expensive visit to a dealer but adding a simple report of the underlying fault code to the already pathetically bad onboard UI would mean owners could fix the problem and the clear the error in five minutes themselves without paying. These kinds of trends are rampant in their respective industries, even among big name brands and high-end products, and they are nothing but customer-hostile cash grabs.

Comment Re:Something's fishy (Score 1) 214

I don't really understand that sort of generalisation, though I've certainly seen it a lot lately. About 16 million people voted to remain and about 17 million to leave. That's a lot of people, the majority of the adult population of the UK, so no doubt there were some delusional extremists and some just plain nasty people in there, but I imagine most of those millions of people probably weren't like that, on either side. Certainly I've talked to plenty of people from both camps who have been reasonable and quite well informed, even if they came down on opposite sides of the debate in the end. I guess I must be living in a different country to the one I keep reading about.

Comment Re:Something's fishy (Score 1) 214

I honestly have no idea what you're trying to say there. Did you reply to the wrong comment?

My previous comment was agreeing with someone else's view that Brexit will almost certainly reduce GDP in the short and possibly medium term, and then noting that there are various ways it might work out better in the longer term but no-one really knows what will happen that far ahead. I didn't say anything about subsidies, nor express any other opinion on Brexit.

Comment Re:Hardware is so much better? (Score 2) 78

I'm afraid we might just have to agree to disagree on some of this.

Certainly you're right that modern cars are more reliable, and the better built-in diagnostics are a part of that. But the flip side is that you used to be able to buy a repair manual for any major model of car and take care of it yourself, and if you did then many popular models could last almost forever. Today it's barely possible to change a light bulb or diagnose the cause of a simple warning light in many new models without going to see your dealer, a term for the official representatives of the car manufacturers with other connotations that also seem all too appropriate these days.

As for the modern electronics you speak of, I fear you're suffering from much the same perception bias you think I have. A lot of devices made the best part of a decade ago were pretty reliable, but standards have dropped sharply even as recently as the past 5 years. My previous washing machine also lasted about a decade with a couple of minor repairs along the way. Talking to a surprisingly honest salesman when buying the new one, he said only certain prestige brands would expect that sort of longevity today, and with most of the mid-range models you'd be doing well if it was still economic to maintain them beyond 5 years. I never had a PC fail on me before being retired after many years of use until about 2010. I haven't had a single PC, at home or work, of any spec, last beyond about 3-4 years without at least one serious hardware failure since then. My previous DVD player lasted many years. My current Blu-Ray player, a relatively expensive model at purchase, is already starting to fail after maybe three years. Printers. Phones and tablets. TVs. PVRs. Headphones. Networking gear. Almost no technology is built to last these days, except perhaps for some of the high-end prestige brands, and many of the electronic devices in my home and office come with some element of built-in obsolescence that is entirely artificial, often due to legal controls on replacement parts and interoperability, or to dependencies on software or online services that aren't supported for very long.

I'm certainly not saying that everything we made yesterday was better made in every way than what we produce today, but junk that fails after what used to be considered a very short lifetime, often for entirely deliberate and artificial reasons, and with limited or no prospect of servicing or repair to restore it to use, is mostly a very modern and very unwelcome trend.

Comment Re:Something's fishy (Score 2) 214

Those predictions are certainly consistent with what the more informed people I know have been saying. In the short term, it seems almost certain that the UK economy will drop significantly in GDP terms. It's possible that this effect will continue for several years, depending on what if any post-Brexit deal with the EU gets worked out. But the worst of the doom-and-gloom predictions probably aren't realistic, because there are also areas such as those we were discussing before where the EU has been a negative influence even if it's a net benefit overall, and there are some effects like the devaluation of Sterling that may provide some cushioning effect for the economy.

In the longer term, it seems the jury's out. The UK already trades more with non-EU partners than EU ones, and trade with non-EU partners is growing faster so the gap has been widening. It will surely widen even faster in future if the remaining EU leaders follow through on their scorched earth rhetoric, though at some point it's likely that the adults will step in and prevent that. Meanwhile, the EU has serious economic problems of its own still bubbling under the surface, particularly within the Eurozone. As we've been seeing with TTIP and CETA, claims that the EU is somehow better placed to negotiate new trade deals with foreign partners than an independent UK may be exaggerated. And if the coming elections in places like France and Germany go in favour of eurosceptic/nationalist parties, which is certainly a possibility at the moment, the EU may not exist in its current form within a few years anyway.

