Tax is not charity

Most people seem to forget what tax is. It’s a compulsory levy. It’s not charity.

It’s entirely natural for individuals and corporate entities to manage their finances such that they are required to pay less tax, in just the same way as it’s entirely natural to wish to do anything else in this world that is not prohibited by law. That’s the whole point of the law: to set the boundary between what people can and cannot do.

If multinationals avoiding paying a higher amount of tax is significantly impacting national revenues, the tax laws must be changed so that said multinationals can’t avoid paying it; end of story. If there is any scorn to be poured, it should be over the government for presiding over tax laws that don’t collect enough money to fund the country.

I often wonder how many of those unleashing tirades of moral excoriation against the “evil tax-avoiding corporations” willingly pay voluntary contributions over and above their personal tax bill to the state, and if they don’t, the reason why they don’t.

Three steps to metric height signage

In the DfT’s recently announced review of UK signage, it was revealed that there will be a new dual-unit height warning sign prescribed to allow authorities to sign in dual units without needing two signs. However, notable in its absence is a requirement for authorities to use this sign and cease installing imperial-only signs, which means the problem of foreign lorry bridge strikes has no end in sight.

The solution to this whole problem appears as simple as mandating dual-unit signage and removing imperial-only versions from the regulations. However, as per my recent post on the SABRE forums, my view is that dual units on single signs, while better than imperial-only, isn’t the best long-term solution because it requires drivers to read twice as much information compressed together in smaller text, making the sign less clear and therefore less effective as a warning in those split seconds available to drivers to process it. Having dual units split across two signs is just as bad, as it presents the same problem of excessive information but with the additional costs of having to manufacture and fit twice as many signs and the increased visual clutter that ensues.

As far as I can see, the only reason imperial indications on height signage are necessary at all appears to be that that Regulation 10(2) of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 still only requires vehicles over 3.66 metres tall to display in-cab notices in feet and inches. Because there is no requirement to show a metric figure, the vast majority of commercially available reconfigurable in-cab indicators don’t show it, so to have metric-only height signs on the roads would be a safety risk.

All it would take to solve this problem would be to make three simple regulatory changes:

1) Amend RVCUR to require both imperial AND metric height indications on in-cab notices;
2) Amend TSRGD to replace all imperial-only and dual-unit height-related signs prescribed in diagrams 530, 531.1, 532.2, 532.3, 780A, 780.1A, 780.2A, 818.3, 2002, 2003, 2027, 2107, 7284 and 7284.1 (plus one or two others I might have missed) with metric-only versions; and
3) Amend TSRGD to define a transition period during which all existing imperial-only height road signs would continue to be legal (existing dual-unit signs could be kept legal indefinitely).

As soon as these regulatory changes came into effect, all high vehicles on the roads – both domestic and continental – would have their height displayed in-cab in metric, and imperial-only height signs on the roads would begin to be automatically phased out during the transition period at minimal additional cost to local authorities during the normal course of sign replacements, just as in the case of pre-1981 weight limit signs in “tons” and “cwt”.

After the transition period is over, all height signs will be new metric ones or older dual-unit ones, so in-cab indicator requirements can be relaxed to only require metric. Job done.

The DfT couldn’t object to this on grounds of cost. The only taxpayer expense would be the administrative costs of notifying all registered operators of oversize vehicles of the date of the change (the costs of changing in-cab notices would be borne by the operators themselves) and updating official documentation.

Of course, if you’re going to remove imperial height-related signage from TSRGD, you might as well be consistent and remove imperial width/length-related signage as well. There seems to be no practical reason at all why these should remain in imperial, since vehicle manufacturers’ specifications and even the construction regulations themselves have long been in metric.

Surely Network Rail and and the Police, among others, would be happy to put pressure on the DfT to carry out these simple, cost-effective improvements that would pave the way to ending the problem of bridge strikes due to unit confusion once and for all?

It’s official: the majority of the UK adult population received a metric secondary education

In the past, arguments against the use of metric units on the roads, in the media and in other areas of life cited the fact that the majority of UK adults had not been educated using the metric system.

Now, however, the Office of National Statistics’ own population figures for 2010 show that 52.38% – the majority – of the UK adult population have received a full secondary education in metric units.

