01 June, 2016

The EU Referendum

I have seen a lot of commentary on the referendum on Facebook. I think Facebook is a poor platform for debating complex issues, so I thought I would write on here instead.
For me, this referendum is between two unappealing options - at least from my perspective. I will now explain what I think our two choices represent. My political views probably align closest with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband with a dash of Chomsky; society is to a large extent controlled by the interests of a business elite, who can effectively buy votes through the persuading power of their media conglomerates. A free society needs legal safeguards to prevent any section of society from dominating the rest.
But other people will see things differently; I don't subscribe to the idea that either side are idiots. I also don't subscribe to the idea that there haven't been enough 'facts' in this campaign - life is not simple and neat! The two sides don't agree on very much, and even on the facts everyone agrees, it's disputed if they are relevant or not. For example, let's say that our economy suffers as a result of voting Leave. That might be a price worth paying if you think the EU is a totalitarian federation intent on taking away our liberty and wealth! Or perhaps you are voting Remain because you want to protect the environment and quite like having a brake on the Government. So take the following with a pinch of salt and see how it sits for you.


For me, Remain means choosing to continue to be part of a slowly converging arrangement with Europe.It will reduce the leverage our Government has. European leaders will conclude that, if in the midst of a migration crisis, with the EU's finances in a parlous state, the British public cannot bring themselves to vote Leave, then they never will. It will be 'game on' for further integration (political and economic) of the Eurozone, regulation of the City of London, and so on.
Of course, in the short term, the markets will breathe a sigh of relief, and things will carry on as normal. But over the longer term, we will have to deal with issues of cultural integration as Germany and others become 'stepping stones' for refugees and migrants, leading to European citizenship and in some cases, residency in the UK. Wages and jobs for unskilled workers will continue to be undermined by European immigration. We will also have to accept that our domestic politics will be increasingly constrained by European law and governance.
In practice, much of what comes from the EU seems to be good for consumers. They have cracked down on mobile roaming fees, for example, and forced airlines to pay compensation for poor service. These are good things, which I could not envisage the UK government implementing on its own - it is too strongly influenced by big business.
However, when you group together in any bigger organisation, parts of that organisation will have to make sacrifices for the 'greater good' of the whole. Insofar as we are different because of our currency, our focus on the financial sector, our free-at-the-point-of-care NHS and our seeming unwillingness to bend the rules on State Aid, we will probably lose out disproportionately.
In summary: remaining in the EU will probably not change a great deal, but over time we will have less ability to make radical changes in our country, and have to accept the consequences of being one part of a wider community of nations. A mostly benevolent bureaucracy will act as a check on the Government's instincts, for good or for ill.


I recommend this Guardian article on what happens if we Leave. I expect that there would be informal negotiations to ensure there is no need for free trade between the EU and UK to cease when we Leave. European leaders would have to balance the desire to 'punish' the UK - to dissuade other states from leaving the Union - with the reality of the world's fifth largest economy still being across the Channel. Since the Leave campaign have argued strongly against freedom of movement, it is unlikely we would join the EEA or EFTA in the short term.
The pound would drop in value. Businesses would panic for a time, but the Government would reassure them that free trade would be re-established in short order. Some companies might leave or delay investment. The deficit would increase.
On the plus side, the Government would have greater control of its own policy. A pro-immigration government could still grant visas to Europeans (and others); we could bring doctors and nurses in from all over the world without having to accept unskilled workers from the EU. The 'northern powerhouse' could reduce its VAT rate to 15% to encourage a rebalancing away from London.We could impose different rules on NHS payments for those who haven't paid National Insurance because they have just arrived, from those who haven't paid National Insurance because they have just turned 18.  On the other hand, we could abolish the Working Time Directive, paid maternity leave, consumer rights legislation, green laws that make us keep the beaches clean, and any number of other positive pieces of legislation.
While I don't think that leaving the EU would unleash the Conservatives to re-introduce the workhouse and ban paid holidays, on the evidence it seems to me that the Vote Leave claim that we could spend less on the EU and more on the NHS would not come to pass. Brexit would take power away from a foreign bureaucracy and hand it over to multinational corporations, who are much less democratic than the EU. We know that cheap Chinese steel killed the Redcar steel works; we also know that the Government has argued for reduced tariffs on Chinese steel.