For any of these factors to mean Brexit leaves the UK economically better off, it seems we're talking about 5-10 years at a minimum, though, unless something catastrophic happens within the EU sooner than that. And even a decade from now, if events turn the other way with the EU stabilising but wider global trade suffering for some reason, maybe Brexit will prove to be unhelpful economically even in the longer term. In reality, I doubt anyone has enough information and foresight to make useful predictions that far out.

Comment Re:Something's fishy (Score 1) 214

I run a small business, but I'm already way worse off because everything I import costs a fuck-ton more and I can't afford to just bump prices up accordingly when my larger competitors already have huge warehouses of stock and have the power of scale to have negotiated pricing agreements. All the OMG RED TAPE that supposedly comes from Brussels is a myth, and what few anti-small-business legislation exists is hardly likely to be removed by the prevent government, whose ear is deaf to all but the largest enterprises.

Just as a counterpoint, as someone who also runs small businesses, but in my case tech-based ones that import very little but export information products and services, I have almost exactly the opposite experience.

The pound had been propped up for a long time and a lot of economists were saying it was overvalued long before Brexit was on the radar. Dropping it back to a more realistic level has already caused a big boost for our sales to customers over in continental Europe and beyond. It's dropped further than the necessary correction because of Brexit, but pinning the entire drop on that is unrealistic.

As for that EU red tape, it has been a significant burden on several occasions over the past few years, from consumer "protection" rules that don't really protect anyone but have substantial compliance costs through to the whole VAT mess where the EU seems to have done exactly the opposite of what it's supposed to do by making us suddenly have to deal with 28 different systems instead of one.

EU membership has its pros and cons, but in this specific area, it's very clearly not an advantage.

Comment Hardware is so much better? (Score 2) 78

When I was a kid and turned on a BBC Micro, it was ready to use instantly. Same with the old TV I had. And I could watch anything I wanted to watch on that TV, whether it was from the aerial or the computer or the VCR. And on that VCR, I could just fast forward through any initial stuff on the tape I wanted to skip. And some of those devices worked for a decade.

Today's world of hardware that costs hundreds or thousands but fails within a few years, if it even gets that far, is not an improvement. Today's world where hardware can't be serviced or repaired is not an improvement. Today's world where it takes a minute for my PVR to show me a picture, and seconds to switch to the next TV channel, is not an improvement. Today's world where I can't watch content I've paid for on a device I've paid for, or can't run software I've paid for on a computer I've paid for, or can't listen to music from my iPhone because the headphones don't fit any more, because of artificial barriers to connectivity, is not an improvement.

Hardware got faster and bigger, but thinking that makes it better when all this other stuff is getting needlessly broken is spectacularly missing the point. And the user who buys these devices doesn't much care whether it's the hardware or the protocol on the wire between two devices or the firmware that is causing the problem. They just want the stuff they bought to do what they bought it for, and in many respects today's equipment is very much worse at that than the equipment we made a decade or two ago.

Comment Re:Sigh (Score 1) 286

Anyone can develop hardware for Windows (and until recently publish drivers with no interference from MS, that has changed and going forward Windows as a platform has and will become less open)

I think that's the kind of issue that some developers are concerned about.

Windows 10, with its automatic updates and push towards everything-as-a-service, gives Microsoft as much control of the distribution chain as it choses to claim, including retrospectively. Developing for Windows 10 is therefore no more future-proof than playing the Apple App Store approval lottery.

The development tools for Windows are increasingly falling behind other platforms as well now. You can't even run the free version of Visual Studio without logging in (seriously, WTF?) and accepting creepy phone-home possibilities in the terms of use any more.

Comment Re:"IT" is on its way out (Score 1) 272

I don't think "the cloud" really has it right yet for very small companies with just a couple of servers and "the guy who also does IT", but in time it will.

One of my businesses is not a million miles past that point today, and I think perhaps you're understating how poor cloud offerings are today for that kind of business.

Every now and then someone suggests we go cloud-hosted instead, and I read around again, trying to work out why so many people seem to love the whole cloud idea. Usually the conclusion is that it would literally add an extra zero to our infrastructure costs and dramatically increase the complexity and number of potential failure points. This is all relative to our current modest set-up, using tried-and-tested servers and networking, with a similarly modest support contract with a local IT firm who know what they're doing and, in particular, provide 24/7 monitoring and support for the key systems in case of urgent problems.

There are numerous hosting or support options today for IT functions that are big enough to need real infrastructure and technical skills but not to have dedicated in-house IT staff. I see little reason any business in that sort of position would benefit from going with heavy cloud infrastructure like AWS, unless perhaps they really do need dramatically varying resource levels at different times.

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