Blog awards: I hate them

I enjoy reading other people’s blogs.  I subscribe to a whole range, and I feel that they offer me a greater sense of perspective and a healthy set of opinions against which to position my own.

Once in a while though, the writers of blogs to which I subscribe ask, nay plead, me to nominate said blogs for some half-assed award.  (I am not actively targeted in their requests.  Their pleas are broadcast to all of their readers using the very medium that they are trying to promote.)  I am proud of my 100% record in failing to honour their requests.

I’m sure that success in these awards would bring greater readership (where greater here means greater in number) and a sense of accomplishment for the author.  And I apologise ever so slightly for failing to contribute to this.

I hate blog awards.  They aren’t a measure of a blog’s quality.  Instead, they are a measure of the sycophancy of its readers.  And indeed the willingness of blogs’ authors to shamelessly plug their own work.

My blog will never win any awards—of that, I’m confident.  But I don’t blog to accomplish that goal.  I blog for personal well-being, inner peace, general enjoyment.  I don’t blog for success, whatever that may mean.

Killer Sudoku Pro: spreadsheet helper

My dad called yesterday, leaving a voicemail informing me that he had a technical problem.  I returned the call, expecting to have to solve some form of driver compatibility issue or the like, but instead he gave me the following conundrum.

There is a variant of Sudoku called Killer Sudoku, in which areas of the grid, either square, rectangular or some other irregular shape, are caged off, a small number in the corner indicating the value to which the numbers therein must sum.  My dad informed me that there is a further variant (Killer Sudoku Pro) in which these cages are further marked to indicate whether the number in the corner represents the sum of the numbers therein, their product, or their subtraction.  (For subtraction, this is taken as the highest number minus all other numbers.)  There is also a divide operator, saved for the cages two squares in size—this equates to the higher number divided by the lower number. He asked whether there was a way to understand what options were valid in cages three-squares in size (squares are considered sufficiently basic for the human brain to fathom immediately) for each of the three valid operators.

I turned to Excel.  (No shit, Sherlock.)  And here is the result.  It’s a thing of beauty, if I may say so, the most poetic moment being when I established that the result of the minus operator could be established through the following formula:

(2 * MAX(cells)) – SUM(cells)

Hope you enjoy playing with it as much as I did creating it.

The Digital Economy Bill: the real reason for people’s angst?

I’ve been following the progress of the Digital Economy bill over the last few days.  Predominantly because of the plethora of #debill hashtags that have littered my Twitter feed of late.  It culminated in my watching two hours of live parliamentary debate late last night, ending in an overwhelming majority Commons vote to pass the bill, and a subsequent passing of the bill in the House of Lords today.

Here’s my take on it all, which may cause some debate and disagreement.

The bill itself doesn’t overly concern me.  Among other things, seemingly its most controversial measure is to give copyright owners an indirect route to contact those suspected of copyright fraud.

Now in principle, this seems like an honourable and justifiable cause.  People are stealing stuff, and there are currently insufficient means for these people to be prosecuted.

The concern—or at least the concern that people are voicing—focuses around the possibility that innocent people will be prosecuted, either because of a questionable copyright claim or, more worryingly it seems, through innocent people’s wi-fi connections being stolen by neighbours or, as cited in the parliamentary debate, people parking cars outside people’s houses with their laptops on their knees.

As I see it, the internet is like a road system.  And we should use it within the confines of the law.  Our routers are akin to our cars, and we should protect them in a similar manner to the way in which we protect our vehicles.  And the measures that are being put in place are, in principle, similar to speed cameras.  They record that an incident might have occurred and notify the possible infringer of this occurrence.

If someone receives a speeding ticket in the post, as the owner of the vehicle it is up to them to identify the person who was driving at the time and pay the fine accordingly.  Why any different for router owners?

Places in which multiple people can access the internet, such as libraries, internet cafés, wi-fi hotspots, have an obligation to reduce the incident of criminality, or else ensure that they can track down those people who have—using means that they have provided—acted illegally.  In this guise, they are like car rental companies, who ensure that any speeding fines and parking tickets are passed on to the people who have perpetrated the crimes.

