31 December 2008

Looking forward... and backward.

Right then, so it's the end of the year. Looking back at 97 or so posts in 2008. Better than 2007, certainly, but not as good pro rata as 2006 - after all, the blog only started in Sep '06. At the risk of sounding like Nu Labor I'm going to set myself the modest target of 2 posts a week on average in 2009 - that makes about 104 posts. If I do better than that then great. 

There'll also be not one, but two 'side blogs' on the go in 2009. I'm pleased to say that Brother Typewriter's Golf Ball will be making a much more serious effort in the new year after a lack of posts for 8 months. That goddamn Typewriter has just been too busy making music to write about it... well, better than being too busy writing about music to make it, I guess. 

I'm even more pleased to announce the launch of Groscope, an offshoot of giroscope devoted to allotment gardening. For all you kids out there who just want to read about compost, digging and stolen marrows. Enjoy. 

Important things to watch out for in politics and economics in 2009? At the risk of inviting ridicule 12 months from (or even earlier), I offer a few predictions: 

  • unemployment will rise to well above 3 million - I think by 2010 we are going to be looking at more like 4 million. The full extent of this slump has still not been realised. 
  • House prices are going to bottom out at about 45% lower than their 2007 peak - we're looking at about a 20% fall in 2009 alone. 
  • There won't be an election in 2009 - I just don't think Brown has enough balls (not Ed Balls) to do it. But equally, he won't be daft enough to fan the speculative flames and get burned a second time. That means I can put off my election prediction until this time next year...
One last thing, and perhaps the most important - actually, certainly the most important. Is Barack Obama going to be any good or merely the latest crushing disappointment after the likes of Carter and Clinton? It really is too soon to tell at this stage so I will offer no predictions here. We watch and we learn. 

Right, that's enough for this year. If you are reading this before midnight tonight, that's very sad... grab a beer and some company instead. Unless you're someone I'm celebrating with, in which case why aren't you drinking the nice mulled wine I've made? 

30 December 2008

Yet more MicroCrap for Christmas - Office 2007 sucks a big one

I hate to be the bringer of bad news over the Christmas period (the Israelis are doing quite enough of that for all of us), but... Microsoft Office 2007 (which I picked up fairly cheap with some money left over after the festivities) is, at first glance, absolute cack.

Why? Because they've redesigned the menus completely. It's like an 8 year-old kid's idea of what the menu system should look like.

Take Excel - previously a reasonably easy to use program. I'm currently doing a simple spreadsheet and I want to insert an extra row. On Excel 2003 or 2000: easy. Just go to the insert menu. On Excel 2007: what the f***? The insert tab brings up a whole load of boxes. 'Tables', 'illustrations', 'charts', 'links', 'text'. Very useful for someone writing a Word document or a presentation. But what about the basic spreadsheet functions?

I hit the question mark to get help. It turns out you have to go to Home -> Cells -> Insert.

What the f***?

So to insert something I have to go to the Home menu.

Where do I have to go to get my money back? The "Bill Gates's ass" menu?

Who designed this menu system? John McCain?

Now I know that a lot of this is pretty arbitrary and if I was learning Excel 2007 from scratch with no knowledge of previous versions then I'd be OK. But one could say that about almost any redesign. The main point is that I can't see any way in which this redesign makes me more productive, whereas I can see a hell of a lot of ways in which it makes life temporarily a pain in the ass. Also, Microsoft are pretty Stalinist about making people do things their way. Here's a paragraph marked important that comes up if you type 'what happened to the File menu' in the help section:

"No option is currently available to switch the user interface back to the File menu, toolbars, and commands as they appeared in earlier versions of these Microsoft Office programs."

Well, f*** you too, sir. Imagine if this had happened with the shitty default file search function in Windows XP or the equally shitty default file manager options (view files as huge icons, don't show file extensions, etc.) The computer would have been out of my window in 30 minutes.

I feel like Dr "Bones" McCoy in my favourite Star Trek movie, The Motion Picture:

It's like working in a goddamn computer centre... I know engineers.... they just love to change things.