This figure is the percentage of the total number of people in the UK aged 18 and above who in mid-2010 were aged 47 and below, i.e. those who were aged 11 in mid-1974, the year when metric tuition became mandatory in UK schools.

The ONS’s 2008-based population projections for 2011-2083 also show that the percentage of metric-educated adults will hit 60% as soon as 2016.

The ONS’s own population pyramid datasets can be downloaded and examined at:

Smoking ban in pubs

If you don’t like smoke, don’t go to a smoky pub.

More blinding than the simplicity of the above statement is the fact that most people don’t seem to understand it.

“Oooh I hate it when I go out to a pub/club and I have to breathe it in and my clothes smell like it when I come home oooooh” — THIS is the argument Joe public grumbles instead, in favour of a BLANKET restriction on smoking in ALL pubs, bars, clubs and other private establishments. Let’s get this right here: they are advocating preventing ANYBODY smoking a cigarette, rollie, cigar, pipe, etc. in an establishment where everybody around them is either doing the same or has agreed they are happy to do it.


If you are one of the ones who doesn’t think the world’s gone mad, and this is in fact a great move that will make pubs much nicer for you to be in, read on – I’m talking to you now.

Say you have sensitive hearing. You want to go for a night out with your mates, so you go to a club. Almost straightaway your ears are being assaulted from all sides by ‘BOOM TSS BOOM TSS BOOM TSS’ from the sound system and a constant stream of “PINT O’ STELLA MATE”/”LEAVE IT RICKAAYYYY”/”WANNA SHAG INNIT” from the clubbers all around you. Two hours later, you leave the club and your poor little ears are ringing like crazy.

Incenced at the noise you were “forcibly” subjected to, you ring the managers to complain — and you’re surprised when they laugh at you, and ask why you went in there in the first place if you didn’t like the noise. THEY hang up.

The moral of this story kids? If you don’t want to go into a place that has stuff going on that you think will hurt you (like a Lion’s enclosure, the starting grid of a racing track, and obviously a nightclub), DON’T GO IN.

So where were we? Ah yes, smoking. Yes, it’s dangerous, and personally, I hate it; I find it hard understanding why anyone would want to waste their money (and their lifespan) just keeping themselves out of withdrawal. If you were thinking I was a ’25-a-day’ man, you couldn’t be further from the truth; I have asthma, and cigarette smoke doesn’t do the best things for me, let’s say. So if a pub is filled to the roof with smoke, you wouldn’t get a coconut for guessing that I would rather find somewhere less smoky, preferably free of it. If I can make that choice, every time I go out, without any grudges on the people enjoying themselves with their smoke…

…why can you not?

I believe it just boils down to 3 reasons.

— If it’s the fact that you don’t KNOW you’re going into a smoky pub (leaving aside the fact that you’d SMELL it as soon as you got within spitting distance of the door), why not campaign for big signs outside such establishments with “SMOKING ESTABLISHMENT” on them? Would that make it clear enough for you?

— If it’s the fact that bar staff could be “passively smoking”, those who are disgruntled can be given this advice: if you don’t like the working conditions, don’t take the job. If you want to work in a bar that allows smoking, expect to breathe the stuff in. Same as you expect to breathe in coal dust if you work in a mine, breathe in traces of toxic chemicals if you work in a chemical works, breathe in nasty smells if you shovel cow poo all day… Similarly, you can’t complain if you get tinnitus because you go to death metal gigs every day of the week and stand by the speakers. You haven’t got anyone but yourself to blame if you take a job in an openly smoke-friendly pub and then complain that you can’t stand smoke.

— If it’s (as I suspect) the fact that you simply can’t stand watching other people doing what they want to do, however harmful it could be to them, and you have some strange paternalistic desire to ‘protect them from themselves’, you obviously haven’t ever driven a car, sunbathed, lit a gas stove, had a bath, used a drill, climbed a flight of stairs, eaten fast food…

If people want to go into a pub, and smoke, you have NO RIGHT to tell them not to because they’re doing themselves harm. The best way of bringing about more pubs that are smoke-free, have no loud music, or offer anything you’d prefer, is to refuse to enter pubs that DON’T satisfy you. If you have any nice smoke-free pubs in your area, USE THEM.

Passive smoking is only dangerous if you choose to do it.

MSN censorship in China

Democracy. Demonstration. Freedom.

