It’s unlimited Sir, but only up to 500 meg

This truly is a rant. It’s one I have a deep issue with, and it’s probably one that will drive me to insanity. This is a story all about how advertising for broadband got turned upside down.

The world and dog is going on about “Unlimited Internet”. ISP’s are advertising the fact, and now the mobile operators have jumped on the bandwagon, now that people want high speed internet on their phones. There is a problem. It isn’t really unlimited at all. A large proportion of the ISPs will tell you that there is a fair usage policy that applies (it’s usually in the small print), but they will rarely tell you what that fair usage amounts to.

Orange and O2 are even cheekier. Unlimited Internet on the iPhone with O2 means a top limit of 500MB per month, after which they can charge you at normal rates if they so wish. Orange is 750MB. So… since when has the term “unlimited” meant “with limits” in any dictionary? Worse still, O2, whilst providing unlimited Internet to your iPhone, won’t let you tether that to use it as a modem on your laptop unless you pay them a minimum £15 per month for a paltry 3GB of usage. Again, how is that unlimited? Orange take you to the 750MB limit for free, and then bill you per MB at an extortionate rate.

Next question. Why not complain to the Advertising Standards Authority? Well that’s easy. People already have. Lots of them. And the ASA turned round and said the ISPs are within their rights to advertise their services as unlimited as they are providing more than your average Internet user is likely to consume. Except they aren’t. I’m your average Internet consumer. I watch the odd YouTube video. I read some blogs. I download some stuff to install, and I generally go about my Internet life much like many other people do. Facebook, Twitter. The usual. And I can quite happily consume far more than “unlimited” according to these ISPs.

My gripe is that the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines “unlimited” as:

adjective not limited or restricted; infinite.

That spells it out really. When an ISP says it’s unlimited and they put a fair use policy on it which limits your usage, or just as bad gives you an out and out limit after which usage is chargeable, they’re lying. When will the ASA stand up to this and rectify the situation?! It’ll carry on as long as it isn’t publicised and the ASA aren’t forced to eat their words and chastise the ISPs about it.

Most people can’t drive, so why let them?

All road users hate all other types of road users, for a whole variety of reasons, and all culminating in one vociferous one: X or Y type of road user doesn’t know how to drive/ride.

I’m a cyclist, a motorcyclist and a car driver, though I have so far refrained from doing all three simultaneously. I’ve been cycling on public roads since the age of 10, following a cycling proficiency test, and cars and motorbikes from the age of 17. I’m now 26. You might disagree, but I think that gives me a somewhat unique perspective, and therefore opinion, on the way the roads work. Not entirely unique, I admit, but the group of people who drive a car, ride a motorbike (both for pleasure and on the daily commute) and ride a push bike (road racing, mountain biking and commuting) is a small one.

So when our somewhat vocal TV chef James Martin decided to slate cyclists into the ground, I was pretty pleased that Olympic winner Brad Wiggins stepped in to spearhead his demise. However, and this is a big one, there are some cyclists who really annoy me. There are some motorcyclists and car drivers that do too. And as ever, I have a solution. Of course, it’s never going to actually happen because our cushy Government are far too up their own arses to notice anything is awry.

OK, I’m going to start with cyclists; DON’T JUMP RED LIGHTS. It’s as simple as that. Traffic lights are there for a reason, and you’ll be far more likely to be involved in an RTA, let alone be killed doing it. It annoys the hell out of me, especially given that on my pushbike I’ll catch up to you with minimal effort within 30 seconds of the lights going green. So I’ve lost nothing. I’ve obeyed the highway code, and the law, and I’ve still arrived before you. You lose. For you, I prescribe a compulsory eye test, followed by a requirement to have a cycling proficiency certificate – a licence of sorts – before you get on the road as a bare minimum. Riders who aren’t confident on the bike are also a bit of a nuisance, but you can ride round them and everyone will be OK. You’ll find that after a few sessions doing cycling proficiency, those riders will be much more confident and ride in a straight line anyway.

Now that the cyclists aren’t annoying anyone, what about the car and other more-than-two-wheel-vehicle drivers? Oh now I really have something to rant about. I’ve been in a couple of accidents involving people claiming they didn’t see me coming down the road, and one overtaking me and turning left with less than 10 feet to spare (I was doing 27mph on a pushbike at the time). Why are these people even on the road if they can’t see me? Are they blind? Or just stupid? Maybe a bit of both to be perfectly frank. My view on the matter is that they shouldn’t.

