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Nearly there

July 16th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Work

So there I was last week. I was at a Bid and Project Management convention. Had my laptop all set up to do a product demo of a new tool that is nearly finished, checking emails on the BlackBerry and handing out business cards to anybody who showed an interest in our product, and it suddenly occurred to me…

…I was only a BlueTooth headset away from achieving full wankerdom!

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Health & Safety Gone Mad

June 24th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

Here is an idea. I would like to propose a change to H&S regulations to the effect that any politician who complains about health & safety regulations in the workplace is not only exempt from all such regulations themselves, but if they ever go on a photo opportunity visit to a construction site, factory, warehouse, depot, disaster site, oil rig etc. they are, under no circumstances, allowed to wear hard hats, safety goggles, hi-vis jackets or any other items of PPE.

If nothing else, it would reduce the number of tedious photo-ops of politicians in hard hats. They may moan about H&S but they do love to dress up whenever they get the chance don’t they? In an ideal world it would lead to a bit of gloriously ironic natural selection.

An extra flourish to the legislation would force them to state whether they specifically object to safety or to health.

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Starbucks culture shock

June 19th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

Earlier today I watched an interview with Howard Schultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, on The Daily Show, amidst a haze of cognitive dissonance.

The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart is very much a left wing liberal in US terms but instead of ripping into Schultz for dodgy tax accounting he seemed to be on the verge of hero worship. It turns out that Starbucks operates on a much higher level of social responsibility in its homeland.

The reason for the recent interview was a recnt announcement that Starbucks in the US are going to fund a college education for all of its employees – or all of them that want it anyway. This is on top of already providing healthcare for its staff.

All of that is very laudable and quite amazing in the context of normal US employment practices, especially in the fast food/retail area and you can see why Jon Stewart would look up to that.

I was still a tiny bit surprised that there was no mention of the controversies with Starbucks outside the US because although most US media types and audiences either don’t know or care much about what happens overseas, Stewart does appear to take quite an interest in foreign affairs of all sorts.

From our UK perspective the huge irony is that while Starbucks in the US is taking money off its bottom line to provide healthcare where there is a need because there is no comprehensive public healthcare provision, over here in the UK they don’t need to do that because we have the NHS – but Starbucks manage to avoid paying the taxes to support that.

The biggest irony was in a comment that Schultz made to justify the corporate altruism in the US. He said something to the effect that it is not entirely altruistic because he still has to offer value to shareholders, and that such behaviour is good for that in the long term because consumers are very aware now. He cited the word-of-mouth of social media, saying that consumers are now very aware of the ethics of a company and can if they see a company acting unethically they can easily choose to not use that company.

At which point, if I had been in mid-sip of a cup of Starbucks I would have ended up spraying the room with it.

I do hope that somebody manages to isolate the actual quote I paraphrased and use the video clip of it in one of the many UK social media campaigns against tax avoiding companies.

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The Boys Are Back In Town

June 18th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild eyed boys that had been away
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

So, I went to the town hall on Friday for the annual council meeting, to see my Labour colleagues take their places back in charge and the Tories all back on the back benches. It was a good way to unwind after all the months of the campaign and the tension at the count.

I hadn’t been there for a while and it was interesting to see how much had changed and how much had stayed exactly the same. [Read more →]

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On pets, vets and the NHS

June 16th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

We have been at the vets quite a bit over the last week. One of our cats was not very well, in fact was very close to being dead. The vets got to the bottom of it, discovering a kidney problem, and more or less fixing her.

Each time I went there I had the same thoughts on the way back, namely a feeling of gratitude that I have the NHS to fall back on if I have anything wrong with me. [Read more →]

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How not to do a Turing test

June 16th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Technology

There was a lot in the news last week about a program that supposedly passed the Turing test. I’m not so sure about that, for several reasons.

First of all, I don’t think that Turing ever proposed a test as such, but rather made a statement about it being forseeable that one day a machine might be mistaken for a human 3 times out of ten and others cobbled together a set of rules for such a test. Along the way those rules have been refined and seem to have lost sight of the original spirit of the thing.