I like voting in controversial ways. I like the idea of some of the things we could do if we left the EU. In theory, the EU is not all that democratic. But when I look at the people who are advocating Leave, they are almost all either a) very right-wing or b) very left-wing. The moderates are basically all in favour of Remain.
My conclusion is that being part of the EU is like having a monarchy. In principle, it's a terrible idea and goes against liberal democracy; in practice, it seems to work, especially compared to the alternatives on offer.

24 April, 2012

Tech Review: Samsung Galaxy Ace

I'm writing this to demonstrate that I can write a good, coherent review of a gadget. --Mark

Samsung Galaxy Ace Review

Galaxy Ace - photo from androidcommunity.com

Full specifications from GSMArena

Opinion leaders in the media and on major technology blogs almost invariably focus on the latest high-end gadgets - the iPhone 4S, the Galaxy Nexus range of phones, Alienware laptops... but for a lot of us, the only way we'll get our hands on one of these prized products is by trying them out in a shop or by having a friend who has bought one. Consumers who, like me, enjoy technology but want to get a lot of value out of lower priced products don't get much of a look in.

So today I'm reviewing my phone, which came out last year but is still available on £10-20 per month contracts in the UK: the Samsung Galaxy Ace.

I got the Ace through T-Mobile reseller fonehouse for £15.50pm, 24 month contract, with 300 minutes and unlimited texts and internet usage. (This, by the way, is still a good deal in today's market). I wanted a budget Android that would have a decent enough screen and processor for checking Facebook, emails, some light web browsing, and listening to music. You can basically think of the SGA as a smaller, budget version of the Galaxy SII, since the design is very similar, but the storage, processor and size are more limited.

Screen and Build

The SGA has a 3.5" TFT screen with a 320x480 resolution. At this price screens are much of a muchness but you get more screen real estate than, say, the Galaxy Mini. In fact I have recently used it for watching Netflix and surprisingly forgot mid-episode that I was watching on a small phone. Don't expect to make masterpieces on Draw Something, though. Touch is usually responsive though accuracy can be an issue with the keyboard. 

Now, the Ace took a bit of flak in the media for looking quite a lot like an iPhone,and it's true that they've taken a lot of cues from Apple design-wise,but from a 2012 perspective so do a lot of Android handsets. It's got a central home button and two touch-sensitive areas (one for menus, one for back). The phone's a very comfortable fit in the hand and in jean pockets, thanks to its shape and smaller size.


5Mp camera; it's fairly run-of-the-mill. It has a flash, but the photos often come out a bit blurry. It's OK for random snaps but you wouldn't want to go without an actual camera for it.

Processor, Rom and Storage

The 800Mhz is fine for doing the basics but can get sluggish when multitasking and often takes quite a while to scan the SD card when you start the phone up. Because of the low processor speed Flash isn't supported in the stock browser but I believe you can get it on Dolphin.

The Ace runs Gingerbread 2.3.4 with Samsung's TouchWiz UI. At first I envied my wife's HTC for its Sense UI, but over time I've come to appreciate the uncluttered feel on this handset. If you're into custom firmware, a big disadvantage is that you can't use the Rom Manager app- it bricks the SGA. Custom ROMs do exist, but there doesn't seem to be a widely used fully functional one yet. This is unfortunate as Samsung have forced some apps that you can't remove onto it such as Shazam and 'Samsung Apps'. 

This is particularly grave because of the SGA's main flaw: its internal app memory of 158MB. Facebook and Maps become very bloated over time, so regular clearing of data and limiting the messaging history are a necessity even if you keep as many apps as possible on a micro-SD card. Rooting the device and removing some apps has helped in this regard but shouldn't really be necessary.


Almost one year on I'm still fond of my Galaxy Ace. The internal memory problem is an annoyance, but not fatal; the screen format is nice; and its similarity to the bigger Galaxy phones is a style plus. I would recommend the phone as a good first smartphone because of its uncluttered simplicity, but a 3D gaming monster it ain't. 7/10

26 January, 2011

This Blog is Now All-Natural

This blog has been painstakingly constructed from a single source, using only electrons derived from the natural environment. Nothing in its make-up comes from anywhere other than Mother Earth - from the natural photograph (enhanced using natural software-based methods) to the text which is rendered in HTML derived from the minds of computer programmers, fed on foods processed by machines consisting of combinations of natural elements such as carbon.

