Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Forget Office, People use Google Apps Now

A couple of years ago, I got a Chromebook for my birthday. My Dad told me they were ridiculous and a waste of money, arguing that there was no point in buying a computer that can't even run Microsoft Office.

I didn't see the inability to run such programs on my Chromebook as a problem. I wanted one because I believed (and still do believe) that they're the best notebooks for accessing the web quickly, free of hassle. At my age, (16) to be able to efficiently access social media applications, and entertainment services such as Netflix and YouTube is of greatest importance. I saw Google Apps and their parallel cloud services as a perfectly adequate way of doing my school work.

My Dad dismissed Google docs as stupid, and thought I was stupid for using them. However the more I used them, and the more I used the Google Drive, the more I preferred it them to Office. Google Apps offer flexibility: I can start a piece of work at home, and then finish it and print it at school. I decided cloud services is where it is at. It just made sense to me.

Nowadays, people want technology to be as simple and as efficient as possible. Cloud services can fulfil these requirements brilliantly. Take Google Docs for example, you can access your documents on your laptop, tablet, smartphone, and on any other computer you may find yourself on harmoniously, without the requirement of any hardware such as a USB stick. The harmony between different devices is very appealing; its simplistic, but extremely beneficial. People don't mind that Google docs might not be as advanced as Office. The fact that its essentially office stripped to the bare necessities, doesn't matter. The advantages of the cloud features is considerably greater than the disadvantages.

I have always felt that young people such as myself are the people that really know what's going on with technology.  We are the primary consumers, and we're the innovators. We seem to understand what will take off, and what will flop. Over the past year or so I've seen a massive increase in the number of people abandoning the traditional; Microsoft Office, for Google's cloud alternative. What really matters nowadays is connectivity, and simplicity, because it's these two things that ultimately effect productivity. Google Docs ticks both these boxes, as it's user friendly and simple, as well as being well connected via the Drive.

When I first told my Dad that Google's office and cloud services was the way forward, he laughed. However, yesterday he informed me that the company he works for, Trimble Navigations (listed on NASDAQ, and made revenue of over $2 Billion in 2012) had signed a corporate deal with Google for the business use of these services.

Lessons learnt? Parents should listen to their kids when it comes to technology, and forget Office, it sucks.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Apple the Religious Cult

This is Jony Ive, he's the Senior Vice President of Design at Apple.

What Apple have is what all their rivals envy and crave for. A ridiculously large, ridiculously loyal, and ridiculously clueless consumer base that will worship Apple products, and buy them religiously, no matter how crap they are.

This allows them to make stupid introduction videos like this one for their new products. They love to shove this man in a room, and make him subtly say 'we know you'l buy our crap anyway so we shit out anything we can think of'.

Apple take their consumer base for granted; only they can get away with saying stuff like 'the Iphone 5C is a distillation of what people love about the Iphone 5' and claim that an Iphone is an experience rather than a frikin' phone. I was shocked when my first Iphone's antenna defaulted for no reason and I had to get it replaced. I guess it must just be part of the experience.

The Senior Vice President for Software Engineering says in the video that the 5C is 'built on a foundation of features that people know and love'. That's why I was shocked when my phone decided to delete all my contacts for no reason whatsoever. But judging by the number of Iphone users on the internet complaining about the same software malfunction, this must be one of those lovable features?

 Apple love to whitewash their flawed products because they know that's all they need to do to make their religious cult go out and buy whatever new crap they have to sell. But eventually, if they don't fix these small problems that often occur, people are going to get fed up, and polishing the turd will no longer work for them. This marketing strategy will stop working eventually.

They need to stop taking their cult consumer base for granted and stop claiming each product is even more perfect than the last before I just can't take it and die.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Let's Regenerate the North

A reflection on the BBC documentary 'Mind the Gap'

Evan Davis' documentary looks at the threat the capital imposes on the rest of the UK. London as  a major world city, if not the major world city has earned the capability of attracting investment and business from all corners of the world. However in doing so, it has managed to cast a shadow over the rest of the UK. The city sucks the best qualified professionals, not only from across the country, but the whole world to work for the most attractive, flashy businesses that are all based in London.

