Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Its been a while since I posted and the truth is it’s because I’ve been looking on in horror at the way our coalition government have set about ripping the spirit out of a country that I have lived in for most of my life. I have been simply unable to find words that dont make me sound like a parody of myself.
Its not enough to stand on the sidelines, pointing and jeering at the idiots in charge anymore. That has become frustrating and pointless. Time to take stock and to act.
The things that make life worth living are many and various, but I’d put people and community pretty close to the top of the list. David Cameron when he came to power talked a lot about something he called the “Big Society”, a vision of compassionate conservatism, a future where society would look after its own, where the benefits of the free market would trickle down to underwrite the costs of keeping things like libraries and schools open and available for all. The vision was that once constraints were removed, the free market would provide for all. Instead, the Big Society has turned out to be a dystopia, a dysfunctional money grabbing power hungry system that discounts society, community, responsibility and personal development in favour of greed, cynicism, non-accountability and blatant dishonesty. Or as the governor of the Bank of England described it: “Fraud”.
There are reasons for this and to my mind, principle amongst those reasons is the concept of “shareholder value”. Good old fashioned capitalism was built upon the belief that you make money by providing something that has a value to society. The free market suggests that value will find it’s own level, subject to market forces. That sounds very convincing, but it hasn’t turned out that way. The fatal flaw in the capitalist ideal is the concept of “shareholder value” its the one thing that drives, remorselessly, a company to make profit, year on year, to grow and grow and grow. Because growth is what drives share prices, which drives profit potential, which is the only known measure of shareholder value. Of course this is nonsense, a child of three could see that this is a pyramid scheme – the logical endpoint is that there can only be one company and that company will have consumed all the others.
The concept of “Growth” is insiduous and perverse. Perverse because it kills innovation, the very thing that provides real value; insiduous because it seems so very attractive. The lifecycle of most companies goes something like this. Somebody invents something, a service or a thing that has a value and can therefore be sold. They start a small company. Before long they realise that in order to meet demand, they have to borrow money to get over what we will call cashflow difficulties. Basically this is what happens when you have to pay your suppliers quicker than your customers are paying you. There is a cost associated with this borrowing and that cost is usually passed on to the customers. If you can keep all the balls in the air at this point then things may go quite well. There will come a point though when you will be advised that by selling shares in your company, you will raise a huge sum of money which will allow you to get to the second stage. The one that kills innovation.
The second stage is all about balancing the books. You are a public company now and your shareholders effectively call the shots. all of your efforts are now directed at cost saving. You might acquire one of your suppliers because that will cut cost out of your bottom line. Standardisation creeps in. Quality is sacrificed for expedience and you decide that this year, perhaps you won’t have a pay rise for your loyal and hard working staff, because that would take value away from the shareholders. If your product and your sanity survive this trip through the looking glass, you may survive this period and move up to level 3. Increase Profit.
The third stage is all about driving more profit. You have a choice. Having squeezed all the margins on your existing product, you can either invent another one or artificially massage the figures by cutting more cost. Since you have been a good and conscientious employer, your workers will have had pay increases and by now they may be beginning to look expendable. After all, you’ve taken most of the complexity out of the manufacturing process, you are more interested in driving profit than innovation, some of these guys are beginning to look expensive. Only the employment laws wont just let you sack them. So you come up with another wheeze. You make the workforce compete against one another and you award the entire bonus pool to the top performers. What could be more logical, the shareholders will love it! Except for the small fact that you’ve done the equivalent of something many of us have dreamed of doing but never dared – driving along a motorway at 70 mph and suddenly slamming the gearbox into reverse. The effect on the company’s internal culture is the same as the effect upon the gearbox of that car. Components that were smoothly meshed together go into competition and finally fracture, spilling oil and shrapnel all over the motorway. This is usually the end of the company in any recognisable form.
This only makes sense in a culture that values profit above all else, and even then it makes very little sense. You have saved very little money and set the workforce against one another. Lasting success is built upon innovation and cooperation in old style capitalism. In the new style we see that success is built upon bean counting – exploitation and greed. We see the results of this in the news most days now. Take G4S the company that have screwed up the security contract for the Olympics – £58m of public money is being paid to this company as a “management” fee. The army and police drafted in to make up the shortfall for this outfits inability to meet their contractual obligations will be paid from the public purse. THe CEO who is widely expected to stand down after the Olymics is set to receive a £20m severance fee. These are big figures. A large part of their problem has been that the people they have employed to work on the project don’t turn up to work. I wonder why? But here’s a clue. To those people who are guaranteed a bonus of £1 for every hour they complete, the prospect of the blundering permatanned oaf at the top taking home £20m must be beyond offensive.