Thank f*** for OpenOffice 3.0 which, 95% of the time, is a very capable product which fulfills all my office-related needs. I've only got hold of MS Office for the other 5% - documents which people send me from time to time which just don't work properly with OpenOffice. It's getting rarer but it still happens occasionally. But given the crappy redesign, I don't think I'll be using MS Office as much more than a glorified file-reader.

This was my first taste of an application designed for Vista - I've been pretty militant about avoiding all contact with Vista and will be sticking with XP for music-making (and increasingly Linux for other stuff) for as long as possible, even though it's not sold on most PCs any more. And if the same idiots who've redesigned Office have been working on Vista, f*** that as well. Jesus, if I didn't have so much accumulated expertise in PC music software and zero expertise in the Mac alternative, I'd maybe even consider a Macintosh next time the upgrade comes round. And believe me, that's like Simon Heffer saying he's planning to vote Labour - a fundamental switch of allegiance. I just don't see why I should have to put up with these cretins at Microsoft f***ing up my life.

Stuff the lot of them.

Right, then... a happier post tomorrow to see out 2008. Probably.

24 December 2008

Happy Xmas you homophobic f***head

Even worse than usual crap from the Pope this year... apparently, saving humanity from homosexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

If you're a Catholic, and you agree with this stuff, you're an idiot. If you're a Catholic and you don't agree with it, then maybe it's time to ask yourself what you're doing in the organisation. If the huge majority of followers of Catholicism - or any religion - just upped sticks and left, the religion would collapse, or be reduced to an irrelevant fringe phenomenon. These guys (and they are guys, all of them) only have any power because the rank-and-file turn up for services every week. So stop going, and see how long they last.

It's possible that the Pope may be in the employ of Richard Dawkins. Certainly, by making statements like this, he's playing into the hands of the atheist vanguard. Maybe Ricky D just gives him the most ludicrous quotes possible and Benedict just goes and repeats them verbatim... I certainly can't see any more plausible reason for someone to come out with this crap in the 21st century.

So I won't be saying happy Christmas to any readers. Because that could be the slippery slope to believing shit like this.

The most appropriate wish for this year's festive season? Be careful out there.

15 December 2008

BSG Season 4: This is a Live Killer

I haven't reviewed much TV on giroscope for over a year - largely because I haven't had much time to watch that much - but for the last few years I've made some time around Xmas to watch the latest season of Battlestar Galactica

Every season so far has been excellent, and I'm very pleased to report that Season 4  is probably the best yet. This time it's only 10 episodes compared with 20 each in Seasons 2 and 3; the original Season 4 has been split into 2 seasons, because the writers' strike delayed production. Season 5 (also 10 episodes) will air on Sky 1 starting this January. Because I refuse to buy anything from the Murdoch empire, I won't be seeing season 5 - legally - until late 2009. But that's OK. I can wait. 

I think BSG works better with the 10-episode format. I genuinely believe it's almost impossible for TV shows to turn out more than about 10 to 15 good 45-minute (i.e. 1 hour with adverts) episodes of a series in one year, no matter how many people they have working on the show. Quantity seems to trade off against quality every time. BSG Seasons 2 and 3 each consisted of about 7 or 8 classic episodes, 5 or 6 very good ones and the rest were OK filler. Only about 10 episodes max in each series were crucial to the plot. By contrast, Season 1 was only 13 episodes and featured virtually no filler at all. Like Season 1, Season 4 cuts the extraneous stuff almost completely - there's a rather half-baked subplot about a Baltar religious cult to pass a couple of idle minutes in some of the episodes, but other than that, this is all meat and no potatoes. 

I won't give away any plot spoilers (the Baltar stuff is no spoiler, believe me) because you need to watch this season yourselves. But I'm just really pleased that, to use a phrase I picked up from Steve's Very True Things blog, BSG has in no way "jumped the shark", whatever some of the numbskull reviewers on amazon.co.uk might tell you. In fact, it may well be that the best is yet to come. More on this same time next year. 

"Mad[e]off" with your money... ha ha.

It's the financial fraud of the century... and the last century too. 