Why? They want to live in the busy, evolving, cultural centre that is London, and work for the best people they can, who are also in London. It's a vicious circle. The capital marries two key features which make it so successful, it is both a fashionable place to live, and a productive place to work. Along with a wealth of history, diversity and art, it has truly become one of the most attractive city in the world to live, work, and play.

As well as this threat, the country does owe a lot to the city, which vitally acts as the poster boy for the country, generating wealth that does, to some extent, dissipate across the rest of the country. Even if the majority remains in London.

I don't think there is an opportunity for any of our cities to grow into a real competitor to London. But like the documentary says in the second episode, there is an opportunity for cities like Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds to develop into something similar.

These northern cities all have an industrial background, that is historically important to the development of how they look, and their culture. People love this old industrial feel that they offer, and when regenerated the old docks, mills, and factories become trendy and cool places to live and work. Take for instance the Albert Docks in Liverpool, once derelict docks, now a beautiful and thriving commercial zone in the city centre. We need to encourage investment in these cities, to capitalise on these opportunities.

These sort of redevelopment areas are especially attractive to the younger generation, they're trendy places to be and to live, They're also cheaper alternatives to London, but still in a city centre with lots to do. That's one of the attractive aspects of redeveloping old industrial buildings, they're often central.

Albert Docks - example of successful redevelopment
We also need to encourage business in these cities. And I don't doubt that with more investment from the government, and from the private sector, this can be done. I personally think this would be done most successfully, if the local governments where given more money to invest themselves, or even if a committee was set up for investment in the north, containing council representatives, constituency MPs, and representatives of local business of the areas mentioned, in order to come up with large-scale plans for investment, and put them forward to  both Westminster, and private investors in a similar fashion to the London Docklands Development Corporation of the 1980s. But with some representation from local government.

With investment, there is no reason why these cities can't become a hub for the north of England, and make more of a reputation for themselves on the international stage. Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds all have unique, rich cultures and histories that ought to be taken advantage of.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Why Britain's Young People Are More Engaged Than Ever

The other day I was listening to  Radio 5 Live with Victoria Derbyshire, who was talking to four teenagers in light of the recent Demos report, saying that teenagers are less likely to get a job due to unfair stereotypes, more interestingly however it also included data that suggests that today's youth (my generation), are more socially and politically engaged than past generations:
  • 87% believe social media is effective in driving change
  • 38% have signed a petition online
  • 29% have used Facebook or Twitter to raise awareness of a cause
  • 19% have donated money online
It was this, in particular that caught my interest. Two-thirds of teachers thought that today's youth are more politically engaged than their own, however, evidence would suggest we are also the most prosecuted and pressured generation for some time. Surely that's unfair?  (Click to look back at a previous post on our struggling youth and poor education system). 

Social media excites me. Its invigorating. A constantly, rapidly evolving creature that is truly revolutionising absolutely everything in every corner of society. As a teenager, I know that, because I'm at the frontline. I've grown up alongside social media, and seen it become the young person's tool.

 Young people aren't interested in politicians fumbling around playing the same old dirty politics, and the same old people, playing the same old game. That's not why we're seeing a sudden increase engagement. It's because as young people, we now have our own tools and methods, our own ways to have a voice and to engage, that is really relevant to us. We can use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to raise awareness, or to fight a cause in our own way, without the requirement of all that boring old stuff, because we have our own platform. Jonathan Birdwell, Head of the Citizenship and Political Participation Programme said "They [teenagers] value bottom-up social action over top-down politics, and social enterprise over government bureaucracy." This summarises exactly my point; we're creating our own political opinions and methods and social media shares responsibility for this. 

