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Saturday 31 December 2011

Looking Forward.

Yesterday i wrote a post all about looking back over the past year. It's something that is done increasingly often these days.

But, another thing that happens around this time is that people also start to look forward to, or at least, towards the coming New Year. Once again, the media are the main culprits and the newspapers, tv and radio are full of "expert" opinion on what is going to happen next year.

Like me, i'm sure you've seen, heard, or read at least some of these pieces over the past few days.

But, one aspect that is often overlooked about those predictions that were made the previous year is,
Did they come true?
Were they correct?
Were they in fact wildly inaccurate?

Now, don't forget that some of these predictions concern monetary matters and even recommendations as to where to spend, or invest your money! Of course, they all come with a small print warning, as they should.
But, my point is that these predictions, from these so called experts, can often be very influential.

It can be very easy to be drawn in by these "experts", who you presume have a great deal of knowledge about their subject. But, as we can see in many places these days, experts are not always quite what they seem.

In this blog i have often talked about social media and these days many people tout themselves as being social media experts. But, are they?
You can find examples of this all over the Internet and especially in places like Twitter. I'm followed by many of them myself, for some strange reason.
So, if you are in any doubt, ask questions and "let the buyer beware."

Of course, monetary matters are not the only topics covered. I've seen many predictions concerning which movies will be the blockbusters and which new bands will make the big time in 2012.
Often these are self fulfilling prophecies, as far as i'm concerned. After all, the more publicity something gets the more chance there is of it becoming a success.
If you are put onto a list of the bands to watch in 2012, you're already halfway there.

Politics are, of course, always part of these discussions and i can't help but wonder what predictions were made, by the experts, for 2011?
I have a feeling that things turned out rather differently from what was predicted.

At this time last year, a young Tunisian man by the name of Mohammed Bouazizi, was laying in a hospital bed near Tunis. He subsequently died, on 4th January, from the injuries sustained when he set himself alight on 17th December 2010.
His story is now very familiar to people right across the world. But, i doubt that when those experts considered their predictions for 2011 the name of Mohammed Bouazizi even crossed their minds. And, in their defence, i can understand why.

In many ways, Mohammed Bouazizi could be considered the man of the year for 2011 and quite rightly so. The influence that his tragically early death has had was something that nobody could have predicted.
The so called "Arab Spring" that followed his death, has led to the end of the rule of dictators in his native Tunisia, in Egypt and also in Libya. The effects are still being felt in Syria and Yemen right now.
It could also be argued that the effects of the Arab Spring have helped lead to the recent demonstrations in Russia and even to the Occupy Wall Street protests that have taken place across the world during 2011.

Political events are notorious for moving very slowly. But, as we have seen this year, it is not a good idea to rely on that.

So, predictions can be dangerous things and for many reasons.
Beware of always believing what you read, or hear from the mouths of the so called "experts".

After all, Nostradamus has often been proved wrong and how many times, over the past few years, have we been told that the world was about to end. Even down to what day and time it was going to happen.
In fact, those who believe what the Mayan calendar supposedly tells them, say that the world will end, once again, on 21st December 2012.
So, don't buy next years Christmas cards just yet!

Thankfully, we're all still here at the moment and i fully expect that we will be for some time yet.
In fact, that is my prediction.

Caveat Emptor.

Friday 30 December 2011

Looking Back.

I guess it's inevitable that at the end of a year people start to look back on what has gone before? But, there are some aspects of this "tradition" that have really started to grate with me.

One of these aspects is all of those tv "best of 2011" programs that appear over the festive period. Whilst i accept that some of them are ok, the vast majority are excruciating. The main reason is not always the actual content of the program itself either, but more to do with the presenting style.

Do these programs and the presenters really expect us to believe that what we are seeing is done live? If not, then why do they persist in acting as if they were?
All this talk of Christmas presents, supposed spontaneity and false jollity really doesn't cut it i'm afraid.

I saw a particularly bad example earlier this evening. Well, i didn't see the whole program, as i just couldn't bear to watch it all.

On the BBC there is a daily, weekday program called "The One Show". I happen to watch this show, or at least parts of it, most evenings. But, the "best of" show they had on tonight showed up the worst examples of what i am talking about here.

There were buckets full of false jollity, fake presents and scripted chat. And all as they counted down the shows Top 20 moments of 2011. Of course, none of these shows are complete without the obligatory celebrity guests, either "live", or filmed are they?
All the boxes were ticked and consequently, i switched off.