G4S are but one example. We’ve had News International phone tapping, Barclays rigging the LIBOR and HSBC allegedly laundering billions of dollars of drug money in the news just this week. Its making the government’s position on privatisation look like a death wish. I’ve come across a concept called “people per hour” – its about sourcing creatives from the internet. Sounds like a good idea right? Only it indicates just how commoditised our lives have become. And this is part of the whole capitalist vision. We like the idea that we can source say a graphic designer from the web to do the delivery part of our graphic design job. It makes sense in a cost cutting kind of a way. But think of the graphic designer. How does he/she grow the skills they need to progress. How do they make up the shortfall in their income? What differentiates them from a battery chicken? Whatever happened to career progression?
The time has come to act. We need an alternative and we need it fast. I’m too old to be fighting in the streets and its never solved anything anyway, for my part I have made a simple pledge; if I discover unethical dealings on the part of my mortgage provider, my bank or any of my service providers I will move to an ethical provider before they can blink. Its the least I can do. They wont miss me, but they might miss a thousand of me. Its the least you can do.
Superficially, this is about Silicon Valley disrupting the media industry. We’ve seen the effect of downloads on the music industry and the Film and Television industries don’t want any repeat of that scenario thank you very much!
The case of the start up band who have to pay for their rehearsal space, pay to print up CDs and Publicity material, hoping to make at least some money back through sales, only to have their hopes dashed by cynical downloaders purloining their content for free is also well heard. I am a photographer and have found my photographs on Google, adorning sites I’ve never heard of. A magazine recently offered me the princely sum of £2 for one picture – an improvement on last year when two magazines with high street distribution deals printed photographs of mine for no fee! At first glance, this embattled artist is tempted to agree that SOPA is not a bad thing.
But of course embattled artists are not the only losers, and if any government is passing legislation solely to protect the rights of struggling artists, frankly I’ll eat my hat. There are other players with much more to lose, and this is why there is such a fuss about SOPA.
This debate is about control. Control over the internet. Or to put it crudely, delivery of the internet into the hands of the vested interests providing content through established channels like print, film and CD.
Link sharing sites such as Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg etc will under the proposed acts be liable for prosecution if they are found to be distributing links to unoriginal material. In effect, this makes them vulnerable to frivolous litigation like never before. Big companies have deep pockets and will have no qualms about bankrupting the pretenders to their throne by forcing lawsuits to be defended.
The sponsorship of government advising think tanks by corporate interests has also been well documented as has the use of lobbyists by various industries to influence government thinking. The extent to which News International influenced successive elections in the UK can only be guessed at, but it is well documented that Rebekah Wade was a regular guest at the homes and offices of successive prime ministers. No coincidence when the Murdoch owned Sun, News of the World and Times all backed the same horse.
The appointment of Murdoch fan Jeremy Hunt to the Ministry of Culture and the subsequent proposal to allow Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB to be waved through could be interpreted as payback for the press support for the Tories before the election. It was only stopped by furious protests from the public and one newspaper’s, The Guardian, tireless quest to expose the illegal activities taking place in the News of the World under the auspices of …Rebekah Wade. Nobody should remain in any doubt that corporate interests influence and in some cases dictate government policy.
SOPA and its little brother PIPA are merely the instruments by which the corporate interests that control the old media, hope to wrest control of the new media away from Silicon Valley. It should be resisted at all costs, not because we prefer anarchy, but because democracy is founded on freedom of choice and if there is no freedom of information then there is no freedom of choice. I don’t mind sacrificing a few photographs to uphold that principle.
originally published at Electrical Image 18.1.12
I’ve had a great time this week building a web site for my photographic adventures – Electrical Image. This was precipitated by 500px falling out with their fulfilment guys, Fotomoto. I figure that if anyone is going to buy a picture through the site, it will be between now and Christmas. I still love the 500px site and will keep adding to it periodically, but for reasons that I write about on the new blog, I think Electrical Image is the way to go. One thing I learned – web building technology has realy moved on apace since I used to to that for a living.
The new site is a self hosted WordPress site using a theme developed by Photocrati, especially for photographers. The site was up and running in a couple of hours, literally, so full marks to all parties. The population of the site will take a little longer, but I’m pleased with the look of it so far and will spend some time tweaking it and adding content over the next couple of weeks.
Primarily, the intent of the new site is to provide a gallery for my photographs, or at least the ones I think are any good! I’ll also be blogging over there (Electrical Image) about a broad range of things that are of interest to photographers, from Kit to promotion, photowalks, events and techniques (assuming I discover any!).
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
- Steve Jobs
I don’t know why I feel slightly shaken up by this news, but I do. Perhaps in recognition of the fact I’m only a year younger than Steve Jobs and my achievements are but specks in comparison. Perhaps its the realisation that death cheats us all in the end. It only seems like a couple of weeks ago that Steve Jobs stood down as chief executive of Apple and although it was difficult to see him as a man who would enjoy retirement, if anyone deserved some quality time with his family it was surely him.
