Thursday, 24 November 2011

On Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been fairly big on the internet for a while now, especially on Reddit, and I've been meaning to write this for ages because I've slowly been getting more and more annoyed by a lot of the crap coming out of it, and a lot of the really bullshit anti-government and anti-capitalist crap that various people spew over Facebook and various other parts of the internet that I spend meaningful amounts of time on.

Before I commence ranting I'd sort of like to be clear on something:

I am white and middle-class, I went to a fairly esteemed private high school (on a scholarship, but an academic one rather than an income-assessed one), and from that I've gone into a degree in Cambridge that will quite potentially put me into some sort of consultancy or financial managements position on a salary that's probably more than I'm worth. My family isn't particularly rich, but both of my parents are employed, and we have a nice house, two cars and generally seem to be fairly sound financially (at least as far as I know). I'm not raised as one of the 1%, but I'm definitely not in the bottom ranks of the 99% either. I'm not claiming to speak from a position any different to what I am.

Having said that I am generally pretty left-wing and liberal when it comes to politics. I voted for Labour in the last elections and dislike the Tories pretty strongly. I hate FOX News and The Daily Mail. I support socialism, and I agree with a large amount of what some people in the Occupy Wall St (or OWS as I shall refer to it from now on because I can't be arsed typing it out every time) are saying. I believe America should have socialist healthcare, that it should put measures in place to tax the rich and redistribute the wealth to the large number of citizens it has that live below the poverty line. I think that certain American corporations (and corporations in other countries for that matter) are far too powerful and that laws need to be put in place to restrict what they can get away with. I think that the cost of higher education in the USA is totally ridiculous and should be brought down. There's plenty I agree with - quite strongly in fact.

The thing is, whilst some of the people at OWS are there for sensible reasons, and are making fairly valid statements about how the US could potentially be improved, there also seem to be plenty of people backing the movement or participating in the protests who are, in my opinion, complete idiots who really have no idea what the hell they're claiming to be angry about.

For example, banks get a lot of hate these days, when really they shouldn't. I remember supporters of Bitcoin claiming how Bitcoin would eliminate the need for banks, and I considered this to be a totally stupid "advantage". If you need to buy a house, then you need a bank, because you're sure as hell not going to want to or be able to borrow that kind of money from anyone else. Banks play an absolutely key role in our society.

The issue with the current economic situation is not the financial institutions themselves, but the poor government regulation of them. If these institutions need to take risks to make money, and the collapse of these institutions has widespread ramifications, then it is up to the government to limit the amount of risk they can take - there's nobody else with the capability to do this.

Sure, companies could be responsible, and could not stretch the boundaries of ethics or risk management to try and make money, but most of these companies sit in a competitive environment where if they're not taking advantage of lax regulation then some of their competitors are going to anyway and they'll get driven out of business. The problem is not companies doing bad things; it's governments not putting the restrictions in place to stop companies doing bad things, because it only takes a couple to overstep their mark and suddenly everything is in the shit.

Another thing I find gets an irritatingly bad press are bailouts of companies and financial institutions. I read a quote by Richard Dawkins once along the lines of "Evolution is universally accepted by people who understand it and universally rejected by those who don't", and I feel that this applies perfectly well to government bail-outs and stimulus packages. To take another quote, from Liverpool FC owner John Henry:

There seems to be this really daft suggestion that bail-outs only exist so that the heads of failing companies can keep their pockets lined and keep their bonuses at the end of the year.

It's not. The whole point of bail-outs is to try and stop or at least slow the free-fall of the economy and keep things from complete collapse. When the US government agrees to bail-out General Motors, it's because the collapse of GM will just maintain the snowballing landslide of companies going out of business. If GM collapses, then that's 200,000 people instantly unemployed, and any company that acts as a supplier to General Motors (probably a lot of companies) is almost certainly going to go bankrupt as well, because they'll rely on GM for a large portion of their revenue. The same goes for the UK government bailing out RBS - Northern Rock caused enough carnage when it went under, imagine what would happen if RBS (and NatWest, because they own that too) disappeared? These things have almost nothing to do with the companies themselves, and certainly don't have much to do with their CEOs, but are about keeping jobs and hundreds if not thousands of other businesses afloat.

Plus these bail-outs aren't completely lost money. Most of them are loans that are expected to be paid back at some point, or money given in return for a stake in the company that can later be sold off when it (presumably) becomes profitable enough to sell again. It's not like governments just throw money out the window on these sorts of things - it's just that nobody else can afford to do it, and it's seen as a responsibility of the government to look after its citizens and do stuff like this anyway.

Somewhat similarly to the student protests, the sorts of people that I find really depressing on these sorts of things are the people who don't really know much about what they're really protesting and are largely just bandwagon jumpers or people who enjoy being somewhat rebellious.

There are people who are protesting genuine socio-political issues in America. People protesting issues that genuinely cause the social divide, make living standards difficult for the poor, and which could be easily rectified (and in many cases already are rectified in plenty of other countries). Except these people are somewhat drowned out in a sea of idiots complaining that some people are too rich or that banks are evil or that the government doesn't know what it's doing or some other herp derp bullshit that doesn't really say much other than "some people have more money than I do and I don't like that".

Suddenly there's this social bandwagon of ripping on capitalism, or the media speculating that this crisis is the 'fall of capitalism', and even as a fairly socialist-leaning person I think that's total bullshit. The notion that OWS is some sort of protest against capitalism is the main reason I think it's a really stupid thing, and despite some people holding valid views at the protest it's not helped by the fact that some people at OWS rallies seem to genuinely think that's what it's all about.