Underlying all of this debate and the negativity surrounding the bill, I think there is a more sinister dynamic going on, one that the analogous speeding ticket example has also suffered.  Some people feel that the law is an ass.  With driving, they feel that 70mph should be open to interpretation.  And with digital media, they see the money that Robbie Williams and Steven Spielberg make, and think that stealing from such wealthy individuals isn’t a crime in the true sense of the word.

I don’t concur with this view—stealing is stealing, and speeding is speeding.  And Williams and Spielberg are convenient examples, that deflect the attention from the smaller artists who lose out through illegal file-sharing.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I think the way in which the bill was rattled through parliament was wrong.  There seem to be weaknesses in the bill that have not been given the due diligence necessary and the deadline of parliament dissolving seems to have trumped common sense.  But nonetheless, I feel that the fundamentals of the bill and the principles for which it stands are sound, despite Stephen Timms’ thinking IP addresses are Intellectual Property addresses.

And now I await the wrath of the rabid Twitterati, who, it seems, have been successfully whipped into a frenzy, many of whom I feel have followed the crowd rather than forming their own opinions.  Just sayin’.

From what point do they measure age?

I took our daughter to the London Aquarium today to celebrate her third birthday.  Quite fitting really, given that it sits in the shadows of St. Thomas’ hospital, the wonderful hospital at which she came into the world on what will always remain the most fabulous day of my life.

The Aquarium charges £15.50 for three-year-olds, but two-year-olds get in for free.  We joined the queue at 12.50pm, at which time she was twelve minutes shy of being three.  Our tickets were stamped at 1.10pm, but I lied about her age, claiming she was at least eight minutes younger than she was, saving £15.50 in the process.

Interestingly, the regular queue was about 90 minutes in length.  But you could join the priority queue (which contained no one) if you were willing to pay an extra £3 per ticket, taking an adult ticket price from £17.50 to £20.50.  (That’s £2 per person-hour saved.)

I was the only person I noticed that took the lady up on the offer as she advertised it to the people in the queue.  However I bet that if the proposition was changed, the respective queues would be very different.  If a regular ticket cost £20.50, but you could save £3 by taking the alternative queue, I bet lots more would go for the default, more expensive option, despite it being less appealing do to its, er, appeal.  I find this conundrum very fascinating.

Cheques are the new online banking

I was due to pay my company’s corporation tax before the end of March.  (HMRC choose to capitalise—in the non-financial sense of the word—the C and T.  I don’t like paying it, so give it no such respect.)  Anyway, suffice to say it’s a substantial sum, five figures in size.

I had my HMRC ID, and added the payee through my internet banking interface.  This was no mean feat, as the ridiculous number of facets of HMRC are so difficult to navigate.  (My VAT payee is “CUSTOMS AND EXCISE”, FFS.)  Anyway, I managed to find the appropriate payee for my corporation tax, and was ready to give them my company’s money, physically at least, even if emotionally I was far from being there.

I informed the interface that I wanted to transfer some money to HMRC, and it asked how much.  I then got an error, saying that it could not process single payments in excess of £10,000.

I called my business banking manager in an attempt to make the payment over the phone.  She informed me that they could not process single payments in excess of £10,000.  The consistency was beautiful, but the consistent message itself was shit.

The business banking manager told me that I could make the payment in a branch.  So I popped in.  And indeed I could.  The only way to transfer more than £10,000 in a single day to HMRC (or indeed any other organisation) was via a BACS payment.  Cost to me: £30.  Now I like paying tax as much as the next man, but I will not pay for the privilege of giving HMRC swathes of cash.

So I wrote a cheque, popped it in the post and a few days later, my account balance got the shit kicked out of it through the cashing of that one cheque.

The cost borne by HMRC in processing that payment was doubtless much greater than it would have been had I paid it electronically.  But the cost differential for me was too great for me to choose the electronic medium.

After April 2011, HMRC will not accept cheque payments.  My bank has not heard of this issue before (bullshit) and is investigating how it might address it.  I am not holding my breath.  Next year, I might just walk into 100 Parliament Street with some brown envelopes.