If I were in China, I wouldn’t be allowed to make this post because of the above three words.

Microsoft have bowed down to the Chinese government’s demands for censorship of MSN Spaces.

Some would say that Microsoft is behaving like a typical big corporation in service solely to the mighty dollar, agreeing to outrageous Chinese censorship just to gain access to the market, despite the fact that its dollars will have been earned off the back of repression.

Look around your house. How many things would you think are made in China? Your keyboard? Your mouse? Parts of your car? Kitchen appliances? You bought those. Every time money is sent China’s way, it pays for a government that is happily destroying the usefulness of the Internet for Chinese people. So you pay for censorship.

And so do I.

It’s a difficult one. It’s hard to avoid all Chinese products, and life would be difficult if we try. But how can we protest whenever we hear about the trampling down of freedom in China when we’re typing our objections out on Chinese keyboards, the money for which has helped the government trample such freedom?

By “freedom” I’m not referring to Freedom, trademark of the United States of America, synonymous with “American cultural influence, worldwide military spread and economic dominance”. President Bush doesn’t care about real freedom (small ‘f’) — if he did, he would at least offer to defend Taiwan against China when China threatens Taiwan with missile strikes upon anything resembling a declaration of independence. Real freedom is not the US government imposing its will throughout the globe; it is exactly what the dictionary calls it: “the power to act or speak or think without externally imposed restraints”.

I suppose though, if vegans can manage to avoid everything that’s touched animals, why can’t we manage to avoid all things made in China? It’s all a matter of will I suppose. “Fairtrade” teas and coffees offer those in poor positions a better deal, and they’re gaining in popularity. I wonder how long it will be before we see a similar movement to do something about the world’s greatest outpost of oppression?

By the way, my keyboard was made in Thailand.


It’s time for another opinionated rant. This one’s a biggie, and deeper than my usual stuff. Please extinguish your cigarettes and fasten your safety belts.

So what is it this time? A bit of background. At university, I studied music. A lot of the stuff we had to read was by a certain type of author — high-and-mighty beard strokers called ‘modernists’ who thought they and their tweed wearing buddies were ‘special’ and knew better than “the ignorant masses” because they had great ‘theories’ or ‘concepts’ behind their music. These included join-the-dots written music, playing instruments backwards, dropping things, turning mathematical algoritms into melodies, 4 minutes of silence, etc. These writers really annoyed me, because despite how clever they thought they were and how much effort they apparently went to, the ‘forward thinking’ music they advocated was always bullshít. Let’s make no mistake here — even if you read the liner notes it still didn’t make any sense and was just as offensive. It was obvious that they were only prepared to give credit to works that were significantly “different” from anything else already done – anything else was snobbily dismissed as “derivative”, “backward-looking”, “kitsch”, “sentimental” or “pastiche”, as if its very existence was theft or mockery of others’ ideas. Complete scorn toward and rejection of the past was a core modernist belief. This meant that unless a work WAS a jumble of random noises, to these academics it was worthless.

So, that’s modernist music: repulsive. But at least it can sit happily in archives for eternity and not bother anyone. But unfortunately, some architects had been going to the same lectures. When the war destroyed a lot of our best buildings, the modernists saw their chance to impose their stupid vision on us in the form of architecture. Go into town and look for the nearest 1950’s/1960’s/1970’s concrete monstrosities (like London’s National TheatreIsland Block and former Home Office Building, Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre, Sheffield’s Park Hill EstateCumbernauld town centre, and countless others). Beautiful, aren’t they? Aren’t they? That’s ‘modernist’ architecture for you. The use of undecorated, unpainted concrete as the dominant material was appropriately termed “brutalism” (couldn’t agree more). The same academics who were falling head over heels imposing their visions of concrete cathedrals in the middle of our otherwise historic and attractive towns and cities were the same folk as were oohing and aahing over piles of disjointed notes in the world of music. And just like modernist music was seen as hideously ugly, so was the architecture. And both still are.

Crikey, this is turning into an essay, and I left University years ago.

