Government kicks UK when it’s down with more ID Card news

 Although the country is mortgaged to the hilt, the pound is worth about the same as it was in 1978, and job losses indicate that only PoundStretcher and McDonalds will be employing anyone by the end of the February, the government still thinks we want to hear about the benefits of ID Cards. 
Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said:
“Those benefits include increased protection against identity fraud for the individual and help in protecting our communities against criminals, illegal immigrants and terrorists trying to exploit multiple identities.”

Here’s the entire missive from the Ministry of Truth which hit my in-box just now:

(Home Office) Benefits of Identity Cards will be delivered soon, Home Secretary tells Manchester

Work is underway to identify a number of areas across the UK where British nationals can be among the first to apply for an identity card, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced when she visited Manchester today.

Further details of plans to introduce the first voluntary identity cards for the general public this autumn were revealed during her visit to meet with young people and the city’s business and community leaders.

At a speech in Manchester Town Hall she emphasised the benefits identity cards will bring for the region and the country and set out the progress made in delivering the cards. Building on a commitment made in November she expanded on plans to make a limited number of the cards available early from this autumn.

A brand new website giving the public more information on keeping their identity secure will be launched in the Spring. British nationals interested in getting an identity card will be able to stay up-to-date with developments and can register to be told if the National Identity Service goes live in their region.

Greenspan’s dinosaur diary

Just reading Alan Greenspan’s autobiog and while a lot of the hardcore economics goes over my head by several thousand feet, there are enough interesting anecdotes about various politicos to sustain interest.

Although it smacks of the ghost-written glossiness that too many of these celeb books are infected with – all the interesting edges knocked off through a combination of excessive lawyering and over zealous editing – there are still some critical nuggets in there but not as many as there should have been. He didn’t get on too well with George Bush Snr but neatly sides-steps any direct criticism – even though Bush blamed him for losing the election to Clinton given the dire state of the economy at the end of his presidency,

The fact that the whole credit crunch thing happened after the hardback was published means it’s kind of like reading the survival struggle diary of a dinosaur published just before the meteorite hit. Stories of dodging another Tyrannosaurus attack don’t have the same impact when you know 80 percent of life is about to be wiped out. But it’s an interesting read nonetheless. 

The paperback version does have an extra chapter added on in which Greenspan does tackle the financial crisis but he manages to side-step any issue of culpability and the whole section has a sort of hasty and defensive edge to it. Mind you, he doesn’t seem to accept any blame for Black Monday either so that is not exactly surprising. Not sure if he should do but it feels a bit like when the market goes right that is down to decisive action by the Fed and when it goes wrong – well that is just the cycle of the market. Convenient. 

He does neatly sum-up where all the cheap cash came from which led to the credit bubble – namely that some of our present problems can be traced back to the fact that Chinese workers like to save cash. The expanding economy over there combined with this propensity to save flooded Asian markets with cheap cash which then flowed around the whole financial system – well at least that’s how I interpreted it which apart from probably being overly simplistic could also be completely wrong – but it’s a nice image.

I have only just got to the Clinton presidency so it will be interesting to hear what Greenspan makes of Slick Willy.

Apple loses Front Row dinner-party marketeers with remote move

My girlfriend has just bought a new MacBook, rather than a recession-friendly netbook, but hey. But despite being a couple of hundred quid more than the old style, Apple seem to have done away with the little remote. 

After a bit of searching through the box, and a bit more searching online, we realised it wasn’t a packaging error at Cupertino, but they buggers have actually stopped including them. Having looked on some forums the consensus is that most people didn’t use them and actually Steve is doing us a big favour by not bothering us with this distraction – Steve knows best!.

I guess I am in the minority but I actually like the remote and I think Apple is missing out on a trick here. One sure way to wow your Windows friends when they come around for dinner is to casually use the remote to launch Front Row from across the room – that always goes down well. 

Sad I know but it’s one of my few party tricks – well that and flicking peanuts into my mouth. Apple has given the option to buy a remote for $19 but most people won’t. 

I guess judging by the company’s results, Apple doesn’t need anymore marketing help but doing away with the remote is going to mean a few less Mac owners get to show off Front Row and saying your Mac Book is made from one complete piece of plastic doesn’t have the same effect.

Is Bill’s philanthropy just another form of control?

On a flight back from LA last week I found myself in that brain limbo that too much air travel can impose. Too wired to sleep but too tired to sit through a whole movie so breaking with my normal obsessive need to watch all the new movies on the plane I opted for some TV and chanced on the BBC Money Programme Interview with Bill Gates which aired last June.