The best examples of this kind of show, where all they do is basically string a load of old clips together, are the ones where there are no actual presenter(s). The main reason, for me anyway, being that whenever there is a presenter, there always seems to be the need for that person to make some kind of joke when introducing that next clip.

Personally, i blame Dennis Norden.
For those who don't know who he is, he used to present a program called "It'll Be Alright On The Night', way back when. This program was essentially a string of clips of tv presenters, actors etc making mistakes when filming and then swearing.
Sounds hilarious doesn't it?

I'll admit that when that program first aired, all those years ago, it was original and funny. But, as with all these shows, the joke soon started to wear a little thin.
For me, the main reason was that Dennis Norden used to try to be funny between the clips, when all you wanted is for the next selection of clips to start.

This "tradition" continues right up to the present day with such hosts as Bruce Forsyth and those on the "best of" shows. And, would you believe it, "It'll Be Alright On the Night" has been resurrected once again with a new host? Just to rub it in a bit!

Of course, these "best of" shows are easy to make and are also cheap programming for the respective tv stations. After all, all that is required is a producer to select the clips, an editor to put them all together and hey presto, you've got a show.
Then you just get the shows presenters to stay behind one day and record the links between the clips and read the script from an autocue. And don't forget to decorate the studio with some token Christmas decorations, to set the scene.
You don't even need a real audience, although some shows do go to this trouble.

So, i'm not expected them to go away anytime soon.

But, could we just leave out the "jokes" next time around please?

Friday 23 December 2011


I was listening to the radio this morning and happened to hear the song "Billion Dollar Babies" by Alice Cooper. A track that was released in 1973 and a song i vivdly remember from my school days.

Apart from transporting me back to those days, as music so often does. It also struck me that back then a billion was a huge and pretty much unimaginable number.

I have no doubt that when i first heard that song, i probably didn't know exactly what a billion actually was and had to look it up. I can even remember discussions as to what a billion really was. Was it a thousand million, or a million million?
Even a million was a pretty big number to a fresh faced 15 year old, so a billion was mind boggling!

Fast forward 38 years and a billion is a number that is so well known now that just about everybody could tell you what it means. We all seemed to settle on a thousand million as the definition of a billion by the way.
I realise that inflation means that a billion dollars is worth nowhere near as much as it was back in those heady days of 1973, but even so....

Since the banking crash of 2008, we have all grown used to hearing the word billions being bandied about, day after day, by the media and economic commentators. And not just a billion either, but hundreds of billions. So much so, that the word billion just doesn't have the same impact that it once did. Even a few years ago.
We have become numbed to just how much money these people are actually talking about. Which is a rather scary thought in its own way.

These days though, those same commentators now regularly talk about trillions. That's a thousand billion to you and me. Now, that is a huge number. But, how much longer will it be before we have to start thinking about a thousand trillion?
How many noughts is that? It makes my mind boggle just thinking about it.

And talking about noughts. I wonder when we will need to start writing down the number 1 followed by one hundred noughts? That's called a Googol (sic) by the way.

Now, where have i heard that word before?

Thursday 22 December 2011

Solar Power, Yes Please.

Over two years ago, on 15th October 2009 to be precise, i wrote a blog post all about climate change (Blog Action day 2009: Climate Change).
In that post i mentioned my feelings about solar power and the fact that here in the UK it seems to be the forgotten option when it comes to renewable power.

This topic has, once again, raised its head again over recent days.
Yesterday the High Court, here in the UK, ruled as unlawful a decision by the UK Government to change and reduce the subsidies on solar power. These are subsidies that are paid to the small consumer, typically a householder, to encourage solar power generation.

Meanwhile, two Parliamentary committees have also criticised the UK Government over the same issue.

Many commentators think that the Governments decision could sound the death knell for the production of solar panels in the UK, with the loss of many much needed jobs.
Apparently the reason behind the decision is that the installation of solar panels has proved far more popular than anyone predicted. Thereby, costing the Government more money in subsidies.

Whilst i do understand the Governments predicament, especially, in these testing economic times. Surely, we should be encouraging the use of solar power generation, not trying to put people off?
The fact that solar panels on private dwellings have been so popular shows that the general public want to install them. So, why not help them continue to fit them?

