February 12, 2009

How 12500 new British jobs is actually just 500.

Much of the media seemed to fall for the Department for Transport’s PR this morning.

‘Super express’ trains contract gives boost to British jobs said the Guardian.

The Daily Mail said: Government buys British for intercity train fleet

The Telegraph seemed to fall hook, line and sinker: Next generation of Intercity trains to be built in Britain they said.

The only trouble is, none of those headlines appear to be entirely accurate.

They all stemmed from the DfT’s confident announcement that ‘This will create or safeguard some 12,500 manufacturing jobs in these regions [of the UK].’

But as the day’s gone on, that number’s begun to look like a big ball of spin.

The 12,500 appears to include maintenance workers, who could hardly have found their jobs offshored! “Safeguarding”, here, seems like an exaggeration.

Hitachi, part of the winning consortium, issued a UK press release that goes along with the DfT’s version of events. But they also issued a global press release, which has a different version.

Rather than 12,500 manufacturing jobs, as stated by the DfT, Hitachi promise their shareholders the deal will “secure up to 12,500 direct and indirect jobs in the local supply and services industry and local supporting communities.” It doesn’t say create, and doesn’t say manufacturing. “Local supporting communities” could mean Joyce who works in the nearby corner shop.

What’s more, it appears the trains will be designed and, largely, constructed in Japan. Only the final assembly and some basic manufacturing will be done in Britain.

Transport Briefing says just 500 manufacturing jobs will be created here in Britain. I’ll repeat that again: Five Hundred.

It appears that of the Department for Transport’s headline figure, just 2.5% are new jobs.

Why does all of this matter? Well, there was another bid for the £7.5bn tender from Bombardier, who are based in Derby and would have designed and constructed the trains in Britain.

I’m not a protectionist, but the spin coming out of the DfT today has been particularly effective, and particularly deceitful. Slowly the media’s realising they’ve been had.

Edit: The BBC just beat me to it on the spin story.


February 11, 2009

And right on cue…

...Twitter breaks down.

Let’s hope some of that $20m investment they’ve just had is used to buy some hardware.


February 09, 2009

What's wrong with a book?

I don’t get the Amazon Kindle.

Someone basically saw the iPod and thought “Yeah, we’ll do that but with books”.

And that was probably as much thought as went into it.

The device – and it’s newly announced successor the Kindle2 – is jaw-droppingly expensive. $359, or £240. For something that replicates, albeit badly, the idea of a book.

Don’t forget that unless you’re going to commit to a life of nothing-but-Dickens, you’ll still have to pay another £5 for every book you want to read on it. And that’s before we get to the device’s USP, newspapers and blogs. They also cost money to read (up to £7 a month), even though they’re available online completely free.

Some of the technology is very clever – the so-called ‘e-ink’ is impressive and it does look more like reading a book than your typical computer screen. And yes, you can store billions of words all on one little chip.

But then some of it is awful. It’s got a wholly unnecessary keyboard. It has an operating system that takes up more than 600Mb (for a book!). And it tries really hard to make you hate it by banning RSS feeds.

The Kindle completely kills the idea of what a book is all about. Books can be shared, given pride of place on a bookshelf, passed down to future generations, and loved.

The iPod made music portable. The Kindle is just making books look like even better value.


February 07, 2009

Today's players are defecating on cricket's history

First it was the pedalo.

Then it was the awful Stanford Cup.

Then Pietersen/Moores, soon to be made into a film starring Michael Sheen.

Now it’s the Indian Premier League.

English cricket’s gone bad.

If you didn’t see this week’s auction of players, have a look. It makes the money-grabbing antics of football look perfectly reasonable. There’s something quite wrong about players being fought over by rich benefactors in the lovechild of a Christie’s selling room and a press conference.

And as for the suggestion that players should somehow share the cash with their poor colleagues back in Blighty? Pffff… Ha…! No chance. These selfish players and their WAGS need the money for more holidays. Although, of course, cricket is just one long holiday already. When did the England team last play a league match in England?

Football gets criticised for being ostentatious, overblown and ruined by commercialism. But at least it started in the boardroom.

Cricket’s new obsession with money is being driven almost solely by the players.


January 28, 2009

Obama copying Brown's economic plan?

Writing about web page http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/27/AR2009012700457.html

This article in the Washington Post (signup required) might provide some rare good news for Gordon Brown.

The U.S. Treasury is planning to help America’s banks in much the same way as Gordon Brown has in the UK.

On the table are several approaches, which officials have begun to experiment with on a smaller scale. One would give the firms a federal guarantee protecting them against losses on assets that are backed by failing mortgages and other troubled loans. Another would set up new government institutions to buy these toxic assets. A third would inject more money into financial firms in exchange for ownership stakes, perhaps ending with nationalization in all but name.