Fraudster Bernard Madoff (fantastic name if you just put an 'e' in the middle!) has conned some of the world's leading investors (e.g. Nicola Horlick) out of $50 billion by running a giant pyramid scheme... using new investors' money to pay out to existing investors. The scheme was signed off by the US equivalent of the FSA as legal and above board. 

At this rate, the whole future of private enterprise is in question. Oh happy day! Except if you invested with this bastard, of course. Some of the top names did... Santander, HSBC, the UK's very own RBS.

The most amusing thing is that some of these fund managers who invested with Madoff (Horlick is a good example) have been hailed as geniuses for the last decade at least. Now we find out for sure what many of us have long suspected... they're a bunch of imbeciles. Welcome to contemporary capitalism. The whole thing really is falling apart around our ears at the moment. About time too. 

13 December 2008

ALERT: economic ignoramus in the German Treasury (or perhaps not?)

I'm a couple of days late blogging on this one but it's been pretty mental this week and well... better late than never. 

German finance minister Peer Steinbruck has criticised the UK's macroeconomic policy of fiscal expansion as "crass Keynesianism".

Reading the BBC piece on Steinbruck's critique it's hard to avoid the conclusion that - unless he's been horribly misrepresented - this guy is an economic ignoramus who should not be let anywhere near any government department, much less the finance department. However, he may have been misreported - see below. 

The BBC article makes Steinbruck sound like the kind of imbecile who was running US economic policy between 1929 and 1932 - when the world slipped into the biggest depression of the 20th century. More recently, he sounds like an adviser to former UK chancellor Geoffrey Howe, whose 1981 budget turned a downturn into a slump by contracting the economy during a recession. If we listen to people like this (or indeed to George Osborne, who jumped on the bandwagon to say the recent VAT cut was wrong) we are totally sunk. Fortunately neither Steinbruck nor Osborne have any credible alternative plan so they're unlikely to convince many people - hopefully. 

Now, certainly the details of the UK's fiscal expansion plan are open to criticism. The VAT cut will be less effective than a spending boost at stimulating demand because some people will just save the extra money rather than go out and spend it.  But only an idiot would disagree that we need some kind of stimulus to the economy now. The most important critique (as voiced by Paul Krugman) is that the stimulus ain't even halfway big enough

There's also a spirited riposte to Peer Steinbruck from Krugman here - which also contains a reference to a longer interview with Steinbruck in Newsweek. Actually, reading this, Steinbruck doesn't come across nearly as badly - maybe he has been horribly misreported by the BBC after all. According to Newsweek, Steinbruck supports the €31 billion German stimulus package - his main point is that we are in rather uncharted territory here and there is no magic "rescue plan". Which is true - I'd agree with that. But by the same token, this doesn't mean that the best course of action is "do nothing". In particular, a co-ordinated European reflationary package will be more effective than a patchwork reflation by some European governments but not others. In the end, the most serious critique of Steinbruck is that he's opposed to co-ordinated action like that - running the risk that the failure of the fiscal stimulus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

08 December 2008

Stansted disruption: heroes on two fronts

Absolutely sterling work by Plane Stupid today at Stansted airport - on two fronts. One, managing to draw attention to the fairly serious inconsistency between the UK government's tough long-term CO2 emissions targets and its obsession with expanding low-cost air travel exponentially. Two, exposing the security arrangements at Stansted as totally lax.

For years now, air travellers have had to contend with a panoply of poorly-thought out security measures which have vastly extended check-in times and resulted in good business for companies selling water bottles airside. These have been high visibility to say the least, and undoubtedly designed to make it look as if the govt was doing "something important" about terrorism. But meanwhile, a group of around 60 protesters with very limited equipment was able to break through the airport's perimeter fence and camp on the runway. Some security system.

Of course, strengthening the perimeter fence would cost substantial amounts of money, whereas enforcing rules about liquids just costs passenger time and patience. That's probably why we get more of the latter than the former.

Really, the country would be run a lot better if we had a lot more protesters. We're gonna have a lot more unemployed very soon, so I think a new branch of the New Deal should be started - the protest option. The government pays you money to find important stuff to protest about. A new form of public service... the DWP should get working on this proposal at once.