Whatever you think about the products, Apple is a company that changed the world, and without the focus, determination and vision of Steve Jobs, both Apple and the world would have been poorer places.
image by Jonathan Mak
OK this is shameless self publicity, but what the hell, its my blog! Finally, I’ve got around to putting a portfolio of my photography up on the web. It can be found at Electrical Image, hosted by the very wonderful 500px.
Should anyone become so enthralled as to wish to purchase any of my work, on postcard, print or some such, then the very best images are all for sale in a variety of formats at the online store.
Buy with no inhibitions – it will make me a very happy man!!
I’ve put off writing this post in the aftermath of the rioting, partly because I’m keenly aware that ranting about politics is not what this blog was originally set up to do, partly because I suspected in my cynical and road weary fashion that we’d get a bunch of soundbytes from Prime Minister Cameron asserting qualities such as ‘leadership’, blaming riots on the previous administration, followed by well, no coherent action. I wanted to see, if I was right.
Well frankly, in my wildest and most paranoid dreams I could not have predicted what a complete hash Cameron would make of it.
Firstly we got the soundbytes, exactly as expected. There was a lot of confrontational language on display. Words such as “fightback”, phrases like “zero tolerance” – not the words I would have chosen when dealing with a situation as potentially combustible as this, but exactly the sort of old fashioned Tory tripe I had expected to hear from Cameron.
And it got worse. Cameron enthusiastically blamed the Labour Party, the Police, the absent fathers – everyone and everything except the cuts, the joblessness and the despair his policies have visited upon the poorer sections of society. He proposed that not just the criminals, but their entire families be evicted from social housing. A suggestion immediately acted upon by Westminster council. A suggestion that flies in the face of fairness, human rights and common sense. And possibly the law.
Next, after a consultative process that must have lasted oh, at least five minutes, Cameron proposed to shut down Twitter, Blackberry messaging and damn it, if necessary the entire internet to stop these rioters communicating. I expect the telephone service and the royal mail to swiftly follow. Apart from the implausibility of the coalition actually doing this, isn’t this exactly what he so vociferously condemned the Egyptian government for attempting six months ago?
And then it got hilariously, stupidly, downright incompetently even worse. Without consultation with the police forces, Cameron appointed one Bill Bratton, ex chief of police for LA, a district so ridden with gang violence that it makes Tottenham look like Camberwick Green, to advise the government on how to deal with the societal issues that caused the riots. As offensive as this idea must have seemed to our own police forces, it was about to get even worse.
Bill Bratton is chairman of the private detective agency Kroll. (You can see where this is heading, right?) In June this year, Kroll were accused very publicly and in formal court papers by Dr Martin Coward, a city investment manager, of illegally planting covert surveillance equipment in his house and car. Evidence submitted to the court included the surveillance equipment and hilariously, a video of the goon squad going about their business. But of course as we well know, Cameron is a man who believes in second chances, so obviously he got his people to carry out background checks? Well, with crushing inevitability, it seems no background checks were carried out. So for the sake of a soundbyte, Cameron has done exactly the same thing he did with Andy Coulson. Arrogant? Ignorant? Incompetent? all of these?
There is just one good thing about this government. It is impossible to countenance the electorate ever again falling for a politician who combines poor leadership, empty promises and an empty headed view of people based solely on class, connections and money? Well, isn’t it?
I travel a fair amount on business and this is a trend across all of the hotels I stay in – Holiday Inn & Marriott most recently. It doesn’t make sense except from a perspective that says – “the price is set at the most the market will stand”. Now that’s a long way from setting the price at “the value of the offering”. Especially since the connection is usually slower than 3G.
The fact is, I have now enabled my iPhone to act as a personal wi-fi network at a cost of £5 a month. So I, or rather my employer, don’t have to pay these ridiculous charges. Even that does no credit to Orange – it costs them nothing to support the service. It is built into the handset, so on what planet is it reasonable to apply a charge for me to use my phone’s capabilities in the way that I want? They already charge me for data to the phone.
The answer is they do it because they can. And HSBC, declaring half year profits of £7 billion last year simultaneously announce the slashing of 25,000 jobs. Because they can. That’s the world we have created, the world we have voted for.
I can’t help thinking we are being governed by idiots, presiding over the biggest and probably last cash grab most of us will live to see. The writing on the wall says – Recession – it says it in large luminous letters. House prices are decreasing, the market is flatlining. A sensible business might actually look at providing value for money. But not the Marriott, not Holiday Inn. Not BAA in charging for wi-fi in the airport or Dixons for charging ludicrous prices in duty-free. It’s a dog eat dog world these days and the last person standing will please, turn out the lights.