The Internet for all – is it really necessary?

There are, after all, people who want no part of it.

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(This is a somewhat revised version of a post I wrote last October.)

I wrote then that dot-com millionaire Martha Lane Fox, who is all over the papers again, today, had been charged with getting the Brits – currently 10 million of them – who do not own computers and/or are not presently connected to the Internet, online. To do this she has a budget of precisely zero (see the Guardian this morning).

There’s a problem with that idea, though – many people are not online because they simply can’t afford to be, whether or not they want to be. So who pays to get them – and keep them – online?

And a hell of a lot more don’t Continue reading

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The dumbing-down of the Guardian…

According to the Guardian,  “The taxpayer is sitting on a profit of close to £10bn on its stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group after a surprise surge in their share prices.”

Well, no, we’re bloody well not. The taxpayer will see bugger all of that money. The exchequer will reap the benefits, if any, not the taxpayer. As always.

In theory, taxes might Continue reading

The Internet for all – pie in the sky?

Dot-com millionaire Martha Lane Fox  is heading a think-tank, the Digital Inclusion Task Force, with the aim of getting all those people online who are currently, well, not. The idea that everyone wants to be online, and would benefit substantially from it if they were, is, at heart, unmitigated crap.

There’s a problem with that seriously half-assed idea – many people are not online because they simply can’t afford to be, whether or not the want to be. So who pays to get them – and keep them – online? Hey, don’t look at me!

And a hell of a lot more don’t want to be online at any price, not even if you put a gun to their heads, not to mention a load more who are Continue reading

Internet connection speeds suck…

Ofcom, the communications watchdog, is getting its knickers in a twist over the standard of Internet services – saying that almost nobody is getting the claimed speed. Well, doh! We’ve all known that for years.

“Up to 8Mb”, is the most common speed, apparently, but there are many factors contributing to the difference between what you expect and what you get.

I live within sight of my exchange (well, OK – if I Continue reading

Censoring the Web…

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham – apparently inhabiting a different planet to the rest of us – is proposing that the Internet be censored. In a statement, today, he claimed that there is stuff on the Net that should not be viewed by anybody. That’d be South Park, then, I suppose. And if you don’t know why, you haven’t been paying attention.

Actually, there is stuff on the Net, as those of us who spend a lot of time here know only too well, that just shouldn’t be viewed by anybody – andybody sane, anyway – but the answer to that problem is self-evident. Don’t go there, and keep your kids away.

I’m not entirely sure what Burnham has in mind. I don’t think he is either. There’s little info in today’s online papers – as far as I can tell this is an idea that popped into his head over Christmas, quite possibly, given its idiocy and clear lack of forethought, after too much turkey and booze. He says he plans to badger Barack Obama, once he assumes the presidency, and enlist his support. Don’t think that’ll work, as the US has the First Amendment – which includes, among many other things, a ban on the making of laws that impinge on freedom of speech.

He also says “It worries me – like anybody with children. Leaving your child for two hours unregulated on the Internet is not something you can do.” Very true, but that’s not an Internet problem, it’s a parenting problem. That’s your responsibility, Burnham, protecting your kids; how dare you have the temerity to try and make it mine?

Burnham wants to have websites – I don’t think he’s heard of blogs – given age ratings, like films. In principal, I don’t really object to that, but in practice it will rapidly evolve into censorship and, I suspect, licensing. (Note: When I created this blog, I had to rate it according to the  age range I thought it suitable for, though I can’t see how that works – it has no effect on who views my blog as far as I can see.)

Anyway, it can’t possibly work – I used to sneak into X-rated films as a kid, so how is it even possible to keep a child away from an adult-rated website or blog just because it’s adult-rated? I don’t think it is. It isn’t, though, the responsibility of the online community, to worry about kids other than their own. It is entirely the responsibility of parents, and teachers during school hours, to keep their children away from unsuitable material. Even then, kids being kids, they’ll find a way. That, though, isn’t my problem, and I deeply resent Burnham’s desire to make it mine – yours too.