I have argued, to anyone who will listen, that we should be concentrating far more on solar power than on wind power to produce the nations renewable energy in the future.
The Government have pumped billions of pounds into wind turbines. Wind turbines that only work when there is a wind and, as we have seen recently, don't actually work that well when there is "too much wind".
Then there is the issue that, in many peoples opinion, wind turbines are a blot on the landscape. I actually quite like them myself, but do totally understand the objections. Solar panels, on the other hand, disturb nobody, make no noise and don't present a hazard to birds either.

I accept that the sun doesn't always shine here in the UK. But, ordinary daylight can still be used to generate solar energy, albeit not as much as on a sunny summers day.

So, for me, there is no issue here. Solar power should be encouraged.
The energy companies and the Government should be looking at ways of generating electricity through solar power and private householders should be encouraged to fit solar panels to their houses. This would then provide cheap natural power to the nation and help protect UK jobs as well.

But, putting on my cynical hat, i can see other reasons why wind power is usually put above solar power.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no plan by the big energy companies to use solar energy as a source of power generation. They all seem to be stuck with this fascination with huge wind turbine farms, both on land and at sea.
I do realise that for them to do this they would have to go down the route that other countries have taken and have solar panel "farms". I have seen this kind of thing in Spain. It takes land to do this and maybe that is the argument against it?

But, maybe another other reason is that wind turbines can't really be fitted to houses very easily?
Planning permission can be a real problem in this area. It can be with solar panels too, but they are nowhere near as visible, or ugly. Wind turbines, after all, are like an extension to a house, or building. Therefore requiring planning permission. Whereas, solar panels are fitted onto the house.

So, if you can't easily fit wind turbines to your house, but solar panels are easy to fit. Why would the energy companies want to encourage you to fit solar panels to your own house, helping you to generate your own electricity and therefore, reducing your need for the energy company in the first place?

If we were all able to afford and fit solar panels to our houses and buildings, we wouldn't need the energy companies at all would we? Or, at least, only for emergency power as a kind of back up.

Of course, the energy companies were created when the UK Government sold off and privatised the energy systems back in the 1980's. Which leads me to wonder, if we still had a Government owned energy system, would we still have this problem with renewable energy systems now?

I'd like to think that if we still had the old system we'd all be encouraged to fit solar panels and save ourselves some money. This way would also encourage householders to conserve energy. Because, if you're generating electricity yourself, you're bound to take more interest in how you use that energy.

This would, in turn, reduce the CO2 emissions of the UK, helping us meet our Kyoto and other targets.
It would also reduce our reliance on energy imported from abroad. Whether that be coal, gas from Russia and even electricity from France. We could not then be held to ransom by other countires and subject to their own price increases.
Surely, that can only be a good thing?

I suspect though, that this will not happen due to the power that the energy companies seem to have over the Government in the UK. They seem to be able to do whatever they want, with very little, or ineffectual Government interference.
All the time the status quo is maintained, the public will keep seeing their own energy bills rise far above the rate of inflation. As they have been doing over recent years.
The price of energy is now a major chunk of household expenditure. Something that never really used to be the case.

In my opinion, it doesn't need to be this way. Solar power needs and deserves to be encouraged and the ordinary householder needs to be given the means, at a sensible cost, to generate their own electricity.
But, what we need is a strong UK Government and some forward thinking to help provide the conditions for this to happen.

Power needs to be returned to the people.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

eBooks, Kindle And Me.

I have been meaning to talk about this topic for a while now & was reminded to do so by a tv program i watched last night.
If you get the chance, it is well worth viewing:

Wednesday 7 December 2011


A trip to London with ex work colleagues & all to take some photos.

Check out my Flickr account to see whati took on the day & have taken in the past:

Sunday 4 December 2011


Yesterday morning, on the radio, i heard a piece about how the current economic problems are affecting different people in the UK. A cross section of the community were asked about their own personal circumstances in these increasingly difficult times.

As we all are no doubt aware, especially here in the UK, this week has brought even worse news. The continuing concerns about the Euro currency and how that might affect us. The statement from the Governor of the Bank of England, saying that even he doesn't know what's going to happen and that things are pretty grim. As if we needed to be told that.
And then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, gave a statement in Parliament saying that things are worse then he thought they'd be and that the end is not in sight yet.
It was also announced that the state pension age is going to raise to 68 and, of course, we had the public sector strikes, over personal pensions.
So, not a good week!