In social media, we have a perfectly tailored platform just for us (after all, we made it) which we can use to get engaged in all types of social and political issues. In addition to this, it's not just a very accessible platform, but an increasingly effective one, especially for teens who know how to use it in the most successful manner. Social media make it very easy to reach a vast amount of people, and share thoughts, and to get involved. People can join online communities about certain issues they feel strongly about, and get very involved in an area purely from a computer or smartphone. It really is a revolution in the way we campaign.

However, there is only a limit to the positive impact this engaged generation can have, due to the unfair stereotypes produced by the media. Government and business alike should really consider listening and engaging with this enthusiastic, and very well-informed generation. Personally I think, in certain cases such as the obvious, education, we have the primary experience of how the system works for the people in it. We deserve to have our willingness to express opinions on issues such as education treated like gold dust, especially seeing as Michael Gove certainly doesn't know what he's doing.

As I have already shown, I also think that my generation is the generation that really understands the nature of social media, and our opinions on it should also be listened to eagerly. In Chicago, at a convention to educate youths from unprivileged backgrounds about internet safety, it was discovered that teens are very aware of the dangers of the internet, and make the conscious decision on how open they are online. Furthermore, it was revealed that in many cases, teens have come up with methods and approaches to internet safety unknown to the adults teaching.

I think I've shown quite clearly why my generation are the most socially and politically engaged for a long time. But it needs to be realised by the people in charge, who should use this to their advantage and consult young people, and take them seriously. Media stereotypes are clearly exaggerated, and are untrue for the majority. From my experience, most people my age are hard-working and determined to carve out the best future for themselves as possible. Political parties especially, have ignored young people particularly in policy choice, focusing on pensioners who give them the golden ticket to power. This ought to change, and Britain's bright youth should have more of a say on what happens in Parliament.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Are Pressure Groups Harmful to British Politics?

This short essay was originally written for an AS exam question.

Pressure groups, are single interest groups that lobby the government and the public on the area in which they specialise. Some people argue, that these groups play a detrimental role in British democracy, damaging the way in which our country is run. I shall be looking at both this side, and the opposing side of the argument. 

The first proposition for the argument is the that pressure groups misrepresent the public. Insider groups, that are consulted by the government when they require specialist knowledge due to the nature of their generalist civil service, have the ability to influence policy at a very early stage, for example the NFU is currently helping with the impacts of flooding on agriculture. This may be seen as undemocratic as they have a distinct head-start over outsider groups. Groups can also be seen as egotropic and selfish, such as Unite and the tube strikes, that affected the daily routine of thousands in London. Just like the government, groups don’t necessarily represent all of their members, for instance Unite only had a 40% turnout for their vote for tube strikes. This internal lack of representation reflect that in modern society, and can thus be seen that pressure groups do not fulfil their aims to represent the people on certain issues. 

A major problem can be seen with business. It is often clear that business groups get listened to by the government more often this can be seen as a result of the economic significance in which these powerful companies sustain, and the need for economic success for the government, which in turn often decides whether or not they are re-elected. In addition to this, business groups have the money to lobby the government, whereas other groups may not be so wealthy, which is a misrepresentation purely down to the wealth of a group of people, this appears very undemocratic. Furthermore, this lobbying and deals are often made behind closed doors. A ‘hushed’ example of big business lobbying like this has surfaced very recently, in which it has been revealed that a group called the Specialist Healthcare Alliance set up by the NHS is entirely funded by pharmaceutical companies, and is chaired by a lobbyist installed by them, this has been seen as giving them large influence on NHS policy. This would appear to be very unhealthy for British democracy, and is an example of money buying influence. An additional argument that pressure groups are harmful for British politics is often seen in the methods that they adopt. Some use lawless methods in order to put across their point, for instance the TUS, that rioted in a vandalised the Millbrook Centre (Conservative HQ) in 2010 over tuition fees. This is unlawful and unfair on others: it wastes police time who have to be drafted in to control the riots, when they could potentially be doing other serious work. This is seen as unjustified violence, is completely against what democracy stands for. In addition, methods such as that of the Animal Liberation Movement, who sent bomb-letters to the scientists which were exploding in the hands of “cruel demons which are testing medicines on animals” in order to prevent the building of a laboratory in Cambridge appear to undermine democracy, and pose a threat to system.