The way to kill the problem in one go is to force all drivers of all vehicles that use the public roads to retake their test and regain their licence every 10 years. That includes any theory and practical tests needed to get a licence for whatever vehicle you happen to be driving. Some vehicle licences require that anyway. Let’s bring it in for all of them. “No way” you say? Would that, per chance, be because you’d fail? I thought so. Get back in your box. Additionally to this are the drivers who have taken multiple attempts to pass, and fail until one day someone lets them off with a licence. Three strikes and you’re out. If you fail three times, that’s it. You are clearly not supposed to be on the road, so I’m not prepared to give you a licence. One final thing for this lot of people driving cars, vans and so on: you also need to do a minimum of a CBT, the minimum requirement to getting a scooter or a motorbike. No more of this 50cc on your car licence crap either. The CBT for car drivers is to make them painfully aware of everything around them. Those metal boxes on wheels hurt other people, you know. Don’t forget there is a world outside the windows of your box. I think that if we all had to do a CBT in order to pass a car test, we’d be more likely to indicate when turning and look for other road users before doing U-turns in the middle of the road, killing the oncoming motorcyclist who you didn’t see and had no inclination that you were about to do what you just did.

Motorcyclists and scooter riders: don’t think I’m letting you get off lightly either. Tests every 10 years, 3 strike system, it all applies to you too. Additionally, when you do your CBT and your instructor tells you about lane discipline, please for the sake of all things that are good in the world, LISTEN! Don’t ride where the car in front can’t see you, or weave all over the place so he never knows where you’re going to be next. Overtake on the outside, not down the cycle lane. And to the pizza delivery boy who rode down the inside of me whilst sitting in my blind spot for half a mile, you’ll get yourself killed and you’re an idiot.

The beauty of this whole plan is that it sorts out a whole bunch of issues all in one go. Britain has a requirement to reduce emissions over the coming years by an amount that isn’t in the slightest achievable. Without this, at least. We know that a ton of people won’t pass their tests under the 3 strike rule, so that immediately reduces the number of idiots on the road, as well as the emission count. Oh, and congestion. We also know that people will fail their 10-yearly tests in their droves (just because you have an old licence, that doesn’t mean you’re exempt). That removes people that can’t see because of old age, idiots, and people who just have no idea how big their cars are. Less congestion, less emissions, and less idiots. We all win! It also, as a side effect, gives public transport an opportunity to actually get where it’s going on time because there is no traffic on the roads.

So why won’t the government put into place a 3 strike system, let alone a retest every 10 years? Taxes. It’s that simple. The amount of money that the Government rakes in from sales of vehicles, road tax, insurance, road tax, speeding fines, MOTs, other fixed penalties… the list goes on… is incredulous. They’ll never put this into place, however sensible it might be, because they stand to lose billions. So instead they’ve decided along with the EU to implement a rule where every car will have to have a GPS and a phone built into every car that calls the emergency services with a location if the car has an accident. Apparently, this will cost €40bn and will save 2500 lives across Europe each year. If you consider that within 10 years GPS will no longer be active because too many of its satellites will have fallen into the atmosphere and burnt up, and that the US can’t afford to replace them, it will have cost the taxpayer £1,600,000 per person saved over 10 years. Because that makes sense, doesn’t it?! It’s OK though, because the governments of Europe aren’t paying for this. WE ARE! They have nothing to lose with this plan. I reckon it would cost next to nothing in comparison to the €40bn to implement my solution, and will save thousands more lives, if not even greater numbers, in this country alone. Roll that out across Europe and you can officially put in the record books that more people were saved through common sense than ever before…

There are some additional benefits to the casual member of the public to all this: cleaner air, less likelihood of being run over, greater levels of fitness (because those people too lazy to walk now have to, at least to the bus stop), and so on and so forth.

Good idea? I think so. Now your turn.

Update (09 Oct 2009): by sheer coincidence the BBC have just published an article in their magazine on nervous cyclists. Have a read. It goes into detail on some of the points I’ve highlighted in this article.

The UK-US “Special Relationship”

I might upset some people with my somewhat unpatriotic view of the Special Relationship that our Government says we have with America.

We seem to think that because Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major and all who came before him, right back to Winston Churchill in 1946, have bleated on about it, that it actually means anything at all.

Lets face it. China and Israel both have a “special relationship” with the US in the same vein as ours, but for different public reasons. In actual fact, America and France have a special relationship but they don’t go on about it. France is America’s very first ally, when England was the enemy during the War of Independence. Germany has a special relationship for other reasons.

Essentially, America forges what it calls a special relationship with just about any country that can make it look bigger and better than it is without doing the hard work itself. Britain is known for its intelligence service, economic prowess and innovation. America wants in on the action because quite frankly, and as we’ve seen recently, they’re downright poor on all of these fronts.

