Monday, 27 August 2012

Why can't techies leave things alone?

I've just come back to the blog to find Google (who own blogger) have changed layouts, styles, fonts, the dashboard and so on.

Why? It worked perfectly well before. Its not obviously better now - it's just different and therefore less convenient because I (and at some other time in the past) other users have to re-learn how to finesse it to produce a desired result.

This happens so often in technology: one reason I no longer bother with facebook (and linkedin) is because they kept changing it.
And yet ... all those people working on the changes are doing it because they think it will make the world a better place. A shame it usually doesn't.


Had I been organised I’d have posted my thoughts on what was
important for 2012 before the year was over half way through – in fact I’d have
done it at the start of the year. I did generate the thoughts, I just never
wrote them down. But better late than never:

At home, the economy is the most important thing: will there
be a double dip recession and if so will it be long standing, will inflation
start to reduce, and will public sector spending come under control? Much of
the outcome will be determined by what happens outside the UK:
- in Europe where uncertainty about the Euro and the public
sector deficits and the safety of banks in some European countries is
depressing confidence and economic activity;
- in the US, where a stand-off between Democrats and
Republicans over pretty much everything but especially how to deal with the
deficit, is again damaging confidence and therefore investment;
- in the Middle East, where continued instability is a
threat to the world economy (and much else); and
- in China, whose growth can impact the rest of the world
because of its scale although in turn it can be influenced by events elsewhere.
I thought that there would not be a double dip recession
(although I now know I was wrong) but that inflation would come down and the
public sector deficit would continue to be brought under control albeit slowly.
Concerns are that the Government has prioritised rebuilding bank capital over increased
bank lending and that the Bank of England seems to have no policy prescription
other than Quantitative Easing. This does not help economic growth.

Four other matters are of interest:
Will the coalition continue to work reasonably well?
As it nears mid-term and the warm glow of doing something
fresh fades away under the pressure of events, the coalition will come under
pressure particularly from disenchanted back benchers seeking a media presence
in the absence of a seat in Government. As long as it remembers why it is
there: to focus ruthlessly on getting public sector finances under control: it
should continue. It is in the interests of neither of the parties nor the
country to have a minority Government or an election.

The Leveson enquiry
It has been pretty unedifying and a bit tedious to watch
resentful celebrities and forgetful politicians parade before the enquiry but
this enquiry is important. This enquiry is important for the country; press
freedom is precious and in an over-hyped atmosphere it would be easy to see it

Feel good factors
The Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics ought to be good for
the country. I wish we hadn’t got the Olympics (too much of the original ideals
seem to have disappeared under rampant commercialism) but I hope we make the
best of them and the Jubilee should be something special. Hopefully the
spending around both events will offset the fact that many people won’t be
working during them.

Banks: as before, will we stop hating them?
See my 2011 comments.

Abroad, the factors I noted above will be important.

In Europe, the survival of the Euro (which I don’t doubt)
will lead to greater common Governance amongst the Euro area and potentially in
the Union generally. This will put pressure on the British position. Our
relationship with Europe is tense at the best of times – the facts that we’re
an island that’s never been successfully invaded, we have a common law culture and
an international economy mean that we approach the Union with a different
philosophy from the other major countries. Most of the political parties are
divided on the subject, and the coalition is particularly so. Although
renegotiation of our relationship is inevitable it is not a good time to do it
when everyone is in crisis.

In the US, the Presidential election is very close. The
Republicans have made America ungovernable and their candidate does not deserve
to win. But the Democrats have responded by ignoring the need to cut long term
spending commitments as part of sorting out the deficit. Obama inherited
probably the biggest mess ever but has not been able to sound convincing on the
economy. I hope he wins; I suspect he won’t.
In the Middle East, life is as ever a series of flashpoints. I visited Jordan and Israel earlier in the year, an excuse in due course to publish some of my pictures. The visit reinforced my view that the real danger in the Middle East is Israel: it may be closer to the West than the rest of the region but its intolerance could mean it will do something stupid in Iran.

2011 Reprise

2011 seems a long time ago, but as a restart for my blog Ithought I’d briefly comment on my thoughts for that year to see how relevantthey proved to be.

The AV Vote seemed important at the time, and it was.Had AV been supported it would have led to a major change in UK electionpractices. Pleasingly, it was rejected by a substantial majority which shouldput an end to this sort of constitutional meddling for a good few years (Iwrite with the broad philosophy that change is best avoided if things aren’ttoo broken because the unintended consequences are usually much worse than theproblem being solved). However, the result has (as I thought) led to moretensions within the coalition Government because the to keep their supportersquiet the LibDems now have to appear to be getting more out of the arrangement.I think the differentiation between the parties would have happened in anyevent: because Government is harder than people think, frustrations develop;because the next election always gets nearer; because the initial euphoriawears off. But it has happened earlier than otherwise, which is a shame, and policieswill be impacted by posturing rather than practicality. An example is thatClegg and some colleagues are now pushing House of Lords reform. Yet the Houseof Lords is one of the few parts of Government that works well.