Pretty much entirely the British plan then, and the piece also goes on to say how the whole project will rely on ‘trial and error’ and ‘a combination of initiatives’.

For the ‘Saviour of the World’ (© All Media Outlets) to be considering exactly what Gordon Brown has been often criticised for will surely give the PM something to smile about.

He might be under fire for having caused the problem, but if Obama’s economic team is in complete agreement about how to fix it, Gordon Brown might just come out of this with his head held high.

Either that or the UK and US are both doomed.


Recognition = £££?

The Consultative Group on the Past of Northern Ireland is publishing its final report today.

Clearly the most contentious part of it will be the suggestion that victims of the Troubles’ families (both terrorists and those killed by terrorists) will be eligible to receive £12,000.

The co-Chair of the group is adamant this is not ‘compensation’.

This is ‘recognition’ of people’s loss, given in answer to people’s complaints that recognition is lacking.

But I can’t help thinking the Consultative Group has added two plus two and got five.

How many of those asking for ‘recognition’ specifically asked for money? I suspect the bureaucrats have completely misconstrued what they were asking for.

A quick glance at the Consultative Group’s website suggests many people are unhappy at the £12,000 idea and wanted recognition of another kind.


January 27, 2009

Pluck off, Tesco.

Not everything about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “Chicken Out” campaign is perfect.

Getting people to pay more for the same amount of food is a tough ask, especially in a recession.

And he’s only ever persuaded the ‘working class’ to swap to better quality chickens by showing them the inside of a chicken shed.

But last night’s one-off update on his campaign made me pretty angry at my own supermarket-of-choice, Tesco.

Anyone who watched the original series will know they were less than helpful in providing an on-screen interview.

Last night, he finally got one, but it was with Tesco PR woman Darshini David. A former BBC business presenter, she came across abysmally. I suspect her job is mostly to be Tesco’s TV ‘face’, and if last night was anything to go on, she’s rubbish at it.

She claimed Tesco are ‘leading the way’ on chicken welfare.

No, they clearly are not. Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Waitrose are light-years ahead of them, and it’s clear for anyone to see.

Why won’t Tesco admit on its packaging that chickens are grown indoors (instead of using subtle, yet blatant, marketing speak to imply otherwise)? Darshini: “We don’t want to patronise them”.

Is the nutritional information section patronising? No.

Is it patronising to give us a choice between ‘Free Range Eggs’ and ‘Barn Eggs’? Apparently not.

Is Darshini David patronising? You betcha.

The point Hugh F-W should have made in the interview (but sadly didn’t) is that many people are only aware of Britain’s chicken welfare standards because they’ve seen his show or read newspaper articles related to it.

Unfortunately that’s a very small majority of the British population. Only 2.5 million people watched last night’s show. I would imagine more than half of last night’s viewers were middle-class people who probably read The Guardian or The Independent.

So what of the other 57.5m people in the UK? Tesco doesn’t want to patronise them, but they don’t mind if they’re in complete ignorance either.

I’m seriously tempted to shop elsewhere having seen last night’s arrogant and disgraceful performance.


In Your Face

Mentioning Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe) in my last entry sent me on a whirlwind tour of their various websites. I found this, and given it’s only had 80,000 hits so far, thought it deserved a reshowing here.

Genius.


Êtes–vous un rire?

TintinI always found Tintin a bit creepy. He just looked odd in the cartoons, and there was something… French about him.

But my interest in a film version has been twinged by reading who’s involved.

Directing: Steven Spielberg, and then Peter Jackson in a sequel.
Starring: Jamie Bell (a.k.a. Billy Elliott, albeit that’s unfair as he’s been in loads of things now)
And: Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Andy Serkis, Mackenzie Crook
Written by: Steven Moffat (the new man behind Doctor Who), Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe) and Edgar Wright (of Hot Fuzz).

Now, that sounds like a film!

The first installment’s not out until 2011 though.

P.S. Bonus points if you can translate the title (or what Google Translate tells me the translation is, anyway)


Doing things differently… some of the time

Writing about web page http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2009/01/27/intv.obama.arabiya.alarabiya

President Obama is certainly doing things differently. His first broadcast interview was with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, one of the most watched TV channels in the Middle East.

Watching it though, there were a few parallels with the past.

He often listens to a question, and begins his answer with “Well what I think is important is this…”

Mr Obama’s message to the Muslim world is that America’s now listening.

As an interviewee, not so much.


January 20, 2009

This historic day

There is something more to today than the inauguration of the first mixed-race President of the United States.

When Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in at 5pm (GMT) tonight, he’ll assume responsibility for the greatest country in the world.

