Friday, 28 June 2013

Free2Play is evil

Mobile phone tariffs and contracts are notoriously complicated and opaque. Choosing the right one for your needs is difficult: Should you take a flat fee subscription plan or some pay-by-minute version? But most people realize that this question can't be universally answered. Some offers are good for some people, but not for others. If you have a mobile phone mainly for emergencies and being reachable, but don't phone much yourself, you'll need a different plan than somebody who is talking all hours. The exact same thing is true for business models of online games: Some plans are good for a specific group of people, but not for others. Flat condemnations of the Free2Play model usually come from those who benefited a lot from the injustices of the subscription model, which is the cheapest option if you play a lot, but makes you overpay if you play little.

I have seen many Free2Play games in which the specifics were very much to my liking, for example I always found the payment plan of World of Tanks very fair, especially since they changed the "gold ammo" to be available through playing. Other people repeatedly pointed out League of Legends as having a good Free2Play model. On the other hand I have played some games in which the monetization strategy was so repellent that I stopped playing quickly, or at least refused to pay. There has been some discussion on the gambling aspect of selling "lockboxes" or the keys for them, which are a part of many games, and I'm not a fan of those either.

So I think that the stupid "all Free2Play is evil" ranting is not constructive. It would be far better to discuss specifics, like what shop items in what specific game are fair or unbalanced or overpriced. Which games are discreet about the payment options, in which games do you hit a pay wall, and which games shove "you should spend money" advertising down your throat every minute? I do think such discussions can accelerate the spread of best practices in Free2Play business models. Rejecting all Free2Play downright is just Luddite, and will never succeed in putting that particular genie back into its bottle.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Snowdon affair

The facts so far:

Edward Snowden is a 29 year old whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations.

He is currently in a transit location at Moscow airport, why? because America has rescinded his passport.

So why hasn't President Putin handed him over, especially as last week at the G8 he was all buddies with the west.

Well, it might be to do with the fact that Putin is essentially still the street tough he was when he was raised in the poor section of St. Petersburg. From the time he was known as the no-nonsense deputy mayor of that city, his worldview has been mostly shaped by that upbringing and his career in the KGB, when his job was to find ways to oppose U.S. power and influence.

Let's be frank, Vladimir Putin is loving the position he is in at present and is not going to make any instant decisions...

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Where are we now?

Behind the government's rhetoric, things aren't getting better for working people. They’re getting much, much worse.

Let’s take welfare reform. The challenge for welfare reformers is not whether you can dream a dream. It’s whether you can deliver. For all their tough talk about "welfare reform", the reality is that the benefits bill is rising by £20bn more than planned because David Cameron is doing nothing to address the long-term drivers of social security spending. And right now the welfare revolution we were promised is simply falling apart.

Last year, Norman Tebbit attacked the government’s "abiding sin" of simply seeming "unable to manage its affairs competently". A year on, things are not getting better for working people. They’re getting much, much worse.

Labour is proposing a radical alternative. A 'triple lock' on welfare spending with an overall cap on the budget, a household benefit cap and a limit of two years to the time you can spend on the dole. But we’ll back this with a jobs guarantee that will channel investment into support for private sector jobs for young people and the long-term unemployed. Labour councils all over Britain are trialling the idea and it is proving an incredible success. And we’ll move to put the something for something back into social security with extra help to find work for those who have cared for others or paid in for a lifetime.

But would they carry on in the same direction if they were the government?

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The deal is done

We find out this week which departments will be hit by austerity cuts.

I don’t suppose  'George' Osborne much enjoyed being called “Jeffrey” by the most powerful man in the world at last week’s G8 summit. But to an extent that is hard to communicate in his current job, he is amused by the ironies, fiascos and satire of politics, even when he is their victim. He understands that the political universe is governed by the laws of entropy, and the trick is to hold things together for as long as you can. Yet it is in the nature of a capricious universe to deliver unexpected moments of good fortune, too.