One proposal I agree with – he wants to make it easier to sue libellous bloggers and websites – and given the number of viciously scurrilous and libellous blogs out there, which are possibly a greater danger to the Web’s – and the blogosphere’s – future than porn, in my view, that’s legislation that’s long overdue.

Talking of porn, do any of you remember Lord Longford and his life-long campaign against porn? He banged on about exposure to porn being hugely corrupting, but as the old dingbat believed in rigorous, hands-on, research he was exposed to far more porn than the average person, yet oddly, he didn’t feel that it had corruopted him at all – he was above such a thing, and only the great unwashed were in danger. What a quaint – and deluded – idea.

The big problem is, though, that this government is bound to fuck it up with an excess of nannying – witness the inanity of pre-Christmas campaign to try to ensure that the entire population wasn’t laid waste by the perils of opening parcels, and letting granny have that third sherry.

I’m convinced, too, as I said earlier, that this idea will metamorphose into an attempt to create a revenue-raising system of licensing – these buggers would tax sex if they could find somewhere to fit the meter!

Internet insanity…

What is it with Web designers these days – are they all deaf? You can click through to the most innocuous website, looking at electric bikes, perhaps, or kitchenware, and your ears are immediately assailed by window-rattling, very down-market, techno-style “music”. This isn’t helped by the fact that my Freeview box (for radio), and my online digibox, plus my computer, are connected to a pair of hi-fi speakers. I don’t go in for high-volume sound, but the speakers do give high-quality sound at a moderate level. Unwanted website sounds, however, are apt to make the walls bulge, the uncontrolled volume is so absurdly high.

I can live with the brief clangour of my email alert – the old Windows ringin.wav, as most XP sounds are so muted they merge with the music – but then there’s those bloody websites which have me rummaging frantically for the mute button, only to find the selfish bastards haven’t provided one most of the time. This, in fact, is so frequent an occurrence that I now go straight to the sound icon in the Task Bar and mute it. Then, of course, I forget to un-mute it when I move on, and several hour’s worth of email goes unanswered. Or, at least, unfiltered, as much of it’s crap, but by god it builds up if you don’t keep on top of it.

So, why do the apparently 12-year-old website builders think massively loud, really shite, music is such a good idea? OK, if I’m looking at a music site, fine, it’s expected, though no more welcome if a mute button isn’t provided, but it’s cropping up everywhere. Stop it. NOW!

It’s like the plague of entirely Flash-built websites – what’s the point? There’s one classic example, at Cotswold Outdoor, who sell backpacking, camping, and other outdoor-activity gear. It’s the most inanimate website you could ever imagine, it needs Flash like a hen needs dentures, and yet it was recently reconstructed entirely in Flash 9.

OK, most modern computers have the Flash Player installed at birth, but anyone with an old, slow machine, and/or a slow Internet connection (yep, they’re still around – I have a friend who only recently upgraded from dial-up to the slowest broadband available, 2mb), will be faced with a blank screen at worst. or a website so glacially slow as to be unusable. This must be costing them money in lost custom, and Cotswold are by no means alone, yet no-one seems to give a toss.

Worse still are old sites, still firmly locked into Flash 4, or whatever old version they locked into at the time it seemed like a good idea, which refuse to let me in because I – my fault, mark you, not their useless IT wazzocks’ who are too dumb to upgrade – have the wrong version of the player installed! To be fair, they probably have no IT guys, and no budget for an upgrade, which poses the question of why they let themselves be talked into using Flash in the first place. And I’d expect the Flash Player to be backwards-compatible with earlier Flash versions, though it sometimes seems to be not the case.

I feel strongly that Flash is fine for animated web components – WordPress make very good use of it at the nuts and bolts end of the blogging process – but for an entire website, for me at least, the idea sucks. Don’t get me wrong – I can access the vast majority of Flash-built websites without the slightest difficulty (though the Fiat website used to crash my browser); my point is that there’s a significant number of people who, lets face it, may not be able to afford new PCs every couple of years, or even decades, who are shut out of a significant number of websites. And that is fundamentally wrong.