Finally, it can be argued that the groups are do not educate effectively as they are bias towards their point of view. Groups often give advice to the government in favour of their cause, such as the NFU blaming the recent floods on a lack of dredging, groups can be seen as skewing an argument from their direction, which misinforms either the public or the government. The fact that there is no neutral stance poses a threat to British politics as both sides of an argument aren’t always equally voiced. This is also manifest in the flamboyant EDL protests, that scares people from Islam unfairly, when they are really just a group of paranoid fascists. 

On the other hand, people may argue that pressure groups are a positive aspect of British politics, and actually add to the wealth and colour of our democracy. It can be argued, that pressure groups are actually successful in representing the electorate. Due to the nature of a party system, the two main parties, the Tories and Labour, have to broaden their policy to gain the vote of as many people as possible.  This means pressure groups fill the gaps where people feel neither party represent them. People join pressure groups to fine tune their beliefs dues to an intensity of feel. This is evident under the coalition government, as nobody voted for the Coalition Agreement, people may have decided to turn to a pressure group in order to be represented on a belief the government would not represent them on. This can be seen, as the RSPB has more members than all three main political parties combined, which shows that people feel these groups are very relevant. 

As touched on earlier, insider groups are often used by the government when specialist information and knowledge that the civil service do not possess is required. Pressure groups can be seen as having a positive educative role in informing, and assisting the government on policy, as well as pointing out flaws in a particular policy that could have unintended consequences. This means pressure groups can help make government make good quality policy, and well informed decisions, which would seem to assist British politics and its wealth. Similarly, the groups can be seen as a form of scrutiny for the government, keeping them in check, for instance the Taxpayers Alliance uncovering details on MPs expenses. This is often successful as they can attract media attention, bring such things to the public. 

A final way in which pressure groups add to the health of British politics is the fact that they can mobilise the public, raising their interest in a certain issue, and  encouraging political participation. This results in a well-informed public that can make good judgements issues, meaning the government must keep on their toes, and forcing them to have ongoing engagement with the electorate rather than just every five years. Groups are an alternative method of engaging the public in politics, (which has proved difficult in recent times) and this can be seen again by the RSPBs large membership. Pressure groups are a different vessel for the public to get involved in politics, which means it remains relevant.

To conclude, I think that pressure groups are good for British politics, as they are an effective form of scrutiny, and holding the executive accountable for their actions. I also think insider groups are key to making policy decisions, and if we did not have them assisting the government, we would have plenty more ineffective, or even detrimental policies that would effective the public's welfare. However, I do have concern for the involvement of big business in lobbying the government, especially behind close doors, using their money and power for influence, as his is unfair and unjust on other groups and less wealthy individuals.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Should Video Games be Considered Modern Art?

I've played video games for the majority of my life, and for periods, been very engaged with the gaming 'sphere'. Gamers tend to get viewed in a bad light, with outsiders considering them as nerdy and geeky and a bid sad, this is, in some cases very true, but a lot of gamers are normal people, just like musicians, or people who like to watch movies. I'm going to put forward a gamers point of view that video games, are a form of art that is unappreciated by the majority of society.

 I shall consider art simply as creative expression that evokes emotion, my own personal definition that I believe is versatile, and allows for a large scope of mediums of art.

The challenge, and interaction of games can keep you engaged for hours and hours. However what many people enjoy in games is the brilliant stories that go with them. Many video games stories emotionally engage the player in a similar way to great literature. For instance, I personally find the Mass Effect series achieve this very successfully. Playing as Commander Shepard of the Normandy Ship, the game involves many high-tempo missions, and a diverse galactic community that Shepard must save from terror and destruction. You play a role in Shepard's and his team's personal life, as well as galactic politics. Furthermore, Mass Effect (and other games) achieve something unique to video games. They give you the ability to make your own decisions with their own consequences, meaning each playthrough is unique to you. This takes emotional engagement to a different level, tailored just for a single specific player. The game also allows you to form relationships with other character, giving the player a substantial insight into their lives and their problems, you must help them with their personal troubles in order to gain their loyalty, which shows you their lives outside the main story. This causes the player to feel sympathy for these other characters.