Its economic, military, social and cultural impact is immense. And its reputation is in need of salvation.

President Obama has been hailed as the Saviour of the America many want the country to become. Yet that task is so great, imbuing responsibility for it in one man has never been as risky.

Two wars, a failing economy, a crumbling infrastructure, a woeful health system and an underperforming education system. These are each difficult crises, just one of which can sink a President.

President Obama does appear to have a once-in-a-generation chance to solve some of these.

But to solve them all – and to simultaneously repair the country’s image, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East – will require a miracle even greater than President Obama’s election.

He begins his term of office with majorities in the House and Senate. With millions of supporters ready to jump in front of traffic for him. And with the goodwill of most of the Western world.

All of these things make it more likely he will let some of us down.

But there will be achievements to savour during the 44th Presidency, and we should appreciate each of them, even if President Obama fails us at times. He is, after all, only human.

It’s been a while.

But today, at last, we’re jealous of America, hoping that the stardust will fall beyond the country’s borders.


January 17, 2009

Problems for LabourList

This is pretty funny.

A Labour Party apparatchik called Derek Draper set up LabourList as a counter to the wildly successful Conservative Home last week. The only trouble, he’s very close to Peter Mandelson, and unlike the Tory version, LabourList is seen as being too close to the party’s leadership.

Derek’s other problem is a dislike for humour or dissent. He’s been accused of heavily censoring comments left by members of the public, and generally treating the site’s users like poo.

So someone’s set up Labourist. Lacking a certain, er… ‘L’, the site is identical to LabourList, but anyone can leave comments.

It seems completely legal at the moment – LabourList encourages people to use the data on the site elsewhere.

It’d be pretty funny if Labourist turned out to be more popular, made more money from advertising and had more of an effect on the party than the original version – very “bottom-up”.


What is Emma Thompson talking about?

Actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson seems to be such a fully signed-up resident of la-la land, she’s got me agreeing with Geoff Hoon.

Blimey.

I think I’ve made clear I’m no fan of Heathrow expansion (or Heathrow generally, really – I think it should probably be on the other side of London).

But how can Emma Thompson be one of the leading voices in the anti-expansion campaign while simultaneously hopping across the Atlantic whenever she fancies?

Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, a man with whom I rarely seem to agree, has pointed out this contradiction between fighting climate change and causing a fair bit of it at the same time.

Thompson fought back: “Get a grip Geoff. This is not a campaign against flying – we’re trying to stop the expansion of Heathrow in the face of climate change. It sounds like the transport secretary has completely missed the point. Again.”

If anyone’s missed the point here, it’s not Geoff.


January 16, 2009

Searching on Google about as damaging to planet as farting

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/16/carbon-sunday-times-google-clarification

Last week’s Sunday Times ran a prominent story explaining how two “typical” Google searches use produce as much CO2 as boiling a kettle, due to their enormous (and secretive) data centres.

But now, according to The Guardian, it seems that’s not entirely accurate.

The figure for each individual search is actually closer to a whopping 0.2g

Which is… er… not very much.

Here’s the clarification on the Times website:

A report about online energy consumption (Google and you’ll damage the planet, Jan 11) said that “performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle” or about 7g of CO2 per search. We are happy to make clear that this does not refer to a one-hit Google search taking less than a second, which Google says produces about 0.2g of CO2, a figure we accept. In the article, we were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes. Various experts put forward carbon emission estimates for such a search of 1g-10g depending on the time involved and the equipment used. (emphasis mine)

How many times has Google taken two minutes to answer one of your searches?

And here’s the top two paragraphs of the original story:

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.” (emphasis mine)

According to The Guardian, the Times is sticking by its story. Hmm…


Possibly the coolest invention since the gramophone*

My advice to you if you own shares in Apple:

Sell, Sell, Sell.

No, not because Steve Jobs is stepping back from running the company for a while (I reckon it’s permanent, myself).

But because iTunes’ business model is about to be trounced by the Swedes.

I’m a little behind the curve here, but Spotify is quite simply brilliant.

It’s the kind of invention that only requires around twenty seconds to appreciate, which is a strong indication of its simple genius.

Imagine your hard-drive being linked to the catalogues of the major record companies. And you’ve got free access to all of it. Yep, free. You can stream as much music as you want, and the only down-side is the short advert every 30mins or so.

Oh, did I say it’s free?

So you can’t download the music to your MP3 player… yet.

But this bit of software is so cool, you won’t care.

Hilariously, the Americans can’t get their hands on it yet without being nice to people or handing over some cash.

We Brits on the other hand just need to click here.

Hat-tip: Matt

* P.S. I might be exaggerating a little


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