Yes, as usual I'm being quite ridiculous and hyperbolic, but it's for a purpose: to illustrate one of my pet peeves, the idea that 'natural' is best....

28 November, 2009

Christmas. It's a bit shnally, but I love it.

For  a while now, I've had at least one Christmas playlist on Spotify... I've been busting out the festive stuff since mid-November, I think. Admit it, you probably think Christmas music – and for the more cynical, Christmas itself -is a bit lame. I’m not sure if that’s the latest “cool” way of saying that, so I’m just going to go ahead and say shnally. Yes, that is a made-up word, so what?

Some aspects of the season are, indeed, shnally. Such as seeing your Great-Uncle Roger dancing with a sausage roll in his mouth, or being made to wear the same red jumper as all your siblings as a child. In fact, childhood Christmases were always a game of two halves: the smorgasbord of self-indulgence on the morning of present opening, contrasted with having to humour distant relatives who can't really remember your age, yet expect you to sing, dance or otherwise perform for them. But I guess whoever pays the piper calls the tunes. Even if payment is a bag of Sports Mixture and a big sloppy grandma kiss.

25 November, 2009

Vampires, werewolves and hormonal teenagers. Scared? You should be.

DISCLAIMER: There are some subjects that this blog generally avoids. Firstly because I'm not very much in touch with them (my TV viewing is limited to on-demand services like iPlayer or 4oD and I don't really follow celeb culture in general) and secondly because joining in the commentary on these things, even if negative, somehow taints you, covering you in thick black ink of shame and forcing you to scrub your skin with bleach and Brillo pads to get any kind of relief. Topics like "Jedward" fall into this category at the moment.

But I have to weigh in on New Moon.

16 November, 2009

Long Live King Hector

As some of you may know, an event is going to happen in 2012 that will bring global attention to Britain, our culture and way of life, and highlight British talent. I speak of course of the Olympics, and by extension the Paralympics. On the other hand, the same year will see an event that will highlight the anachronistic nature of our political system and attract global bemusement and head scratching: the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
While I was pondering this over dinner*, it occurred to me that I was in the presence of a potential monarch: our hamster, Hector.

01 November, 2009

Existential angst is hard to come by when you're eating Chocolate Squares

I'm not usually one to advertise brands, but some products need to be praised, and one such product is Mornflake Chocolate Squares. They're sold in Bome Hargains a.k.a Homie B, and they are lush little pillows filled with chocolatey goodness. It's hard to place the experience of eating them, or indeed a stack of warm buttered toast, in the same universe as some university literature.
One of the set texts for my course is a Brazilian feminist's book of short stories in which the protagonists, unenlightened in the ways of Home Bargains, undergo some mundane experience (seeing a blind man chewing gum... seeing an old man cry into his meat...etc) which somehow triggers in them an epiphany of the meaningless, repressive nature of gender roles and society, leading them into a pit of existential angst.

It's a bit grim.

26 October, 2009

Protesters aren't domestic extremists, they're extremely bored

Police state latest: turn up at a few demonstrations (say, against nuclear waste being dumped in your wheelie bin*) and your mugshot could turn up... on an "Eye-Spy" style police 'spotter' card.

25 October, 2009

A few things I can always count on:

  1. Media types making a big fuss about Twitter and going on and on about it in the Guardian. SHUT UP, WE DON'T CARE.
  2. Honey Hoops, Honey Shreddies, or pretty much any other honey-flavoured cereals. Where have you been all my life? Lonely on the shelf. Sadly, for much of my life cereals seem to have kept me alive; either that or my freckles developed a sophisticated method of converting light into vitamins and minerals (probably not proteins though, given the needle-like state of my arms during teenhood.). If you've got a better theory on how I survived on bread, crisps, cereal and crackers, I'd like to hear it.
  3. Procrastinating writing 'the big essay'. And other people doing the same thing, but giving us word count updates on Facebook. Gripping...