What on earth is the point of a cutting-edge, slick-as-shit-through-a-goose website if some people can’t view it? Why do you do it? No, forget it – I know the answer – it’s because you bloody can, and for no better reason. And if you’re actually selling something, be it a product or service, then sacrificing potential buyers on the altar of hyper-slick presentation is just plain dumb.

I have my own website. It’s very basic, being in “old-fashioned” HTML/XTML and, by it’s nature, primarily text and photo-based, but there’s not a single person out there who can’t view every single thing on that website, even if they’re on a dial-up connection with an old DX486 with 4 megs of RAM.

That’s vitally important to me, as I was writing for people with ME/CFS, many of whom, like me, are unable to work and have little money to spend on computers (though I live fairly modestly, have no dependants, and I do have some income to spare for computers and associated gizmos), so it was important for me that my website )and subsequently this blog, to a degree), was accessible no matter how old and clunky their PC, or how slow their connection, and I think I’ve achieved that. My website may be dull by current standards, but it works, and that’s what matters.

Firefox 3 sucks follow-up…

Please note that Firefox is now up to v3.5.2, and the problems here and on other posts relating v3.x are now largely irrelevant except for those who have failed up upgrade.

Firefox flashed an update alert when I turned it on this morning. When I clicked on it, it turned out to be offering FF3. Three option buttons were offered, Get the new version, Later, and the most important option, NEVER!

That suggests to me that they finally realise there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with FF3, and that many people don’t want it (not before time!), but it also suggests very strongly that they couldn’t give a shit and they’ve stopped supporting FF2 (currently at v2.0.0.16).

If this is, indeed, the case (time will tell, unless there’s an announcement – ) – clicking the Check for Updates option in Help merely brings up the same FF3 offer pane – then FF2 will pretty soon become unusable through lack of security updates. Looks like it may be time to switch to Opera. A pity, that, as though Opera is very good, I prefer the layout of FF, with the tabs below the address bar, not above, which I find perverse. It’s a minor point, I suppose, and I’ll soon get used to it, but it just seems so pointless. Ah well…

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Update, August 29 – er, there has been an announcement – support for FF2 ends officially in December, though it looks like it already has.

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Afterthought – maybe, with the Never option, they’re testing the water and, if they get enough rejections they may continue to support FF2. And then, again, pigs might fly. If you check out Mozilla’s rejection of FF3 criticism on this blog, it’s quite clear that they don’t care one iota that many people hate FF3, and that it is quite severely dysfunctional. If you doubt that, go here and here, on this blog, and check out the criticisms on the two posts you’ll get. Go here, too, for an excellent, more techie approach to FF3 and its many defects – it really is crap!

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Update: Ha! 24 hours later and it’s clear that the Never button means nothing at all in Mozilla-world, as when I turned on FF this morning there it was again – a pop-up plugging FF3. As before, I hit the Never button, but I fully expect to see the bloody thing again every sodding morning. Even if FF3 was fault free, until they lose that ‘kin stupid, pointless and vastly irritating Awesome Bar, they can shove it! The only awesome thing about it is Mozilla’s arrogance in refusing to provide an option to remove or disable it.

3 days later and still the bloody FF3 pop-up, er, pops up. I’ve disabled automatic checking for updates in the hope that it’ll solve the problem.

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Life in Britain, 2008…

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), has polled a selected portion of the population and pronounced on what they consider to be the minimum acceptable wage for a reasonable standard of living; they’ve come up with just over £13,000 for a single person, £27k for couple with 2 kids, and £10k for a single pensioner. They also considered the material requirements for a reasonable standard of living, some of which follows.

The basics, published by the JRF, are

  • According to what people said, in order to maintain a minimum, socially acceptable quality of life in 2008:
    • a single working-age adult needs a budget of £158 per week;
    • a pensioner couple needs £201;
    • a couple with two children needs £370; and
    • a lone parent with one child needs £210.