We are going to go through another round of giving & taking between government departments in the hope of having something left over for 'large scale' infrastructure projects. However, according to the criteria he himself set in 2010, Osborne’s spending review this week, demanding 6.6 per cent additional cuts in 2015-16 from departments whose budgets are not ring-fenced, ought to be a moment of ignominy. But it will be no such thing, for reasons that are instructive about the Coalition as a whole.

So on day one George Osborne [conservative] will detail who is losing what and on day two Danny Alexander [Liberal Democrat] will list all the wonderful projects that can now be brought forward...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Politicians to account

Andrew Lansley threatened Kay Sheldon with the sack when she blew the whistle on the corrupt CQC leadership.

He should now apologise to her publicly...

Friday, 21 June 2013

Now this is a surprise

Of all the banking institutions in the world, I would have said that Barclays & Nationwide were possibly two of the strongest. Not so according to the PRA [Bank of England's Prudential Regulation Authority].

In the past week, it has told the big banks that it wants them to have equity equivalent to 3% of their gross loans and investments on a so-called stressed basis, or taking account of potential future losses. The introduction of this tough new leverage ratio, may sound boringly technical but it matters, because it means that two big institutions, Nationwide and Barclays have to raise quite a lot more capital than they thought.

There will now be a negotiation on how and when they will raise the necessary equity - but it will be easier for Barclays, with its stock market listing, than for Nationwide as a mutual building society. All they can hope for is that more people put money in, and during this time of austerity, there is not a very high expectation of that in the near future.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Care Quality Commission

Name those responsible that took part in the cover up of Furness Hospital.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Co-op

I remember the shop that Mother used to take me into as a child for shopping, I even remember her co-op number ;)

The banking arm was recently going to take over 600 branches of Lloyds bank, then it was called off, now they are getting a bail-out!

The Co-operative Bank is to be floated on the stock exchange as part of its £1.5bn rescue, this is a joke. They should never have bailed out Northern Rock, never mind all the others. When are these people going to learn?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Just what can they [the politicians] achieve at the meeting?

Speaking at Downing Street the Russian president was completely unapologetic for arming the Syrian government - it was quite legal he said - and looked unimpressed when his host, the prime minister, called President Assad a "murderous dictator".

Compare that with the words of David Cameron almost two weeks ago. Speaking to the House of Commons on 3rd June the prime minister condemned "those who argue against ... doing more to support the opposition" as "making some of the same arguments used in the Bosnian conflict 20 years ago."

The irony is that Cameron, unlike Blair, cannot deliver military support himself. As apparent on this morning's today programme, half his back benchers, the Lib Dems and most of Labour are not interested, how is he going to chair this years G8?

Monday, 17 June 2013


One of the most cowardly acts happened at the end of last week, when a bomb was placed on a university women's bus and fourteen women were killed.

This is appalling!

At least 22 people have been killed, 14 of them female university students, and many others injured after a bomb was set off near a bus in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The violence in Quetta came just hours after militants destroyed a historic house elsewhere in the province of Baluchistan that was once a home of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

We really have no idea how these people suffer on a daily basis...

Friday, 14 June 2013

Politics eh!

The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.

In the British budget announced on March 20, George Osborne, the British finance minister, announced a spectacular pre-election giveaway: a program of highly leveraged mortgage lending guaranteed by the government with the stated intention of pumping up British household debt by up to £130 billion.

George Osborne based his entire economic program on deficit and debt reduction. To tempt British consumers into taking on bigger debts would therefore be intellectually incoherent and blatantly hypocritical. And even if Osborne did want to tempt mortgage borrowers he would fail, because people would recognize his efforts as electoral manipulation and refuse to take the bait.

Economic conditions are gradually improving around the world despite government and central bank policies that seem to be incoherent or self-serving in many different ways. But that is the normal course of human affairs. So as the world pulls out of its five-year slump and gradually returns to normal economic conditions in response to limitless printing of money and unprecedented government borrowing.