I missed it at the time, probably consciously expecting it to be more glossed over mainstream coverage of Bill. For the most part it was exactly what I expected with presenter Fiona Bruce steering clear of asking Bill too many of the tough questions despite claiming that  it had taken the Beeb almost two years of negotiations with Microsoft to secure the interview. The programme delved into the history of MS and went over the usual ground and then tackled Bill’s new philanthropic career.

Various talking heads popped up around the issue including US tech journo and super-geek Robert X Cringely who basically claimed that Bill’s latest venture is all about securing a nobel peace prize! Well that makes sense but then thinking about another aspect of philanthropy, the tax saving, it struck me that while it might seem on one hand that Bill is being supremely altruistic with giving away billions the fact is that he has to to do that anyway through taxation. So by setting up this huge philanthropic effort he is able to take back some control of that vast chunk of cash that he was previously sending off to the US Treasury and Bill likes control. 

I am sure that there is a lot of genuine altruism here but people don’t really change that much. The single-minded focus on achieving a goal has characterised Microsoft’s rise to to top and the fact that Gates would suddenly shift gift and become some touchy-feely Mother Teresa-like figure just doesn’t wash. There is a plan here with a definite end-game, probably the nobel peace prize, with the handy by-product of being able to have more say over the vast swathes of tax dollars.

Gates wasn’t given a completely free-ride by the BBC, the parting segment had Fiona Bruce being shown around the MS Campus by Gates. The pair came up against what seemed to be a locked door. Gates assumed that the door was secured by the high-tech security system and search vainly for his swipe card before resigning himself to calling for help. After credulously asking if Bill was locked out of his own building, the BBC presenter simply leant on the door and strolled in. And neat little segment that said it all really.

Budapest via Australia odyssey begins

Yep, it’s been a long time in the making but we are finally off tomorrow morning to begin our two month around the world ramble which will see us eventually relocating to Budapest for a while.

Credit-crisis? Global warming? Yes these are all concerns but sometimes you just have to say what the hell and run for the sun. I am still planning to do some assignments and try and pick up some interesting blog material along the way – there are some very cool geothermal projects happening in New Zealand and Fiji that I would like to check out. But mostly it’s a chance to just to escape the gloom and doom with some hard-core mooching.

The flight/travel itinerary goes something like this:

Nov 16 – London to Hong Kong 

Nov 21 Hong Kong to Darwin (Aus)

Nov 26 Darwin to Alice Springs

Nov 30 Alice Springs to Cairns

Drive Cairns to Byron Bay

Train Byron Bay to Sydney

17 Dec Sydney to Christchurch (NZ)

Drive Christchurch to Auckland

31 Dec Auckland to Nadi (Fiji)

11 Jan Nadi to Honolulu (Hawaii)

14 Jan Honolulu to London (back on 15 jan)

18 Jan London to Budapest

Facebook is probably the best place to catch-up with where we are but I will be updating this blog with anything journalism or blog related I get around to over the next 8 weeks or so.

Going to be back in London for two or three days when we are back but then we are off to live in Budapest for 6 months or longer – depending on how it all works out and whether this freelance thing is really possible from anywhere.

UK ID card fuss is only temporary

Keynote RSA Conference 2008
Keynote RSA Conference 2008

That was the warning from security guru and BT chief security office Bruce Schneier who said that in five years or so, people won’t have to worry about ID cards anymore.

Not because libertarians will triumph and prevent the technology from being developed, but because ID checks will happen in the background without us even realising.

“I know there are debates on ID cards everywhere but in a lot of ways,they are only very temporary. They are only a temporary solution till biometrics takes over,” he said, speaking at the RSA Conference Europe on Tuesday.

“When you walk into the airport they will know who you are. You won’t have to show an ID – why bother? They can process you quicker,” he said.

I am not quite convinced about Schneier’s time-frame as look at how long its taken to get a plastic card with a photo on it approved so how long are we really looking at for sophisticated biometrics technology and the databases in the background to make it all work.

Still while biometrics for high-level uses in airports and law-enforcement might be a longer way off – more low-level uses by commercial organisations might be rolled out a lot sooner.

mySociety: Open democracy, open source

Just finished this piece for Heise UK on mySociety the organisation behind site’s such as Theyworkforyou which provides tools for tracking what your MP is up to:

A group of free and open source enthusiasts are challenging the UK government to use the internet to its full potential

About a quarter of one percent. That’s the extent to which Tom Steinberg, director and co-founder of mySociety.org thinks the UK government has managed to embrace the potential of the Internet to re-shape democracy as we currently understand it.

For the full article go to Heise UK