These amounts are after income tax, and do not include housing or childcare costs.

Most people relying on basic out-of-work benefits do not reach this standard. A single person on Income Support gets less than half. Out-of-work families with children typically get two thirds. However, pensioners receiving Pension Credit do reach the minimum income standard.

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Why, though, are pensioners considered to need so much less money? It makes little sense. It may have done a century ago, when being old started at 50, and you were heading for a wooden overcoat by 65, but these days pensioners are among the most active members of society, and their notional income should reflect this (a sore point with me, as I’m 15 months away from being a pensioner myself!).

On the face of it, not too unreasonable, but it does contain nuggets of plain, old-fashioned, stupidity. Why, for example, does a person of 64 need £13k, yet the day he turns 65 he’s deemed to need only £10k – it’s quite absurd. A single mother is allowed a bottle of wine a week, and a couple of cans of beer – oh, and, this is bizarre, she can have a Kit-Kat once every 9 weeks, and a Twix every 3.5 weeks, plus £15 a week for social activities! In the 21st century, what the hell can you do with £15? It’s lunacy – lunch and a few pints in the pub costs more than that. And, as so often in this country, the disabled community has been totally ignored (though the JRF do accept that some households have higher than average costs).

An Internet connection is only essential if you have children of secondary school age. Bullshit! My computer is absolutely vital – without it I’d be almost completely isolated and unable to shop for essentials. I am, apparently, expected to trek off to the library and join a queue for their machines. But there’s a snag – I’m not allowed a car – that’s a luxury. Public transport, for me, is a no-go area, but even if it were not, it doesn’t run between 17.00 and 09.15, and doesn’t go to the library anyway (the bus, which stops right out side, doesn’t actually go anywhere I want to go. Taxis, perversely, are not luxuries, but a few taxi journeys to the library would cost more per week than I pay for my Net access – what sort of sense does that make?

Cars may be a luxury item, but for some of us, they’re an essential luxury. I can’t easily use taxis – my car was selected for its seat height and ease of access – and if I could I wouldn’t, because drivers routinely break the law by smoking in their cabs, talking on mobes and – the thing that pisses me off the most – they’re over-fond, at least where I live, of getting creative with the route and ramping up the fare, resulting, when I used to use taxis, in constant arguments. And without exception they expect a tip for doing nothing but their job. You doubt that? Try not tipping, and see how hard it becomes to get a cab. I knew one taxi driver well, and he said that any cabbie who couldn’t earn £100k a year wasn’t trying – so why should I tip the sods, unless they provide a service over and above the basics of driving a car from A to B – without going via Z!

You want more stupidity? Pensioners are allowed a can of stout a week! You couldn’t make this crap up. Why should a single mother have a bottle of wine and two cans, yet an old codger only one can of beer?

An adult is allowed £20 a year for trainers – can you get trainers you would willingly wear, or that wouldn’t self-destruct in a few months for that price? I seriously doubt it.

You can have a DVD player (but not a recorder), and a Freeview box, providing both are bargain-basement items – don’t you dare buy anything that might really be usefully functional! You can have a CD player, too, if you really must. Oh, joy!

If you’re disabled, though, as far as the JRF is concerned, you don’t exist, yet your cost of living, like mine, is likely to be higher than normal. You may not have the costs of commuting every day, but you’re likely to be at home much of the day, running up the lighting and heating bills, or using your “luxury” Internet connection to read newspapers that you can’t afford to buy, and maybe can’t get out for anyway. Or you may have to buy ready-meals or take-aways, with the odd pub meal, which costs far more than cooking from scratch. If a single, disabled person (or old and frail person, for that matter), eats 3 small ready-meals a day, meals that are actually eatable, as below, then you’re looking at a bill of around £50 per week – that’s 20% of the notional £13k for a single person, more like 40% of a disabled person’s income.

