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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Change of Plans

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry explaining why I wouldn’t be voting in this years election, at least, that was the intent when I started out. In the end I think I wrote more about a couple of Conservative candidates demonstrating exactly why we shouldn’t really vote for them. Anyway, I summed up by saying that there was really no point in me voting, not just because of the poor quality candidates on offer, but because our electoral system doesn’t allow for real democracy to work.

Since that post, I’ve changed my mind, I almost certainly will vote, albeit by proxy as I will be out of the country at the time. The reason for the change of heart is simple and not for one minute is it because I have changed my mind on either of the points I made previously. The simple reason is that for the first time in my lifetime, there is a real possibility of electing a hung parliament, and that means the posssibility of having an elected government which actually represents the majority of the electorate, and I want to be part of that if it happens. It might not last, and it might not work, especially given the attitude of most politicians is that they will be ‘in power’ over us, rather than ‘working for’ us, and I at least want to be able to say I did my part to elect the first truely representative UK goverment in my lifetime, and possibly since the second world war.

Is a Hung Parliament the democratic answer?

This morning I received not one, but two separate mailshots from the Conservatives, both telling me how bad it would be if we ended up with a hung parliament with no one party  in ‘power’. They went on to suggest that if indeed we did end up with a hung parliament then we wouldn’t end up with a government that we had elected, but one formed through ‘behind closed door meetings’ and ‘secret negotiations’. They also suggested that politicians being made to work with, heaven forbid, people with different political viewpoints would mean that the government would be paralysed and the country would go to hell in a hand-basket.

Leaving aside the suggestion that perhaps if politicians of varying parties can’t actually work together for the good of the nation they shouldn’t be politicians, lets take a look at just how democratic recent elections have been.

Year Winner % Vote Seats 2nd/3rd Place 2nd/3rd Combined
% Vote
2nd/3rd Combined
Seats
2005 Lab 35.3% 356 Con/LD 54.4% 260
2001 Lab 41.4% 323 Con/LD 54.6% 205
1997 Lab 43.5% 328 Con/LD 51.5% 199
1992 Con 45.4 319 Lab/LD 53% 205
1987 Con 46.2% 358 Lab/(Lib+SDP Alliance) 53.3% 165
1983 Con 45.9% 362 Lab/(Lib+SDP Alliance) 53.2% 161

For the past 27 years, the party claiming to have a ‘majority’ and ‘mandate to govern’ has actually represented less than 50% of the electorate. Looked at a different way, for the past 27 years more than 50% of the electorate actively voted for someone other than the party that got elected with a majority.

From the figures above, it seems to me that a hung parliament would force parties representing more than 50% of the electorate to work together to form a government representing the majority of people.  Surely that is a far more ‘democratic’ outcome than allowing a single party representing less than 50% of the electorate to have an absolute majority in government? How can any party which polls less than 50% of the electorate claim to have a majority mandate – the maths, and the first past the post system, just does not add up.

Useful Applications for Android

Now I’ve had my HTC Desire for a few months, and have the Android 2.2 (Froyo) upgrade, I htought I’d post a list of the apps I use most frequently. It’s not an exhaustive list, but one which lists those apps I’d miss most if I didn’t have them. Read on for details.

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HTC Desire – First Thoughts

I had originally planned to write a review of the new HTC Desire once I’d had it a couple of days, and now it’s been all of a day and a half, I’ve decided to give it a little longer before making any definitive judgements. This is because I think I really need to live with it for a while, experiencing the bad and good in a more realistic light, rather than pronouncing a verdict based on ‘new shiney’ experience. That said, I do want to write a few first thoughts if only to see if my thinking really does change over time.

