Monthly Archives: June 2007

Goodbye Tony Blair

After a decade in power, Tony Blair stepped down as Britain’s Prime Minister today, and was replaced by Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Although it’s been fashionable for some time to dislike Tony Blair, I have mixed feelings about his legacy. On the one hand, he’s fulfilled a lot of the promises he made to rejuvenate Britain’s public services, and has pumped billions of pounds into education, transport and the National Health Service. He’s also overseen a long (perhaps the longest?) period of sustained economic growth — although of course many would attribute the economic successes of the last ten years to Gordon Brown anyway.

On the other hand, Britain is now a breathtakingly expensive country to visit, and since I left in 1999 has increasingly become a surveillance society. Big Brother has arrived (and I don’t mean the insanely-popular Endemol reality-TV show) — there are CCTV cameras EVERYWHERE in the UK now. Brixton, the neighbourhood where most of my London-based friends live and where I spend most of my time in the capital, has the highest concentration of CCTV cameras in the World.

(Sidebar rant: This ubiquitous surveillance has the effect of making almost everyone a fine-paying criminal; I rented a car on a recent trip, and three months’ later was dismayed to receive a letter from the rental car company saying that I had incurred a fixed penalty notice from Lambeth Borough Council for parking in a bus stop (for just 30 seconds, when no buses were around). There was even a grainy black and white picture of my rental car on the fixed penalty notice, snapped from a CCTV camera mounted high on a pole across the street! The rental car company paid the 75 quid ticket and charged the cost to my credit card — plus they added an additional 25 pound “administration fee” for their trouble).

Of course, the most problematic aspect of Tony Blair’s decade of leadership was his decision to follow George Bush on his disastrous capers in Afghanistan and Iraq. To this day, almost no-one can offer any explanation why Tony Blair followed Bush. It was extremely damaging to him, to the Labour Party, and to the UK as a whole. All I can think of is that, since Britain is one of the top four arms dealers in the World, the UK generally profits when there is armed conflict. But that doesn’t really account for the almost fanatical zeal with which Blair pushed the Bush agenda.

Perhaps all will be explained in the inevitable Blair biographies, memoirs etc.

Goodbye Tony Blair

After a decade in power, Tony Blair has stepped down as the UK’s Prime Minister, and has been replace by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

I have always had mixed feelings about Tony Blair. It’s fashionable to complain about him — but Brits are world-class whingers anyway, and love to complain about anyone and anything.

I think he’s generally done a good job; he’s fulfilled a lot of the promises he made a decade ago, pumping billions of pounds into education, transport and the National Health Service, and overseeing a very long period of sustained economic growth.

On the other hand, Britain is a breathtakingly expensive country, and has become a surveillance society

Flooding in Sheffield

Both of my sisters, their families and a number of my friends live in Sheffield, South Yorkshire in England, and today my little sister Vicki sent me a link to images of the severe flooding the region has been experiencing lately.

Apparently one elderly man died when he was “washed away” while getting out of his car, and even the pitch at Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground, is under water!

Computer Migration Blues

I recently decided it was time to replace my 5-year-old Sony laptop while it still has some resale value, and after extensive research, decided to go for another Sony Vaio — the VGN-AR320E model.

This huge “desktop replacement” laptop is a relatively recent model and has most of the features I want (big screen, big hard drive, Centrino Core Duo processor, 2GB RAM, USB 2.0), yet it was recently discontinued by Sony, and so was significantly discounted by many online retailers — prices were about $1,600, which is about what I spent on my last Vaio laptop.

Unfortunately, the first two retailers I ordered from came back telling me it was on “back order,” despite claiming that it was in stock on their websites. Although this was frustrating and wasted a couple of weeks’ of my time, I eventually got one from an eBay merchant for $1,390, so I saved a couple of hundred bucks for my (lack of) patience.

I have a couple of gripes with the new machine; firstly, it came pre-installed with Windows Vista Home Premium, which certainly looks nice (thanks to blatant plagiarism from the Mac OSX interface), but everything has moved from where it used to be in XP, so it takes ages to find anything. I’m also not convinced the new start menu is an improvement from a usability standpoint — it seems to take more clicks to launch programs than it used to — although perhaps I’ll get used to it. I do like the gadgets sidebar a lot, though (another OSX rip-off).

Secondly, it also came pre-installed with tons of crappy trial versions of software — a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works (is that still around!?), various bits of Sony tat and lots of AOL crap. It even has some MS SQL Server components installed — I have no idea why. I removed most of it.

Thirdly, there are no recovery disks; there is a recovery partition hiding on the hard drive somewhere, should I ever have to return the machine to it’s “out-of-the-box” state — which I hope I never will.

But perhaps the most annoying aspect is User Account Control, a new Vista feature that pops up annoying additional warning dialogues all the time to “ask permission” to do routine tasks, like launching applications or downloading software updates (which of course a new computer does ALL the time).

Also incredibly frustrating and time-consuming is the process of moving data and applications from one machine to another. I have a 60GB external hard drive for the process, so it should have been comparatively straightforward, but it’s an old USB 1.1 version, which doesn’t always mount properly (on either computer) and is incredibly slow. I tried to set up a peer-to-peer wireless network, but that didn’t seem to work either.

Apart from all the regular work (office files, websitre setc.), there are also all the “digital assets” that invariably have some kind of complex system to manage them; images (I somehow need to migrate my ACDSee 9 database, something my father failed to accomplish after literally months of support dialogue with company), and music (iTunes) being the biggest two.

Then there are all the device drivers for the myriad peripherals I’ve acquired over the years; a Canon digital camera, my aging iPod, two HP printers (an All-In-One and a photo printer), a scanner, my Nokia cellphone, a USB floppy drive (just in case!) and the aforementioned external USB hard drive. I also discovered the U3 Launchpad on my flash driove isn’t compatible with Vista at all (and i don’t think I’ll even bother installing drivers for my old Minidisc player!).

And then there are all the programs that spray logfiles all over the place; Skype, Windows Live Messenger, etc. etc.

I did start playing with the “Files and Settings Transfer Wizard,” but got cold feet half-way through — I find those wizards notoriously unreliable, and more often than not they simply bring old problems to an otherwise new and pristine computer. Besides, I’m a control freak where my computer is concerned, and I like to know EXACTLY what is going on, so I decided to take the manual route — which will be many, many hours of work.

In the push to hide complexity from the user, software designers have attempted to automate more and more of the functions of software — the point that they are now so complex, that it’s now almost impossible to move smoothly from one machine to another.