Saturday, 23 April 2011

Politicians' conspiracy of silence on AV

On May 5th there's a referendum on what may be one of the most important and fundamental changes to our electoral system for decades, but you'd never know it from the almost complete absence of coverage on it in the media.

I think partly this can be blamed on the almost total silence on it from the mainstream politicians. We were told that Cameron and Clegg, despite their coalition, would be freely and openly campaigning on opposite sides of the argument. Well, having occasionally seen Clegg say a few words on AV, I've seen absolutely nothing of Cameron on the subject. Or Miliband, for that matter.

The fact is that the existing system has served the two main parties rather well over the last few decades, giving each of them long periods in office at various times. I think both Labour and the Tories think that if they say nothing, it'll keep the profile of the forthcoming vote low, and the turnout will be correspondingly poor, giving no real mandate to the winner regardless of the result.

It's got bad enough that I've been picking up any leaflets being handed out on this at tube stations etc, simply to get some information on the arguments either way. I suppose at least, in an environment reasonably free of the mud slinging and overblown rhetoric which often characterises election campaigns, people will be left to make their minds up based on the actual facts offered by both arguments rather than who shouts loudest.

For my own part, I think I'm going to vote in favour of change. The current system does not exactly encourage change or innovative government, leaving as it has done the two main parties bickering like children over ownership of the same stale bag of biscuits which changes hands between them all the time. Also, the argument against it that 'one person, one vote is fair' is frankly rubbish when boundary changes, social demographic distribution and gerrymandering can mean that 20,000 votes in one constituency can return one MP and 3000 votes in a neighbouring constituency produces the same return. If you happen to live in an opponent's heartland you go into the booth knowing that your vote is likely to make no difference.

But the best reason I've heard is that AV reduces the impact of votes for extremist, minority parties like the BNP. That's reason enough for me, frankly.

Will you listen to yourself?

I caught a few minutes of some thing on telly the other day, I know not what programme it was, which irritated me intensely in its format anyway and then left me laughing out loud at something one of the hysterical popinjays on it said.

The segment I caught involved a single dad who dressed almost exclusively in black T-shirts and combat trousers receiving a fashion make-over from what the TV companies inevitably call 'experts' and, worse, his own 9-year-old son. A series of hideous colour combinations and shocking, mutton-dressed-as-lamb clothing choices were considered before they eventually settled on an awful, 70s-style floral print shirt, which peeped out over a mustard coloured tank top under some kind of blouson-style jacket. He looked, needless to say, ridiculous. A 40-something year old of a certain, how shall we say? Of a certain body shape, should not be dressing like that.

He then went on a blind date, during which we were invited to believe that he was taking and acting upon advice given to him by his child, fed to him through an earpiece which his date did 'not know was there'. Only if they were unable to see a bloody great appendage stuck to the side of his head did they not know. An utterly nauseating piece of viewing that I can only assume was aimed at kids, so superficial was it. But it was something said during that earlier fashion makeover section which made me laugh.

As he stepped out of the changing room dressed as I described earlier, and everybody agreed how much better he looked, the squeaking fop who'd been chosen to dress him hung a long-handled man bag over his shoulders with the words, "Now, this is not just for fashion, it's useful too." I almost had to play those few seconds of the thing again to make sure I'd heard him correctly. Was this individual even aware of the words coming out of his own mouth? He was persuading the subject of the show to take it on the grounds that it, a bag, an item designed essentially to carry stuff, could carry stuff in addition to its primary function, which was clearly just to look good.

I realise that this is basically one of the fundamental principles of the fashion industry and an entirely pointless thing to complain about, because it simply isn't going to change, but I just think it absolutely encapsulates beautifully the shallowness and vacuity of fashion generally and, perhaps more pertinently, people's willingness to accept its absurdities unquestioningy. Personally, I'd have told him and the kid to eff off...

Monday, 11 April 2011

It's not just me, is it?

Last week, frustrated with the constant resetting of what's become an elderly wireless router and threatening to leave our current ISP to join a new supplier who'd give us a new router as part of a package, I was provided with the funds by our current ISP to buy a new router, the brand of which they recommended. So far, so good. The ISP credited our account and I ordered the brand of router they advised.

I should have known it was all going to go wrong when I saw the 'Quick Installation Guide', which comprised a manual showing three pictures depicting basically how to plug the thing in and put a disk in a drive, which it did in 12 languages. It then said a 'Set up Wizard' would basically guide me through the rest.

Well, it did, of course, no such thing, merely introducing me to more acronyms and abbreviations than I thought existed in the world, let alone in one place. I couldn't work out how set it up from this 'Wizard', so consulted the manual. All 77 pages of it. Yep, you read that correctly. a 77-page manual for a wireless router. It contained, quite literally, hundreds more sets of letters, most of which meant absolutely nothing to me. Here's just one example, from one page, which is supposed to help people set the thing up:

"ATM PVC Configuration: This screen allows you to configure an ATM PVC identifier (VPI and VCI) and select a service category. Otherwise, choose an existing interface by selecting the checkbox to enable it."

Then two boxes. Marked "VPI: [0-255)]" and "VCI: [32-65535]"

Then a last box, with a scroll-y menu thing. "Service Category: UBR without PCR" and others.

That's six sets of three letters, the meaning of none of which I have the faintest clue, on one page alone, of a 77-page document. And it's entirely typical of the thing. It is utterly, utterly bewildering and people who know computers, and routers specifically, much better than I do, cannot get it to work.

No matter - I'll ring their helpline, they can take me through it. It says in the paperwork which comes with the thing that they're open 'til 10pm on weeknights and day times at weekends. Nope - they've entirely failed to answer so far, putting me though instead to a recorded message informing me that the 'mailbox is full and cannot accept any messages'. It turns out, from further research on the internet, that they are in fact not open until 10pm at all, so the constant phone calls I made to them after 8pm, when I get home from work, were utterly pointless.

OK then. I'll try my own internet provider. After all, they recommended the router and may have somebody available who could help me set it up. So I call them, get put through by a series of electronically-offered menu options to a machine which offers me five choices of hold music (but no choice of not having it) and then I hold on for 10 minutes. When I gave up after waiting that long, it turns out they're not open beyond 7pm either, so I'm wasting my time there, not that the entirely mechanised super-duper all-star, singing, dancing system of multiple-choice hold music would tell me that.

If this makes boring reading, I'm very sorry - I can assure you it's not as boring as the process of constantly wasting my evenings in a fruitless search for non ├╝ber-geek advice on setting the bastard up. I'll be choosing option 53 from the menu next time I find myself waiting pointlessly on the bloody phone - set fire to the box, throw it out the window, and post broken glass and ashes to the useless, lying, unhelpful bastards who made the thing in the mistaken belief that everybody who wants to use the internet at home is basically Commander Data from Star Trek and need only interface with it by plugging some part of their anatomy into it to set it up.