Archive for September 2011

Geek alert … tel: or callto:?

Time for another geek interlude – tel: versus callto:

Taking WAP out of the equation because it’s so old as to be irrelevant, there are two ways to mark up telephone numbers in HTML.  The tel: URI (Universal Resource Indicator – it tells your browser what it can expect to find at the destination of your link) is the official standard for marking up telephone numbers whilst callto: is a proprietary URI made popular by Skype and unsurprisingly, Microsoft.

By marking up a telephone number, it makes it easier for visitors to your website to make phone calls from their phones or computers – click on the link and it launches whichever application is set up to handle phone calls.  But the problem is, which of the two do you accommodate on your website?  Mobile devices are the obvious target because they’re usually going to be mobile phones so tel: would seem to be the obvious choice but it’s not uncommon for people to have Skype phones or another VoIP phone service so callto: support would be useful.

But you can’t have both so which should you use?  Do you encourage standards compliance by using tel: or pander to the embrace and extend ethos of Sky and Microsoft and use callto:?  Do you cater for mobile devices with tel: or desktops with callto:?

With the rapid convergence of internet and phones, we need some standards compliance in the major browsers.  The last thing we need is a VHS/Betamax or Blueray/HD-DVD battle over telephone number markup standards!

Global warming alarmism from 89 years ago

There was an excellent letter in the Shropshire Star (£) last night about the global warming scam …

The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway.

Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone.

Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes.

Soundings to a depth of 3,100 metres showed the gulf stream still very warm.

Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds.

Within a few years it is predicted that, due to the ice melt, the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.

This report was from November 2, 1922, as reported by the AP and published in The Washington Post 89 years ago.

A J Astley

The “experts” knew 89 years ago that this was happening.  35 years ago they knew that we were heading for another ice age.  Now they know what they knew 89 years ago.  Except NASA and some other American state scientific department whose name I can’t recall at the moment recently warned we are about to enter a cooling period because of a decline in the output of the sun.  Not to mention that the hockey stick graph has been shown to be a complete fiction and that global temperatures have been declining, not increasing.

The “scientists” didn’t have a clue what was happening to the climate 89 years ago, didn’t have a clue 35 years ago and haven’t got a clue today.  When “science” fails you should turn to history – the climate has changed naturally for millennia and will continue to do so until the sun goes supernova and swallows the whole planet.

Splitting up banks is madness

The British government has announced plans to force banks to separate their high street and investment banking arms which it says will protect ordinary customers and make sure bailouts are never required again.

Some things never change. Like Labour.

The theory is that by ringfencing high street banking operations, the investment banking arms of those banks can’t gamble with (and lose) the money that ordinary customers put in their accounts and if the investment banking arm collapses, the high street bank can continue operating as normal.

Nice theory but completely and utterly bonkers.

It costs money to administer a bank account, to run a branch, pay for cashpoints, process cheque and card payments, etc.  Unless you’ve chosen a bank account with extra benefits that attracts a monthly fee, you don’t pay for any of that yourself.  I have a bank account that has a monthly fee attached to it and the value of the benefits I use (which is probably 1/10th of what’s available) far exceeds the fee I pay – it’s subsidised by the bank.  So where does the money come from to subsidise the cost of administering your bank account?

It costs money to pay out interest on your savings.  Even if your bank is only paying a nominal 0.1% interest, it’s still costing them money.  So where does the money come from to pay interest on your savings?

The money comes from the profits the banks make on investments and which bit of a bank makes the investments?  There’s a clue in the name.  Sure, the high street part of the banks make money from interest on loans and mortgages that it gives out but it just doesn’t compare to the billions of pounds the investment bankers are playing with daily.

When Northern Rock collapsed it was because of a run on the bank caused by the Bank of England being forced by the EU Monetary Abuse Directive (aptly shortened to “MAD”) to disclose that it had offered (not given, just offered) an emergency credit facility to the bank.  Robert Peston, who at the time hadn’t been elevated to sainthood by the BBC and was only useful for talking about exchange rates and zero balance credit card deals, got wind of this, made it seem like Northern Rock was about to collapse (it wasn’t) and caused mass hysteria amongst the general public.  The rest is history, I’m sure we all remember the news footage of Northern Rock customers queueing up to withdraw their money and deprive the bank of all its capital.

Had Northern Rock not over-extended itself with high risk mortgages with low deposits, they probably would have survived because they’d have had cash from mortgage deposits and the collateral for inter-bank loans but as it happens, at the time of the run they were basically a poorly-funded, badly-secured high street banking operation.  This is what will happen to all our banks when their investment arms are separated from their high street operations, particularly if their mortgage lending operations are lumped in with their investment banking operations.

Separating retail banking operations from investment banking will cost the banks billions.  You might say “good, they deserve it”, especially if you read the Guardian or listen to the BBC but those costs will be passed on to consumers.  Free bank accounts will be a thing of the past, interest rates on loans (and mortgages if they’re kept as part of retail banking) will go up, interest payments on saving will go down, branches will close, free transactions will end.  Look at the table of charges for a business bank account – that’s what we can expect when the retail banking operations of our banks are starved of the cash their investment banking arms feed into them.