OK, they invented the Internet – well, the ARPANet actually, the precursor to what the Internet is today. But it was a Brit, Sir Tim Berners-Lee who came up with the concept of the World Wide Web. That’s not to say some real innovation hasn’t come out of our good friends across the pond, but the big things have either been British and recognised, or from elsewhere and stolen. Yes, stolen. Alexander Graham Bell did not invent the telephone. He was the first to patent the idea, true, but there was plenty of prior art. Something the US Patent Office still hasn’t quite understood even to this day. The eletric lightbulb? A Brit named Humphrey Davy, not Thomas Edison… and so the list goes on.

On this basis, why is our Government so proud of having a Special Relationship with the USA? What benefit does it really bring to the table for us Brits? Not much really. Some dead soldiers, a war based on zero credible evidence, and McDonalds, which makes everyone fat.

So a request please of the media, and the Government of the UK: Please can you stop going on about this stupid Special Relationship. It is only harmful to us Brits, and only favours our chums a few thousand miles away. Oh, and if they ask you to go to war, it’s because they need a scape goat, not because they really want to give us credit for anything.

Ur never be the same again… REALLY?!

It’s got to the point where I feel I need to vent my anger again. This time at poor spelling and grammar. I’ve always been a keen speller and usually quite accurate with my use of grammar. I’m not going to chastise those of us whose mother tongue isn’t English either – you’ve got a hard enough time as it is learning all our exceptions.

The people I’m going to have a right go at in this post are all you brits who just don’t care! Why not? It’s not that hard to get right. The rules here are pretty simple, and you should have had them learnt by 6 years old! What are the main culprits then?

  • You’re and your
  • Wear, where and were
  • Who’s and whose

And to top it off, people are confusing you’re and you’ll, thanks in no small part to the “text speak” abbreviation ur. It really gets my goat. It should get yours too, but clearly we’ve grown into a society of people who just don’t give a crap about what they put down on paper.

I discovered yesterday that in some (maybe all?) universities, students are no longer penalised on poor spelling and grammar, but on their arguments. I used to be warned in my university days that poor spelling could mean the difference between a very good grade and an abysmal one. A first class piece of work being marked down to a third class grade was not unheard of amongst my peers, although a rare sight.

We need to care more. How can you possibly confuse you’re (you are) and you’ll (you will), and then say “Ur be doing X or Y today”, and just as bad “Your be doing this tomorrow”.

Come on people. We’re British. We’re supposed to be good at what we do. Certainly not lacklustre and downright rubbish. I’m going to leave the learning as an exercise for the reader. I’m ashamed of everyone who doesn’t know these simple rules.

A Solution to the Banking Problem

A couple of weeks ago I was watching TV. It doesn’t happen all that often…honest. What prevailed was the usual 3 minutes of advertisements, and one of them was a Natwest ad. You know, the one with the little 8 year old girl who says she puts money in her piggy bank, followed by the Natwest representative telling her she should put it in the bank. For some reason, and I have no idea why, it got me thinking about the problems we’ve got ourselves into recently. By recently, I mean in the last 20 years, and by “we’ve got ourselves into”, I mean exactly that.

We’re all far too happy to accuse one person or another for the problems that face us. Is it really someone elses fault, or should we be taking some responsibility for it? I should say so. After all, it’s our money, and our decision as to where to put it. Why is that someone elses fault? Is it someone elses fault that you put all your money into Corporation X at 31p a share, and it’s now gone bankrupt and your shares are worthless? Is it someone elses fault that you backed “Riding Sunshine” in the 3.30 at Sandown at 20:1 and it fell at the last? Something tells me you’d be prepared to put that down to calculated (or not as the case may be) risk, and losing out because it’s a risky business, this gambling lark.

OK, scene set, and I think some of you will know (others will wonder) where I’m going with this. I have a solution to the problem. It’s a long shot, and is predicated on a couple of somewhat idealistic circumstances, neither of which we are currently availed of. First, that we trust the Government and second that we hadn’t already spent £400bn on bailing the banks out. So with those in mind, and thinking of this as an ideal situation, here we go:

Educating the masses

I actually had an interesting discussion with my dad at the same time as I came up with the name for this blog, telling him about this solution. The interesting thing was his disagreement with me about a key point of my argument. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong. And so are a great many other people. There are two camps: those who know what banks are and how they operate (not the deep down detail, but a good enough understanding), and those that think they do.

The banks are private or publicly listed businesses. They are there to make their owners or shareholders money. Those shareholders have invested money into their respective banks. They expect a return, though there is always a risk that they won’t get it, if the bank goes under or loses money because of decisions made by the board of directors for instance. Just as with those shareholders, when we as individuals put money into those banks, we are effectively investing in them. By putting money in to their reserves, which is what happens, they are able to loan more money based on the amount of money they have in their reserves. They then use this money to make more money, or not as the case may be. It’s a risky business. Why then are we up in arms about the fact that some of these banks have gone under? Any sensible investor doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket, but spreads his or her risk. The issue here is that those of us who have come into money rather than made it are not usually savvy investors, but mere mortals with some funds that need to be put away for a rainy day.