Anyway, even though concrete fell out of favour, there still seems to be this ‘cult of modernism’ in British architecture. If a new building isn’t made of lots of glass/metal/untreated wood and shaped like a penis, which is the current modernist flavour of the month, it gets the same critism reserved for non-modernist music — it’s “pastiche”, “derivative” or “of little architectural value”. Any architect that hasn’t followed the ‘guidance’ of Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier (the ‘gods’ of modernist worship) is described as “lazy”, “unimaginative” or just plain “incapable”. This all-pervading cult is exactly the same as its counterpart in modern visual art — look at some of the dreadful eyesores that won awards last year from the Royal Institute of British Architects, and spot the parallels between them and the Turner Prize nominations.

Where modernist architects have got it wrong is that architecture is NOT just another medium for artists to innovate for the sake of innovation, get brownie points from academic institutions or experiment with fanciful ‘concepts’ — that’s the trap that conventional art has fallen into. Architecture is MUCH more than just an artist’s canvas. It’s something locals have to put up with every day, and they have to be proud of it. It has to be in harmony with everything else near it or it looks out of place. It has to respect local styles and materials, or it strips places of individual character. If people find a building they have to work or live in ugly, it has negative effects on their lives. If its appearance or unusual layout discourage people from using it, it’s a failure. And one lesson we must learn about concrete eyesores: if locals hated them when they were new, they will still hate them decades later.

But all is not lost. There’s a new movement called ‘New Urbanism’ that recognises modernism’s shortcomings and strives to revive the lost art of building beautifully. It’s the complete opposite of modernism. Prince Charles is one of its high profile supporters, and just under a decade ago he started building the new village of Poundbury on his Dorset estate. Check out the pictures and see what you think. When I first saw it, I realised just what architects COULD do should they disregard the modernist clique and just build the buildings people want to live in. At first glance, it looks like a genuine “old” country village — but look a little closer and you see that it’s brand new, and very well planned. But somehow, knowing it’s new doesn’t matter. It doesn’t look like a museum, or a carbon copy of another ancient place. There are perfectly proportioned open spaces, comfortably narrow streets that wind about, and a liberal intermixing, rather than strict separation, of residential and commercial properties. No two houses are the same. Hundreds of people have flocked to move in, architects and town planners organise tours to go see it, and apparently civic pride is strong. And surprise surprise — the modernists HATE it.

Stephen Bayley, from the above website: “…Poundbury, Prince Charles’ own experiment in building an ideal community… the architecture is lazy and intellectually sentimental… lifeless, artless pastiche… a bad copy of a jobbing Georgian builder’s original.”

My my. They really ARE threatened by it. Well, naturally — the lid’s finally off on the truth — their buildings suck. Take a look at some of the college art projects masquerading as houses he advocates— I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to want to flock there in their droves, so his opinion’s pretty worthless.

This is why I’m so annoyed with these egotistical, arrogant, holier-than-thou academics (“but I’m an artist don’t you know”) who dominate the upper echelons of British architecture: buildings are MUCH more than just artistic statements.

– Firstly, just because a building imitates an earlier style does not make it “artless” or “pastiche” — if so, surely the hordes of concrete eyesores are ‘concrete pastiches’? It does not even make it a “bad copy”; history is chock full of examples of imitations of styles that often came thousands of years before, e.g. gothic style, classical style, greek style, oriental style, etc. The year of construction should not matter — just because a style was predominant in the past doesn’t mean it can’t still be employed in the present. You don’t have to make buildings radically different just for the sake of it, if an existing style is both beautiful and popular, and when you can still build something totally original within the style’s boundaries.

– Secondly, buildings are part of an organic, human environment and have to respect human needs and sensibilities, or they are simply sculptures, not buildings at all. If you build something in the middle of a town or city, where existing buildings dictate a style whether you like it or not, you have to respect the environment and build it for the people who live there, NOT disregard everything else and design for your own aggrandisement in architectural circles.

– Thirdly, and most importantly, publicly visible buildings are as much about politics as they are about anything else. If there’s one lesson we’ve learnt from the concrete carbuncle era, it’s that modernists can build in whatever style they like, but if they build stuff they know full well the public will hate, they can only expect the same public to be cheering in a few decades’ time when the bulldozers move in.

You may now unfasten your belts and exit the aircraft. Have a pleasant day.

Discussion Forums

Newsgroups seem to be dying. Doing searches for anything on Google Groups yields fewer and fewer results from recent months; most results point to posts that are at least 2 years old. A lot of newsgroups that were once probably thriving hubs of conversation have been reduced to spamtraps.