Back to the official reason the British government are giving for the separation.  The theory is that it  will protect the retail banking operations so taxpayers won’t have to bail out banks and customers’ money isn’t being gambled with and lost.  The implication there is that the investment arm of a bank will be allowed to fail if it gets into trouble.  If you listen to the Guardian or the BBC (or most politicians in fact) then that’s no great loss but we’re talking about the companies that are investing your pension fund and provide hundreds of thousands of jobs.  The city accounts for about 10% of the entire UK economy, can we really afford for investors to lose confidence in our financial sector?

Allowing the investment banking arm of a major bank to fail would devastate the city and lead to the collapse of our entire financial sector.  Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost, billions would be wiped off the value of pensions and investments.  The knock on effects would be catastrophic – the big companies like supermarkets and manufacturing companies that invest money in and through banks to boost their balance books and pension funds will lose billions and their share prices will fall through the floor resulting in more job cuts and companies failing.  There won’t be enough money in the economy to financially support all those people who’ve lost their jobs so the Bank of England will have to print more which will lead to a further devaluation of the pound which means it’ll cost even more to import the things we need (we are far from being self-sufficient).

The pound is worth less than an Albanian Lek and you’ve lost your job and home but at least those bankers got what was coming to them, eh?

British government launches Commission into avoiding answering the WLQ

The British government has finally got round to launching the Commission on the West Lothian Question that it promised over a year ago but why do we need an expensive commission to state the obvious?

Is it not plainly obvious that it is wrong that the MP for Thomas Telford’s constituency of Dumfries & Galloway in Scotland can vote on health, education, environment, etc. in Telford but neither the MP for Dumfries & Galloway, nor the MP for Telford can vote on the same things in Scotland?

There is clearly a problem – there are 532 MPs elected in England but 551 MPs voted on changes to the English NHS this week and 629 voted on tuition fees in English universities last year.  Tuition fees are only charged in English universities because enough MPs elected in Scotland voted for them to overturn the narrow majority of MPs elected in England who said no.

There is clearly a desire to deal with the problem – opinion polls consistently show 7 out of 10 people want to stop MPs elected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from voting on English laws, either by way of restricting voting rights or by creating an English Parliament.

There is clearly a solution – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had devolved governments for over a decade and they have certainly seen the benefits while England has picked up the bill.

So if there is a problem, the desire to put it right and a ready-made solution, what exactly is the purpose of this commission?  The answer lies in the call by Ministers for Harriet Baldwin MP to withdraw her private members’ bill that would force the British government to specify which country a bill applies to now that the commission has been established.

The commission hasn’t been set up to find a solution to the institutional discrimination against the English, it’s been set up to find an excuse not to create an English Parliament.  If the British government has been diligently identifying English-only laws while the commission is looking for excuses, they can’t use the usual one that it’s impossible to disentangle English laws from British.

Could this be the end of the Conservatives in Scotland (finally)?

The Scottish Conservatives could wind themselves up if Murdo Fraser MSP is successful in becoming leader of the party north of the border.

Fraser realises that the Tory brand is toxic in Scotland and wants a clean break.  He has made it clear that if he is elected leader of the Scottish Conservatives he will hold a ballot of the membership to disband the party there and reform as a new party with a different name.  His intention is that the new party would be federated with the British Conservative & Unionist Party with elected members taking the Tory whip as used to happen before the Scottish Unionist Party merged with the Tories in England & Wales to becomes the Scottish arm of the British Conservative & Unionist Party.

I don’t imagine the “Not the Tories because we’ve got a different name” Party in Scotland will see a significant revival of its fortunes just by changing its name and cutting some of its ties with the British Conservative & Unionist Party but let’s face it, they’ve got nothing to lose.

The right has been in serious decline – terminal decline – in Scotland for decades.  It’s why the SUP merged with the British Conservative & Unionist Party in the first place and it’s why the Tories now have just one British MP elected in Scotland.  It’s also why (along with pledging to abolish the Scottish Parliament) UKIP has never retained a deposit in an election in Scotland.  The state accounts for 24.9% of everyone in employment in Scotland, what incentive is there for anyone in what is rapidly descending into a communist state to vote for a party that advocates a small state and low taxes with the cull of public sector workers that will ensue?

There are those who will see this as an opportunity for other hard unionist parties to mop up Scottish Tories who want to belong to a pan-union party but it’s not going to happen.  This is little more than a rebranding exercise – they will still be Scottish conservatives, they will still take the Conservative & Unionist whip and they will continue to tell Scottish people that whatever their views on independence, they will never be granted independence on their watch.

If the Scottish Conservatives cease to exist as part of the British Conservative & Unionist Party, it won’t make any material difference to their electoral success (or lack thereof) in Scotland but it will make it very difficult for the British Conservatives to claim a mandate to govern the whole of the UK when it doesn’t even have a party in Scotland, let alone an MP.  It will also make it very difficult for the Tories to maintain the illusion of the union in England where they are fighting a losing battle against the decline in unionism that has come about as a result of the institutional discrimination against the English.