There is an education that’s needed. It starts on the first day of school, and continues until everyone in the country understands how the financial system works in a way that is relevant. I’m not talking about teaching a 5 year old the ins and outs of investing in securities. I’m talking about basic knowledge that is needed to make informed decisions about what to do with your money. At 5 years old, this will amount to “Do I buy the sweets or save for the toy I always wanted?”, getting more complex with age. By adulthood, we should be taking an interest in where our money is going – will the bank I put my money in be investing in securities with a high risk factor, or some other form of investment with a low risk factor. I may well then decide to invest some of my money in the more secure option, and some in the more risky option, with the benefit of higher returns. That’s my call, but I can’t complain if it doesn’t work and I lose that investment.

Like no one else can complain when the banks go under because they got greedy. They’re businesses at the end of the day. Some win, some lose. The Government sure as hell wouldn’t be bailing my business out if it was struggling, so why the banks? Because they’re intrinsic to our society. We need them to have a working economic system. That doesn’t mean I agree with them being bailed out. I fervently disagree.

Shoring up the banking system

Like I said earlier, this relies on trusting the Government. We don’t, but do we trust the banks with our money more? First and foremost, remove the Government guarantee for £50,000. Why is the Government getting involved in our investments? The responsibility for that investment lies with you, the reader and the rest of the public. If you lose it, tough. Your bad. My bad if it was my investment.

That’s not to say we don’t need some form of secure and safe banking. And that’s where the Government can provide. It’d cost a lot less than £400bn too. They already provide gilts that are guaranteed as a long term savings option. This is fine, and works well. What I’m proposing is a “current” banking system. Two choices here:

  1. A bank where the money is guaranteed, a Government run co-operative, if you like. Some small level of interest given based on the banks return on investment.
  2. A bank where the money is not only guaranteed, but it is never touched by anyone but the account holder. 0% interest, but incredibly secure.

The latter option is clearly the safest, as it doesn’t allow the Government to spend your money. This banking system would be used for day to day transactional type banking, as we do every day with our current accounts.

By creating this safety net, the Government is effectively guaranteeing only what is put into their specially created bank, rather than the money invested into the public and private banks. Now, given that most people are greedy themselves, it stands to reason that the majority of us will end up using the existing banks because they provide a much higher level of interest. However, armed with an understanding, this alleviates the need for the Government to step in and bail businesses out, and means that the existing banks will be forced to shore up and secure their investments – if they don’t, then people will just put their money in the safe option the Government provides. Force all existing banks and post offices to accept credits and debits from and to the Government bank and the Government doesn’t even need to set up a bank network, just an administrative team.

Of course, in having a secure store for your money, there is a downside. Because there is no interest paid, though your money is guaranteed, there is no protection from inflation. However, this is mitigated by having a banking structure that is far more secure than it has been in the past. The regulations should certainly be put back into place that stop banks being able to sell loans of loans, and that would further shore the banks up.

It’s all a moot point really. The Government has already spent £400bn of our money, and doing any of this now is a bit pointless. But it’s an idea. Maybe the next time it happens we can look back and see a different solution to the problem. Just how do you secure the banking system so that normal people can use it, safe in the knowledge that their money is not going to disappear any time soon. In my eyes, education, and a slight change to the way we bank now. Remember, you’ve invested in the bank the instant you put money in it. You really should know what the bank is investing that money in before you do. If you don’t, and you lose it, don’t come running.

Domains, suggestions, and puppy dogs tails

The first post. Here we are. Welcome to the crap that comes out of my head. I have to tell you a little story about this one.

I was trying to come up with a name for a blog on which I could ramble, muse and generally talk about some of the stuff I find interesting. It started off with some truly rubbish names, and three days ago I had almost decided that “Unending Rabbitholes” would be a good name. It took a couple of friends to point out that “grabbit” stood out just a little too much in the unendingrabbitholes.com domain I was looking to buy.

Back to the drawing board. I can’t write the post about the banking problem (coming soon) because I still don’t have a blog name. Swings, roundabouts, catch 22… whatever. I went to have dinner with Dad yesterday and I was telling him about my blog naming dilemma. “It’s not going to be any particular subject. Some politics, some general musings, but really it’s just the crap that comes out of my head.” I told him.

“Well there you go. Call it that!”… “What, ‘crap that comes from my head’?”… “No, you’re changing it and it sounds worse now. The first one is great!”

And there you have it. That’s why the blog is called what it is. Well that, and the fact that this really is crap straight out of my head. So now you don’t need to ask me how I came up with the name. Or if you do, then I can point you right here.

Enjoy.