The first thing to note is that the display is as widely reported, absolutely fantastic. While some reports suggest it’s impossible to see in bright sunlight, that certainly wasn’t my experience today. Sure, it wasn’t great but it was certainly usable and no worse than any other phone display I’ve seen. It does come across as blistering fast, even with what appears to be quite a few apps running. The capacitive touch screen takes quite some getting used to – it seems very sensitive, at least so far it seems a bit too sensitive at times. Battery life ain’t great, which I was expecting, and hopefully there will be some OEM alternatives appearing soon with larger capacities. Everything else has been pretty positive – plenty of apps from the Market have already been useful, and it has all ‘just worked’.

So, my first impression is that this is a great phone, and exactly what I wanted. Oh, and this blog post has been written on it 😉

Controlling the horizontal and the vertical

I recently wrote here about Apple’s control over its various platforms, particularly the iPhone and the iPad. This has been taken to another level by Apples announcement of the iPhone 4.0 SDK, and the revised terms and conditions which govern its use. One of the new terms explicitly prevents developers from using any tool which ‘translates’ code from some other language, to using the iPhone API. Given the number of developers who use these tools, this could have quite a significant impact.

Apple is not only seeking to control the content of applications and which applications people can actually run, but also what tools a developer can use to write those applications. I wonder if this control freakery will start to backfire if developers turn their attentions elsewhere, such as to Android. Given the superb reviews it’s been getting, in the HTC Desire we might finally have a serious iPhone competitor on the block – lets see if it can give Apple a bit of a shock.

 

A different perspective…

As with many people, my initial reaction when I read stories like the one about MPs obtaining legal aid to fight their expenses cases, I tend to get quite annoyed and don’t quite understand how that could make any sense. I’ve just read a blog entry by Bystander, who often writes interesting pieces about his experiences as a JP, and now it doesn’t seem such a strange decision. It just goes to highlight that seeing things from a different perspective is often essential to fully understanding a situation.

I recommend The Magistrate’s Blog as interesting reading to anyone with the slightest interest in the UK Criminal Justice system.

Spelling Test

I have a tendency to re-read articles I post here every so often, and I have noticed that quite a few spelling errors and typos have slipped past my cursory proof reading before posting, so, I’ve just updated the editor I use to a new one which includes a spell checker. While it won’t stop me doing daft things like using an incorrect word, it should at least mean that the incorrect word is spelt correctly 😉

I have gone back over the previous articles with the spell checker, and made a few minor adjustments to the wording, and it all looks a bit more ship shape now.

Waiting for my Desire (Part 1)

Today I finally succumbed to desire, and ordered an HTC Desire from eXpansys, a company who I first heard of in the UK, and who also seem to have a German presence. When I say ordered, I mean ‘tried to order’ because they made it quite difficult for me to give them my money.

I’ve bought quite a few high value items online using my credit card over the years – a high end digital SLR, expensive camera lenses, a good quality HD TV, PC parts amounting to over £1,000, and so on. I often get presented with a Verified by Visa or Mastercard Securecode prompt, and I always use that given the chance, and I’ve never had any trouble making a purchase.

Never had any trouble until now that is. In order to purchase a mobile phone, by credit card, online, eXpansys required me to send them a copy of my passport, the front and reverse sides of the credit card, and a household bill to prove I live at the delivery address. For reasons known only to themselves, they don’t use either of the two additional security mechanisms above. They do helpfully provide a way of submitting the documents electronically, one at a time. I don’t have a scanner though, so I had to photograph my passport, then the front and back of my credit card, and redact out some numbers for security, re-size the images to a sensible size, and then send them to eXpansys. I really hope they have good data control policies and systems seeing as they now have a significant set of personal data.

Anyway, despite ordering today, my documents won’t be verified until tomorrow, and then they will dispatch my order, assuming their stock has arrived (according to the lady on the phone). Seeing as the website told me they have 100+ units in stock, I’m not entirely sure why there might be some issue about whether they can send me one.

I wait with anticipation to see if they actually manage to get my phone to me in the time they state.

Is the future a choice between Apple and Google?

As usual, over the last few weeks I’ve been following various IT stories in both the mainstream media, and IT press and since the beginning of the year I’ve been beginning to better understand the strategy, and likely success, of both Apple and Google. It made me wonder if the future of consumer devices and systems will boil down to a choice between Google and Apple products.