I haven’t seen the full transcriptions, but the little bits I have seen seem to be very unconvincing. I’ll admit that making it simulate a Ukrainian 13-year-old is interesting, but did the test use real 13-year-old Ukrainian boys as the other samples? I would like to think they would make more sense than this program did.

The thing is, the whole testing procedure is very srtificial. All the judges know they are conducting a test, which will affect their judgement. When the tests were first devised, the only way for a computer to converse with a person was very artificial, and it involved the real subjects to also do something artificial – to sit in a room typing stuff.

We have now reached the point where real people do routinely conduct conversations in that way so why not use that?

Here is my proposal. Set up a Twitter account for an AI and see if anybody notices. Maybe even plug it into the APIs for Facebook and some BBS-type forums.

If you then persist in giving your AI the identity of a 13-year-old you have a ready-made criterion for success. If somebody tries to groom your AI then they were fooled.

The danger is that even a Lisa-level pseudo-AI would make more sense than quite a few Twitter accounts.

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Looking back at nostalgia

June 8th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

I don’t know what to make about this short article about nostalgia on the BBC website. It all sounds reasonable enough, or as reasonable as pschobabble can be, and yet my own experience doesn’t follow it at all.

It says that people prone to nostalgia (which I am) are less likely to have lingering thoughts about death, but I think about it all the time. Mind you, the whole thing is a bit vague so maybe I am reading it wrong.

It seems to be saying that agreeing with the statement that ‘life has no meaning or purpose’ is somehow negative. Personally I think it is just a neutral statement of fact. Life has no meaning or purpose so just get over it and get on with it. I don’t feel that holding, or agreeing with such a statement necessarily implies any fear of death.

I’m so glad I never studied psychology. I think I would have spent all the lessons just disagreeing with everything and thinking that Terror Management Theory would be a bloody good name for a band.

 

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Meet the new boss…

June 7th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

…hopefully very different to the old boss! Now that control of Crawley council has changed hands it will be interesting to see what happens. The Crawley News jumped in quick with their suggestion of what Labour’s top ten priorities should be. It is a strange list.

For a start, it includes three things that the council has no direct influence on: potholes, the hospital and Gatwick. They may be right that these things are what the town’s residents will want addressed, but with so much to do in areas that the borough council *is* responsible for, should they put too much time and energy into things that it isn’t?

As far as potholes are concerned, the News suggests that the borough council should pay for some repairs. When budgets are so tight and some of the borough council’s own services are at risk is that a good idea?  Which borough services should be cut to make up for the county council spending a disproportionate amount of its repair budget in Chichester? Far better for the town’s county councillors to continue putting pressure on the county. (Or just press for unitary status and then the town gets control of its own roads?)

Gatwick is an interesting one. While it would be good for the council to have an official position on whether it supports expansion, that will have no effect on whether it happens. Opinion on this is split in the town and in all parties so while it would be right for the council to have a position, it would involve protracted and heated discussion and distract everybody from getting on with things that can actually be done.

I see that ice rink is on the list too. I think that has been on the to-do list for the last twenty years, so good luck with that!

I reckon the council will have enough on their plate just doing something about the town centre, local plan and housing.

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A strange new feeling

June 5th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

This is unusual. It is our constituency meeting tomorrow and I am actually looking forward to it, even though it is an AGM.

Even more remarkable, this is not just because it is our first meeting since the local election victories, but because there is a proposal to change the structure of the party and the meetings to something which, in my opinion, will make both more effective in the future.

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Voting selfies

June 2nd, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

A sign at the Furnace Green polling station

A sign at the Furnace Green polling station
(Photo by Georgie R on Flickr)

This is where I eat my own words a little bit, even though I didn’t actually say them aloud at the time.

Just before the elections there was an article on the BBC website about voters being told not to take selfies while voting.

At the time I thought this was all a bit officious. In theory you could take a picture which could inadvertantly reveal how somebody else voted if your camera was good enough and you could zoom in enough, but its a bit unlikely. My thinking was that it is your right to disclose how you voted, and after all most electoral canvassing is based on people telling you at the doorstep how they vote.

Today I suddenly realised that there is actually a potentially justifiable reason to ban photography of your own ballot paper, even if you fill out a postal one at home. [Read more →]

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