The fact that the popularity of newsgroups as a medium is waning isn’t the issue. People don’t just “stop talking”, obviously – conversation is moving elsewhere; in particular, most conversation seems to be moving toward web-based discussion forums. This isn’t a problem in itself either, the technology isn’t so bad at all and allows for posting of images, post counts, etc, more of a community spirit if you will. The 2 big problems I have with discussion forums are:

1) There is no centralised way of searching all forums, everywhere, regardless of forum software used, like Google Groups allows you to do with Newsgroups,
2) Whenever you feel you want to reply to a posting on a forum you haven’t used before, you have to REGISTER EVERY SINGLE BLOODY TIME.

Number 1 is a pretty bad thing. I LOVE the ability to search Google groups for answers to questions, reviews of hardware/software, discussion of hobbies, meeting people with similar interests… the list is endless. Now I see the amounts of new postings going down for Newsgroups and I’m thinking “OK, fair enough, Newsgroups are on their way out, now where do I have to go to search all the world’s forums for answers?” There is NO WAY, yet, that you can do it. Google staff – if you’re reading this – why not set up a way to search forums worldwide just as you can search the Newsgroup archive? Is the time not right?

Number 2 is the WORST problem with forums. With almost all newsgroups, the system is simple: you go there, find a thread you want to reply to and reply to it, or just start one up yourself. No faffing with verifying your identity or email address. Engaging in the conversations was EASY and made spontaneous expression possible. Now look at most web forums. Before you can add even a small reply to a topic you’ve seen (for example if you think there’s a little something you can add to it), you have to go through the same TEDIOUS registration process – pick a username (probably taken so several retries needed), enter email address (twice), enter password (twice), full name, date of birth, ICQ number, MSN, AOL, interests, location, secret question, mother’s maiden name, cat’s middle name, number of toes on left foot…


Can we PLEASE have a central forum registration system at least? Like MSN Passport? Sign up at one place and then you can post anywhere. Your info gets sent to any forum you post to so they can ban you if they want to. If this doesn’t get done, people are going to be put off engaging in conversation by having to register to each and every sodding forum they want to use. I don’t want to have to sign up to 500 forums just to post in 500 different topics. This is a definite step backwards from the unhindered, universal accessibility of newsgroups and I hope someone addresses it soon, before people give up trying to discuss anything over the internet any more.

Keyboard Layouts

Just another random thought today as I look at my computer keyboard (yes, here comes yet another another moan). Why is the keyboard layout we use so stupid? I’m not talking about the A-Z alphabetic keys – I mean all the other extra letters.

Look at some of the stupid pointless symbols you can enter. What the hell is ^ (shift+6) supposed to be? I’ve never ever used it in typing and can’t think of any reason anyone would want to. Likewise ‘~’ – apparently this on early US typewriters so that spanish people could put the tilde over the ‘n’ (like in España), but why it needs to be on modern computer keyboards is beyond me. The character | (shift+\ next to Z) hardly ever gets used either. The worst, though, has to be the letter to the left of ‘1’ – `¬¦. What on god’s earth are those unrecognisable and (surely) never used symbols (backwards quote thingy, backwards sideways L thingy, two lines on top of each other thingy) doing taking up one whole valuable key on a PC keyboard?

Think about it – getting rid of that key could free up space on the board for more valuable letters that we can’t type right now without using Character Map. How do you enter the degree sign, °? How do you properly type the temperature as 50°C? How do you enter the half sign, ½? How do you enter the copyright sign, trademark sign, plus minus, all reasonably useful characters that people at some point scratch their heads wondering how to get at. Instead, PC keyboards give us a key devoted to `, ¬ and ¦. Wow.

I’m also wondering why British and American keyboards have to be different. They have their @ symbol over the 2 key, the ” symbol over the ‘ key, their # symbol over the 3 key and the (useless) ~ symbol over the (useless) ` key. They don’t have a £ symbol at all. Having the quotes over the apostrophe seems to make much more sense to me, but it’s a shame they don’t have a £ symbol. Can’t some compromise be reached so that the same keyboards can be produced sold on both sides of the atlantic without modification? Surely this would drive down prices? I’m not an economist but I think I can guess that much.