Commander Shepard and co

 It is true that many games are made in this way, and are purely games made to absorb the player in intense violence, this is all true in film surely? Many Hollywood blockbusters are pumped out with loads of action and no real story or moral. But this does not mean we deny any films being brilliant art.

Video games combine all forms of more traditional art, such as music, literature and visual art. Combining these in harmony, as well as adding the unique interactive twist video games offer can prove very difficult. However when achieved, forms truly modern art, that I would argue is most relevant to our modern, intense, digital society. Whereas people can merely observe paintings, video games offer something exciting and astonishing; player can interact and play a role in the outcome of the game, and deal with the consequences, as well as appreciating many other traditional factors such as music or acting. Video games are made both by the artist, and observer.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Changing How Britain Banks

We all know something needs to be done to regain the high street banks credibility, and to restore some of the public's trust. Banking services must face reform in order to shape a new, more stable economy in Britain.

Its dubious whether or not David Cameron and the Conservatives will implement any significant changes changes, so far they're focuses have been lobbying with the EU to keep ridiculously high bonuses for bankers, to the displeasure of more or less every other person, ever. At the moment they seem to offer little policy in order to fix the broken system, and I personally wouldn't be surprised if they subtly dismiss any legislation on banking reform in order to stay in the good books with their 'big business' allies who help with party funding.

In his speech on banking reform, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that “Under a Labour government, you will no longer be serving the banks. Instead, the banks will be serving you.” Everyone can agree, that this is ultimately the most important change we must achieve from reform, however the method Ed Miliband believes is the best to adopt to achieve this is much more controversial. Mr Miliband wishes to split the big five banks up, forcing them to sell off a number of their branches, and to put in place a cap on market share, in order to create a more competitive market. After the announcement share prices in several banks fell, all be it marginally, but if that is the kind of reaction shareholders have merely after Labour's proposal of the policy, surely that proves it would not fare well for our weak economic recovery if a Labour government implemented this policy, thus scaring the banks and their shareholders further. In addition to this, its also doubtful what affect two new banks would have in the industry.

I take my inspiration for what I would change in the banking system, from Dave Fishwick, from the TV series and book 'Bank Of Dave' After a long struggle Dave set up his own little community bank in his home town of Burnley. He wanted to take on the big banks, taking it back down to a basic, human level, where loans where given to people not on their credit score, but on a personal level. His shop was plain and cheap, and he wasn't greedy. He wanted to help people who needed loans, and whom he could trust. The people and businesses got the money they needed, he made some money off their loans, and then he reinvested it into the local economy. Simple. 

It would be naive for me to propose that every town in the country should get a little community bank like Dave's. That just wouldn't work in the 21st century. Neither would I expect for the owner of any bank to forget about making profit, and to work purely in the interest of their community (as Dave did, giving all profit to local charities). However I do think it would be possible to introduce several small, regional new banks who offer a philosophy more comparable to Dave's, in the sense that it serves the best interest of the local economy, offering simple, understandable loans to small business on a personal level. 

These banks wouldn't drag all the business away from the big banks, they wouldn't be able to. But due their refreshing, and different approach they would still have relevance, and a role to play in the industry. Not only this but they would set a standard of expectation amongst customers that the big banks would be forced to meet. Thus we would see an increase in overall customer satisfaction with banks, and maybe restore some of their credibility.

I don't know a lot about banking, but it seems to me, that although the size of such a project would be vast, and it would require state funding and private investment, it could help in forming a more diverse, mixed banking industry, where the mainstream banks are checked by the standards set by the smaller localised banks, who only offer the simplest banking services on a lower scale.