Tuesday, 30 June 2009

British Climbdown on ID Cards

At long last, the British Government has admitted that its insanely expensive ID card scheme is doomed to fail. The problems with various iterations of this ill-conceived project were legion. Everyone in the UK would have been forced to have one. They would have been very expensive (the last estimate I saw put it at about 203 quid each). It was claimed they would help the War On Terror™ (complete and utter bollocks, ministers admitted later). The cards could have been multi-purpose - one horrific proposal suggested the ID card could also contain your driving licence, your credit cards, your medical history and your passport. Imagine the consequences of losing that baby!

I actually think a simple ID card is a good idea - most European countries have them. But the UK scheme was never intended to be simple. It would be the Rolls-Royce of data-collection and mining. So that means it would be primarily an IT project, and recent experience has shown that the UK government is utterly incapable of managing IT projects. This would have been the grandaddy of all failed IT projects - over-budget, late, and ultimately not fit for purpose. And yet another massive infringement of personal freedom.

The cards will, apparently, still be made available to anyone who wants one (it's suggested that youngsters might get one so they can prove their age and be able to buy booze - but there are already very simple schemes that do that). And foreigners. Yeah foreigners would have to get one, 'cos obviously a passport isn't good enough.

Full story here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Magnetic (Return of the Clones III?)

When I arrived back in Madrid yesterday afternoon, fresh from Yorkshire, I was definitely in cheapskate mode, so I decided to take the Metro/bus home, rather than a taxi. I bought myself a two-Euro ticket (see Graeme's post on why you have to do this), and went to Cuzco via Nuevos Ministerios. At Cuzco, I waited for the bus that goes to the end of our street (they're normally every 5-10 minutes, but because I was waiting for it, tired, sweaty and overdressed for Madrid having just got back from not-warm-at-all England, I had to wait twenty minutes), and when it eventually came, I popped my 10-trip ticket into the machine. Machine said no. I checked the back of the ticket, and there's definitely seven trips left on it. I gave it to the driver, who punched a hole in it.

Didn't think any more of it.

This morning, I had to withdraw some cash to pay Telefonica to put my Internet back on. The first cash machine said no, can't read the magnetic strip. So did the second one. Beginning to panic, thinking the card's been skimmed again (see this horrific post if you missed the skim-scam), I rushed off to my bank to get the card cancelled and a replacement issued.

I tell ya: never a dull moment in Madrid.

But I wonder what form of exotic machine I passed through on my travels yesterday that wiped these magnetic strips? Most odd.

Oh, and thanks to M at M & J for this heads-up; we may have got rid of the skim-scammers. Still haven't had my sodding money back though.

A Week Without Internet

I know you've missed me while I've been stuck in some of the more boring parts of northern England, and I'm sorry - my Dad has no Internet (no mobile phone, even), so it's been a bit of a challenge to get online.

A couple of years ago, there was a community computer education place in the ex-mining village where my Dad insists on living, and you could get online there for as long as you wanted, for free. During a flying visit last summer, I found it had closed down, but was able to use an Internet cafe in Doncaster, the nearest town. This year, I found that last year's Internet cafe has gone, and I was unable to find a replacement. Never mind, there's a brand-new public library in the village - they're bound to have Internet. And indeed they did, but you had to join the library to make use of it. I explain that however unlikely it may sound, I am actually just visiting the village for a week. No problem, says the man, you can have temporary membership for a month. All you need is a proof of address; a utilities bill, for example. Oh, I say, they're all at home. In Madrid. Oh, says the man. But I expect, I say, that my Dad is a member of this library. He types our family name into the computer, but it seems none of my family is a member any more (I'm secretly relieved that they have no record of the book I borrowed and never returned back in 1976*). I tell him I'll return tomorrow, with my Dad and some of his bills in tow.

But I don't return, because later that day I find that one of the Wetherspoon's pubs in Doncaster offers free wi-fi.

The next day, I go to the pub, fire up my MacBook, and follow the instructions in the leaflet. Doesn't effing work. The bar staff have never used Macs before, and so are completely unable to help.