The slight reduction in the growth of public expenditure(aka The Cuts). Only history will tell us the outcome; it’s clear that someprogress has been made in reducing the growth in public expenditure but thereis a long way to go before we have a balanced economy.

The impact on the economy

I said the key would be confidence and it is this which hasbeen lacking. Although a significant number of jobs have been created by theprivate sector – almost as much as predicted – people and businesses lackconfidence. Some of this is because of the global economy, because of the europroblems and some because the news, and the message from many in Government, isdepressing. The Government has a difficult task: it has to be negative to keeppopular support for what it is doing but it can’t be so negative as to putpeople off; I think it had the balance wrong. This meant people and businesses didn’tspend or invest. All this coupled with a banking system that is not lending meant2011 saw very low growth.

But it could have been much worse. We have benefitted as acountry from very low interest rates, which have also stopped individuals withhigh borrowings from defaulting and creating further debt problems. The tripleAAA rating that we kept throughout the year has saved us from having to paymuch more for our borrowing leading to much greater public spending cuts and areally serious decline. We kept it because of the focus by the Government onpublic spending cuts to the extent that they convinced the world that theymeant it.

So the cuts are working although a lack of confidenceprevents growth.

The impact on social cohesion

I expressed concern over whether the apparently randomnature of the cuts would reduce the broad public support for them.

This didn’t seem to happen; the public still generallyunderstood the broad efforts of the Government. But there were damagingimpacts, in my view because the public has never accepted the cause of theeconomic crisis: it feels resentful because it is suffering because of others,particularly bankers. I think it is would be right to be resentful becauseothers have done better through the crisis, but it needs to look in the mirrorto find the cause. The general mood is to be ready to react with harshjudgement when things go wrong: the hype about press behaviour and the Murdochempire was a good example in 2011. And the riots showed how easily things cantip into the wrong direction. But although the country seemed tense it alsoseemed accepting of what was being done.

The Royal Wedding

I thought this would be a good news event which would boostthe economy; it was good news, and was brilliantly handled and probably helpedbring people together but sadly didn’t seem to help the economy. I describedthe forthcoming Olympics as a damp squib. That now seems churlish but I suspectit would be better for the economy had it been in Paris.


I hoped that banker bashing would diminish – because of theimportance for our economy – and I was wrong. As in many other posts I tried toexplain why we need to understand the faults of banks if we are to put themright.

Freedom of information

I got the theme right: this was an important issue that ranthrough the year. My focus was on Wikileaks and the need for the privacy ofinformation to be respected, although not at the expense of freedom ofinformation.

The big stories were contradictory: the ability of thepowerful to use injunctions to prevent information being published. It appearedfor a time that a few members of the judiciary were determined to prevent pressfreedom, but eventually a combination of political pressure, Private Eye,apparently unconnected stories and pictures in the press and finally Twitterand blogs saw most of the injunctions fail to the chagrin of the odd footballerand actor.

However something much more worrying for freedom ofinformation then happened: a combination of such deep jealousy of the successof News International newspapers by a failing newspaper, the Guardian, that itpublished lies which subsequently had to be corrected and a bitterness byelements of Labour over the Sun’s change to support the Tories saw an outcryand the establishment of the Leveson enquiry into the operations of the pressand the relationships between the press the media and the police. As withbanks, the politicians found it convenient to throw some mud at someone else.Phone hacking is what the press should do: there job is to expose what peopledon’t want exposed and we should be grateful to them.

Again, it’s too soon to say what the outcome will be, but2011 was not good for a free society.

The Euro

I thought it would survive and it did. Bruised, and with anuncertain status in the future, but it’s still here.

The situation is not good for Britain in two regards: oureconomy suffers as our largest trading partner suffers and the problemsencourage some of the sillier members of the Tory party to destabilise theGovernment by trying to push for withdrawal from or renegotiation of theEuropean Union.


As the west tires of Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to be apowder keg trusting no-one including itself. The instability in the Middle Eastis probably helpful: it shows that over time people can defeat military-sponsoreddictatorships – although at much cost and stability will take many years.resolved.


I said:
It faces three broad questions: how it controls the economywithout an excessive boom leading to bust (many think this is inevitable); howit balances a growing middle class and personal wealth with state control and alack of political freedom; and how it chooses to use its influence in worldpolitics – whether it continues to be largely impartial to world events orwhether it seeks to use its influence – and if the latter, how. We will all beimpacted by those questions.

We still are: little changed, for good or bad.