During the course of that radio discussion two teenage girls, aged 17 and 18, were interviewed. When asked what they thought about George Osborne's statement this week and how it might affect them, they both admitted that they hadn't known who he was. One of them had even asked the other if he might be related to Sharon Osbourne, the wife of Ozzy!

While this produced some laughter amongst the other participants, it does pose a rather serious question. If, at this time of world wide economic crisis, two teenage girls don't even know the name of, arguably, the second most important politician in the UK. What hope is there?

I'm not blaming these particular teenage girls for their lack of knowledge, as i know that they are far from alone here. I have a 17 year old daughter myself and i have a feeling she wouldn't know who George Osborne was either.

Politics, even in these testing times, holds no interest for the young. In fact, politics seem to hold little interest for a fair proportion of the UK population, regardless of their age.
This situation is quite probably replicated across the world.

This apparent apathy about politics, especially amongst the young, is a big worry. After all, these are the people who will be voting for the first time at the next general election. They are the people who should be providing us with our next generation of politicians, both locally and nationally.

So, why this apathy?

I'm sure that some of it can be put down to those old favourites, "what can i do about anything anyway?", "my vote doesn't count?", "they are all as bad as each other" and "politicians don't care about people like me anyway, so why bother?"
Those concerns are age old ones and are still as relevant as they've always been. But, i'm sure that things are worse now than they used to be.

Politicans are now, more than ever, distrusted and seen as being hugely out of touch with the people that they govern. You only have to look at the recent scandal here in the UK about MP's expenses claims to see that.
The current UK goverment is run by multi-millionaires, from public schools, who insist that, "everybody is in this together", when it is patently obvious that they are not.

Money has also become a bigger factor in whether somebody can get elected in the first place in many, if not all countries. Running for office, or running a political party is a costly business and this has taken its toll and excluded many from being able to put their names onto the ballot paper in the first place. It also raises the potential for corruption and favours for those who donate, in the future.

Of course, the recent financial crisis and the bailing out of the banks has had a serious effect on the lack of confidence in politicians. The fact that the banks have been seen to have got away with their bad practices, seemingly, scott free and at the expense of the rest of us (the 99%) has hardly helped.
And then there is that small matter of those very same bankers still being allowed to pick up their large bonuses, while the politicians wring their hands and do nothing. Even though "we", the people, own a large proportion of many of those same banks, after rescuing them.
When were you last rewarded for doing a bad job? Exactly....

Another aspect is that all the mainstream political parties all seem pretty much the same. There really doesn't seem to be much to choose between any of them. The fact that we in the UK have a coalition government at the moment just reinforces that.
All the parties seem to be trying to appeal to the same voters. They have forgotten, or chosen to forget, the rest of us. All we ever hear about is "Middle England", whatever that means.

All of the above does mean that it is hardly surprising that the youth of today find politics unappealing. They feel angry, or at least see the anger of their parents. But, they also feel that they can do nothing about it. Except maybe riot, or occupy a small part of a city.

Politics used to be a worthy profession and one that many people aspired to. Thankfully, there are still some who, fortunately, try to carry that on. But, it is now a profession which has been tainted forever. People now seem to be attracted to it for all the wrong reasons, or are just not attracted to it at all.

I don't deny that being a politician is not an easy life, regardless of what some may think. It is hard work, if done properly and the increasing public scrutiny and constant media pressure can't be easy to bear. But, that is partly the result of that public distrust and past misdemeanours.

But, i do wonder if another reason politics has lost its shine over recent years and is not now such a valued career path, is because of the rise of the celebrity? After all, celebrities command more column inches in today's newspapers than many politicians, or world leaders.

Politicans themselves can often now be seen as celebrities. They've increasingly started to appear on reality shows and tv panel game shows. This usually happens towards the end of the particular persons political career i know, but....

So, if even the politicians see celebrity as a future career path, is it any wonder that the youth of today feel the same way and can't be bothered to find out, or care who is actually governing them?

Worrying, isn't it?

So, what can be done about this?
Personally, i can't see things changing any time soon. Well, not until the whole political set up changes. Or, until a completely new political party comes along to shake the foundations of the current system.
Until that time, we will be left with the same levels of distrust and dissatisfaction, with our politicians, that we have now.

Vive la revolution!