It’s quite a scary thought because despite the clear motives behind the companies respective strategies, the general public seem quite happy to ignore the potential implications as long as what they deliver is ‘cool’ and/or ‘free’, and ignoring those implications now sells us down the river later. Let’s take a brief look why.

I’ll start by taking a detour into the world of WALL.E – which if you haven’t seen it I recommend. WALL.E is an animated movie from the lands of Disney Pixar, and apart from the usual main characters you have a mega corporation called Buy n Large. Buy n Large is so big there are no other corporations. It’s Buy n Large or nothing, for your shopping, electrics, health care and so on. There is no consumer choice, no opportunity to ‘take your business elsewhere, so if you don’t like Buy n Large, tough. While I’m not suggesting this will be Apple or Google in the near future, it’s this kind of domination both companies want in their respective fields.

Contrary to popular perception, Google is not an IT company. It’s an advertising company, with a well known motto of ‘Do No Evil’. Of course, they don’t define what precisely they mean by evil, and perhaps a better motto would be ‘Sell more adverts’ because that is exactly what everything they do is about. All of the free applications and services are designed to flow more and more information about you to Googles servers, which then sift through it all looking for the useful nuggets which will allow it to target adverts at you in a more effective way. While many of the applications and services are free, they do have a cost – that of allowing a single entity to maintain huge swathes of personal and private information, to be used as Google sees fit. The whole point of providing these applications and services for free is that Google want people to use them, and by making them so easy to use, and quite cool, the tendency is for people to ignore the intangible cost and shrug their shoulders because the services and applications resolve more immediate and tangible problems.

I wonder how different the attitude would be if it was the government collecting browsing histories, search histories, and e-mail conversations, while tracking locations, all as a matter of course…..

Apple take a different path which leads to a different kind of intangible cost. Apple make some great products – and make no mistake they charge for them too. From Macs through to phones, including the new iPad, the Apple user experience is polished and refined, slick and easy to use – as you would expect for devices at a premium price point. Where Apple really succeed though, apart from persuading people to part with significant wedges of cash, is in the control they exert over the platform. The Apple App Store is rightly lauded as a great way to deliver applications to devices – a central point for software shopping, akin to Wal*Mart in the US. The flip side of this is that the only applications you see are the ones Apple authorise. I cannot make write my own iPhone application, and give it to my friends and family to run on their iPhones, unless I get it approved by Apple – and that is key, Apple control the content.

There’s a further catch when it comes to protected content – media which uses Apples DRM technology can only be played on Apple devices. iTunes users might be familiar with this as it was a common complaint when the iTunes store was first introduced, with Apple choosing to use their own proprietary DRM system which locked out users of non-Apple devices from playing music they had legally purchased via iTunes. The same thing appears to be the case with the new iBooks store for the iPad. While the actual format is an open standard, the DRM used is Apples own, which remains unlicensed by anyone else, either due to license terms or costs, or Apples refusal to license it. Either way, the upshot is that it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to read ebooks purchased via the iBooks store on anything but an Apple device.

Therefore, with Apple the cost of use is not only the actual physical money transfer, but the proprietary lock in to Apple devices and the restriction of content to that which Apple approve. Again, the same question applies – if this was a government mandating only approved applications and content you could only play on government issue devices, I suspect there would be a different attitude to giving up control of what you can do, and what you can play.

Of course right now the counter argument is that we have a choice as consumers – we can choose not to give up all our data to Google, and we can choose not to be locked in to Apples world. That’s today’s world though, and my question was about the future. The concern is that as more and more people make the choice to give their information or give up their control, in favour of free applications or cool devices, the opportunity for other providers diminishes, the competitive landscape shrinks, and the choices for those of us who have concerns over privacy and control become fewer and more expensive. What choices will remain once the competition has been made a side show?

If it comes down to it, who would you choose, the devil or the deep blue sea?