Intriguingly, although if you don’t have kids, an Internet connection is a luxury (what planet are these people on?), but a computer isn’t mentioned. Odd.

For a whole range of items, only the cheapest option is acceptable, but very often that does not represent the best value – something mid-range is normally far better value for money. Take ready-meals again; cheap ones are dog-food – you need to go up to the mid-range to get something that’s actually eatable (as opposed to edible – they’re not synonymous – a diet of soya protein and brown rice is edible, but you wouldn’t want to eat it!).

A minimum standard of living, says the JRF, involves a degree of socialisation and cultural life. Never being able to go out or buy yourself a chocolate bar is “unacceptable” in a rich country like ours. We demand the wherewithal to have a diet that is nutritious, a home that is warm and the choices to participate in wider society. There’s not much scope for socialisation in any of this!

And the scary thing is that this hasn’t been cobbled up by a bunch of ivory-tower JRF researchers – real people, quizzed by the JRF, came up with this nonsense, and I’m willing to wager, looking at the patronising nature of some of this stuff, that they were primarily white middle-class, and on higher than average incomes and who, I’m pretty damned sure, believe that all this should apply to other people!

Note: This is based on what’s been published in news items and in the press – which is all most people will see of it. You can access the full words and music here.

Tiscali really, really sucks. Big time…

I switched to Tiscali, recently, because I was having problems with BT (see previous posts), only to find I’ve signed up with the world’s most inept ISP.

They have a customer service centre staffed to two kinds of people (well, three kinds, but I’ll come to that). The first kind is smart, efficient and intelligent, and able to use their initiative, the second is as about as brisk as a snail on Mogadon, has zero initiative, and no measurable intelligence. Guess which kind I usually get? And – sods law – the first kind often have impenetrable Scots/Geordie accents – this, Tiscali please note, no matter how good they are, seriously impedes communication!

I signed up for their broadband, phone and TV package. The phone part is OK, the broadband I set up myself as I had a spare router, but the engineer attending to the TV part of the package (and, incidentally, bringing a router and connecting the broadband service for those not lucky enough to have spare hardware or who don’t know how to set it up themselves), has failed, repeatedly to turn up.

I emailed customer support – a serious misnomer – half a dozen times (I had no wish to phone them and spend half an hour on the phone talking to a numpty who can only recite to me what’s on his screen, regardless how divorced from reality that might be. That happened this morning – I got an email from Tiscali saying they’d suspended my service (I’ll come to the why of this later), yet the support guy insisted all was well and I was still connected, even though I quite clearly wasn’t. I even wrote them an angry – but polite – letter, asking what the hell was going on – that sank without trace.

Eventually, in frustration, I cancelled the Direct Debit, which was just sitting there unused as no bills had been issued, in an attempt to get their attention and force them to contact me. Did they? Well, no, they just cut off my internet service.

So I was finally forced into phoning them – and I got the fuckwit, above, who buggered me about for 20 minutes before leaving me on hold and then cutting me off. I then had to phone back, battle through their ludicrous menu system, and I finally got the guy with the terrible accent. Nevertheless, he had the problem sorted in ten minutes, and booked an engineer for July 19 (this is the third appointment, and it remains to be seen whether he actually turns up. He also set in motion an investigation to find out just what has been going on, and why my emails and letter were ignored. I have no confidence in this at all, because no matter how well-intentioned the guy was, there are too many pillocks clogging the Tiscali system, and if there’s one thing the pathologically incompetent are very good at, it’s covering their backs. If they put the effort into doing the job right, in the first place, that they put into covering up their fuckups, life would be a lot easier for everyone, not least the customers.

If the engineer turns up, I’ll probably stay with Tiscali, as their broadband service is much better than BT’s and their email is 100% reliable (so far, at least), whereas BT’s mail servers have always been their downfall, and they seem to have zero interest in putting the system right. Their 8Mb broadband was sluggish, too – Tiscali’s – same line, same notional speed, probably the same servers – is measurably faster.