In desperation, I go to the Tourist Information office and ask about Internet cafes. Oh yes, they say, just round the corner, next to Barclays Bank. Unbelievable. I had been to Barclays at least three times in the preceding few days and never noticed the place. It was serviceable (although I couldn't use the mouse on its 6-inch cable because I'm left-handed), but very noisy with people making Skype calls to their grannies in Poland and Romania.

I did see adverts for mobile Internet dongles. One of these would have been ideal for the week, but the two-year contract put me off.

I must be an Internet addict - I feel like half of me is missing when I can't get online. So it was great to get back and find that Telefonica have suspended our ADSL.

*Bare-faced lie, included for humourous purposes only.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Greetings From Liverpool

Keefie is on his jollies.

Having had the pleasure of the DIL's (Daddy In Law) company in Madrid for about 10 days, I flew back with him to Jolly Ole England. The DIL has a couple of NHS hips, and so can't run about like he used to - wheelchair assistance was required, and provided for free (unlike Dubai, Marhaba my bottom). This meant we got front-row seats on the plane, but sadly when the lift-thingy deposited us at Arrivals at Liverpool John Lennon, it was the wrong door; the screen over the baggage carousel said 'City of Derry', and there were no bags on it. We wandered around, bewildered, for a bit, and eventually found another carousel with two solitary bags on it. Phew, as they say in The Dandy.

DIL was catching a bus to Manchester, where his sister lives and his car was left, and I was being picked up by a buddy who lives in Liverpool. I was given beer and Scouse (Liverpool's traditional stew - dee-licious), and yesterday (Friday) we hit the town.

I lived in Liverpool about 23 years ago, worked there, got married there. I love the place to bits, and was sad when I left it, because it really felt like it was dying (had Margaret Thatcher had her way, she would have just nuked it). But it hasn't died. It has recovered and grown like a growing thing. There's a stack of new building completed and ongoing. It's all very impressive. The most impressive thing, I guess, is Liverpool One: this is basically an extension of the city centre down towards the river. It's a massive mixed-use development of shops, offices, leisure and apartments; the architecture is sensitive and innovative. Rather than build a monolithic thing, it's been planned as separate buildings in different styles, so you have new streets, vistas, corners, squares, fountains, a park, and so on. Prince Charles would hate it because there aren't any neo-classical or vernacular bits. But everybody else loves it because it is beautiful, human-scale, organic-looking space. Did I say I liked it? I'll say it again: I've never seen an urban development this good, anywhere.

Friday, 5 June 2009

When I'm Cleaning Windows

The windows of our flat have been a little bit grubby ever since we moved in, and we could never figure out a way to clean them. The balconies are only 4 inches deep. MamaDuck found a solution a few weeks ago. A local company who do various kinds of cleaning. They sent two (two!) chaps round to give us a quote. I thought it was stupendously expensive, but MamaDuck accepted it and an appointment was made for today.

I had expected him this morning, but he actually showed up at 7pm. He asked for water and a towel. And then proceeded to remove the windows from their frames. He washed them all, (both sides) in our hallway. It took him about an hour, and then he phoned for a colleague who spoke English. They chatted for about half an hour, and eventually I asked them if there was a problem, and could I please have my windows put back. And would they kindly go away and stop disrupting my life.

I might let them back this time next year.

Go, Gordy, Go

I follow British politics, and other stuff around the world. I rarely comment on it on my blog, 'cos it's like, boring. I hated the Tories under Thatcher, and have been less than impressed by NuLabor. I wasn't too impressed by Old Labour, but if they'd got rid of old intellectual Commies in donkey jackets sooner, they could have been okay. NuLabor is Toryismo with a friendly face. When the friendly face of NuLabor (Blair) finally threw in the towel (I wonder if he knew what was coming), the fishface (Wee Gordy Broon) took over. Nobody wanted him to be PM, except him (and possibly his wife). He has been a complete and utter disaster.

He has no mandate. Nobody wants him. He has presided over the Credit Crunch (not necessarily his fault), the MPs expenses scandal (he could have fixed that before it happened), the worst local election results on record, and now multiple resignations from his Cabinet.

And now he says 'I will not waver or walk away.'

That's okay Gordon. All you need to do is run away, as fast as you can. I give him a week.

It looks inevitable that Daveed Cameroon will be the next Prime Minister. I don't like the idea, but at least he seems like someone who listens to the pipple and responds appropriately.