In short, Osborne’s transparently political plan to create a housing and mortgage boom in time for the 2015 election seems to be working already, even before the gusher of credit from the Treasury and the Bank of England has begun.

It is cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

More tax evaders

If I did not pay my bills I would go to jail!

Sadly, we are getting well used to major corporations avoiding tax, at a cost to the Treasury of over £2 billion a year, but that a public utility is cynically indulging in such immorality takes the breath away.

Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water supplier with more than nine million customers, has joined the dishonourable army of tax-dodgers by exploiting loopholes so that it did not pay any UK corporation taxes last year.

While the authorities are quick enough to jump on ordinary taxpayers and small businesses if there’s the slightest suggestion they are underpaying, there hasn’t been a peep of protest from the Treasury. This is despite the fact that the mandarins will know that Thames has a virtual monopoly, operating in what is meant to be a highly-regulated marketplace, and has earned huge profits of over £500 million in the past year.

I have just got my electricity bill in which I have to pay or get cut off and receive a criminal record, I have just received my telephone bill which I have to pay or get cut off and receive a criminal record, and I have just received my water bill which shows I am in credit by £331. I have asked for it back, they have told me to sling my hook. I don’t see them getting a criminal record for that!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Lloyds bank get it wrong again

However, it is blamed on Deloitte.

In a week when MPs and Lords are finalising a report on how to improve standards in banking, it is embarrassing for Lloyds that it has been accused of failing to show due care when processing complaints from customers who say they were miss-sold PPI credit insurance.

A reporter from the Times newspaper who went undercover at one of Lloyds' complaints handling centres, Royal Mint Court in London, says he was nudged to ignore possible fraud by Lloyds salesmen and also steered that most complainants would give up if rejected first time.

Lloyds insists that independently of the investigation it identified shortcomings - or what it calls "issues" - in the complaints handling centre, which is one of eight it operates. In fact it says it already had concerns by around February this year, before the Times reporter signed up for a job there, and it was taking a look at procedures. But it rather begs the question why it has taken many weeks for Lloyds to get to the bottom of what was going on and take action.

The centre was operated for Lloyds by the leading accounting firm, Deloitte. Lloyds said it terminated its contract with Deloitte in May and is retraining relevant staff.

All banks have paid out far more in PPI compensation than they initially expected - and Lloyds is by far the biggest compensation payer. Lloyds says it has no evidence of shortcomings at its seven other complaints handling centres.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tight money is the new black

Tight money does not raise interest rates, at least over the relevant time frame for welfare considerations. Interest rates in the Euro zone today (0.5%) are almost certainly lower than they would have been had the ECB not adopted a tight money policy in 2011, raising rates from 0.75% to 1.25%. That policy drove the Euro zone deeper into recession, pushing rates even lower. The same thing happened in America in 1937-40.

Low rates can reflect tight money. Even low real rates. The low real rates in America today partly reflect the recent recession, which was caused by ultra-tight monetary policy in 2008-09.

Savers might also be helped by a lower rate of inflation. In practice, savers are hurt more by the drop in GDP [and real interest rates] associated with tight money, than they are helped by the lower inflation.

Thus the central bank should not help virtuous savers, nor should it try to help non-virtuous savers. But the tax authorities should help both groups, by eliminating all taxes on investment income.

Monday, 10 June 2013

What do we really know?

Any requests by GCHQ for access to British citizens' emails through a controversial US internet monitoring programme would need proper legal authority, potentially including the personal approval of a minister, is the statement given by Sir Malcolm Rifkind the chairman of the committee monitoring the UK's spies, on this mornings Today programme.

He also said "some intrusion on privacy" was necessary to protect the public, but British intelligence agencies would normally need ministerial authority for access to information about UK citizens. What he did not say was whether this is happening now, and that is because he cannot say it as he is not allowed to say it.

Something we always forget in these situations is that yes it is going on, it has always gone on and it will always continue to go on but it will never be announced that it is going on, because they [the politicians] are not allowed to say that it is going on.

So why do we care?

The row crossed the Atlantic after documents emerged suggesting British eavesdropping agency GCHQ had access to the system since at least June 2010 is what is causing the problem. If this story continues it might get to a point where an announcement is made that will be regretted for a very long time, and that’s the real problem, not that it is going on but that we now admit it!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Big brother

There are some stories in America concerning legal undercover operations of data capture from private citizens and a lot of surprise and alarm is being recorded. However, why is this a surprise, when we know that as long as telecommunications have existed, governments have listened to their people.

Articles in The Washington Post and The Guardian described a process by which the N.S.A. is also able to capture Internet communications directly from the servers of nine leading American companies. The articles raised questions about whether the N.S.A. separated foreign communications from domestic ones.

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community.

Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geo-located data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

Do you really believe that you are able to control this issue?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Liam Byrne - the man who once said "There is no money left!"

That was our money he was talking about, tax payers money.

According to the Guardian, the shadow welfare secretary is planning to tacitly support Iain Duncan Smith on his workfare reforms this Tuesday. The Department of Work & Pensions [DWP] deliberately did not make the rules for these job-seekers clear, so many of them ended up working for free and not knowing their rights. This is a programme that does not work, and is less successful than if these job-seekers were not asked to do anything at all.

Byrne is endorsing a travesty of a programme that goes against everything the Labour party stands for. He is endorsing Duncan Smith’s “strivers versus scroungers” rhetoric. It basically says our youth are not even worth protecting from abuse when a Conservative government breaks the law to exploit them.

How can this possibly fit in with Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ agenda? Why legitimise a programme that does not work and only exists for exploitation?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Syria still...

I have mentioned Syria several times over the last two years:

Now the UN is talking tough, that will not help the [estimated] 100,000 who have already lost their lives, however when I say tough...

The Syrian conflict, now over two years old, has reached new levels of horrific farce over the past few weeks. On 11 May, 46 people were killed in a border town in Turkey in an attack linked to Assad’s regime, leading to Turkey shutting its border and inching closer to direct conflict with its war-ridden neighbour.

Then came the Russians saying they are arming the Assad regime in order to provide a "stabilising factor". Following this, the non-renewal of the EU arms embargo is another factor in the equation, although in reality, whatever is said, Britain and France are unlikely to do anything in Syria very soon.

So the question is should Britain, France, the US, the EU, or some combination of the above, intervene?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

More coalition dodgy figures

In March, the Tory chairman Grant Shapps claimed that "nearly a million people" (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance. The figures, he said, "demonstrate how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important". The claim was faithfully reported by the Sunday Telegraph but as the UK Statistics Authority has now confirmed in its response to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore (see below), it was entirely fabricated.

In his letter to Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith, UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot writes that the figure conflated "official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA". Of the 603,600 incapacity benefit claimants referred for reassessment as part of the introduction of the ESA between March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps's "nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012. The figure of 878,300 refers to the total of new claims for the ESA closed before medical assessment from October 2008 to May 2012. Thus, Shapps's suggestion that the 878,300 were pre-existing claimants, who would rather lose their benefits than be exposed as "scroungers", was entirely wrong.

Labour has responded:

"Grant Shapps may know a thing or two about making things up but it really is outrageous that the Tories have been caught yet again misusing statistics for their own ends. People want a Government that deals with the problems facing Britain, with a plan for getting growth and jobs in our economy, not one that repeatedly misleads the public. Grant Shapps needs to come clean and apologise for trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes."

Monday, 3 June 2013

Upper house sleaze

Lord Cunningham, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate and Lord Laird offered to become paid advocates for a firm pushing for new laws to benefit its business. They also said they could set up an all party parliamentary group as a lobbying vehicle.

The Prime Minister David Cameron during the 2010 election campaign said he would tackle this, it does not seem to be working!