Fundamentally people going to these sorts of things and protesting against capitalism are almost universally ignorant, hypocritical, or both. The capitalist system is the system that has provided such a high standard of living in the West over the last half a century, and the number of people who seem to be suddenly condemning it and cursing it because it's failed to provide the same standard of living to everybody in the last few years is just stupidly staggering.

A lot of this hate on banks, stock traders and capitalism is equivalent to hating on a man who has given you £100 every month for your entire life, just because they've refused to give you this any more. It's totally ungrateful and unappreciative of what market traders and capitalism has actually provided the western world with.

I do think it's bad that some people have extortionate amounts of money whilst other people struggle to just buy food and shelter, but at the same time I think it's extremely close-minded for westerns to bitch at the current situation given that the overwhelming majority of "the 99%" are still a shitload better off than most people living outside of the bubble of the first world. These people are claiming that they are being unfairly exploited by a group of people in their country, yet despite this they are still maintaining a standard of living far higher than people in the rest of the world, largely because of the exploitation of foreign countries by the US and the EU. The 99% still stand on wealth gathered by screwing over large portions of the rest of the world.

These sorts of complaints aren't what OWS is meant to be about, but it's what a large number of spoiled, ungrateful and stupid individuals seem to be trying to make it about. Heck, even some people who are somewhat closer to the mark than others are still creating lists of demands that are completely over the top and totally infeasible:

The original OWS is about egalitarianism, about how the best education, healthcare and company contacts are only available to the extremely wealthy, and regardless of talent or hard work it's almost impossible for the lower classes to break into that 1%. They're not about banks making lots of profit, or the core principles of capitalism and excessive consumerism being evil for society, or Facebook violating your privacy, or about how it sucks that people in Wall St still have jobs when your daddy just got laid off and you can no longer afford to have an iPhone 4S on release day. And I really hate that there seem to be enough idiots out there who are doing a decent job of turning it into all of the above.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rage Against The Machine (or Laptop)

So besides MET taking up most of my day, I've also sort of been goaded into coxing again by the possibility of coxing Fairbairns M1 and the fact that I actually can for most likely the last time ever. It also allows me to feebly attempt to justify a place on the training camp to Banyoles, but that's a different issue.

The off-set of this is that I basically have no time for anything properly any more. I wake up at 6am, go rowing, go to lectures until 5pm, and then I get back absolutely knackered and have a few hours to eat, shower and unwind and then I sort of need to be going to bed because I have to be up at 6am the next morning.

I'm totally cool with this existence. It's pretty good fun to be back within the rowing squad, the morning outings are generally OK, MET typically doesn't give any work outside of lecture hours, and I just spend my evenings mindlessly shooting the crap out of people on Call of Duty instead of playing SC2. Or I was cool with it, until my laptop got virused to shit.

I have a somewhat symbiotic relationship with my laptop. I provide it with a loving, caring home and electricity, and it provides me with internet, television and gaming. If my laptop feels bad, I feel bad. And holy shit was my laptop feeling awful.

I seemingly picked up some badass trojan from an image hosting site. And I'm not using "image hosting site" as some sort of euphemism for a porn site, I literally mean a site like photobucket or imgur except apparently far more dodgy and virus-riddled. I had one of the typical adware "your Computer is volnurable to Viruses!![sic]" messages in the bottom right and a fake scan ran, and I instantly closed Firefox and disabled the wifi. Then I got rid of it. Or so I thought.

As it turned out, this wasn't just the standard sort of adware crap that typically only takes me about 10 minutes to manually remove. This was a proper trojan, and the moment I reconnected to the internet it did a whole fuckload more than the adware program. Something was constantly trying to write stuff into the registry, ping.exe would constantly run in the background, taking up a shitload of CPU and memory, and would restart whenever I killed it. Firefox was behaving weirdly. Things were not cool.

So I defaulted to my plan B. Start in safe mode, keep the wireless permanently off, and kill this shit with fire.

Many aggressive virus scans and combing through startup lists later, I was finally in a position where I was fairly confident the virus crap was gone. I'd had networking disabled the whole time, so I rebooted and restarted it. Except it didn't restart. Apparently the no-nonsense kill it with fire policy had caused pretty serious damage to the Windows services that my computer actually needs to connect to the internet (Winsock, TCP/IP etc for people who actually know this shit) and absolutely no amount of effort on the command line or reinstalling of stuff seemed to fix it. Bollocks.

At this point I managed to have what was probably the shittest day I've had in a long time, which included a 6am start, an outing, lectures from 9am-5pm, some bullshit Analysys Mason competition that was opt-out and I'd not read the email properly and therefore hadn't opted out from and which went on until 9pm, giving me about an hour to get home, cook and eat dinner, shower and then get 8 hours of sleep. Except the veg in the dinner I cooked was off and vinegary, and I managed to knock half of it off my desk and onto my floor/keyboard anyway.

By now I was in a mood probably most accurately described as "completely fucking fed up with this bullshit" and had two options that seemed viable. The first was a repair install of XP, the second was that I just cut my losses, format the drive and then reinstall all my shit functional and virus-free. The preference was obviously for the former because I couldn't be bothered installing everything, so it's what I tried first.

First problem I encountered is that my Windows CD is XP SP2, and my laptop now runs XP SP3, meaning the disc doesn't do shit because I apparently now have a newer version of Windows. So first task was to slipstream an SP3 disk from my SP2 disk (props to this guide which worked fantastically). Done.

Second problem is that when booting from the CD it wouldn't find my hard drive. At all. Some faffing in the BIOS led me to discover that I apparently had my drive set to a SATA type that XP doesn't natively support. After changing that, it found my hard drive and started the repair install. Awesome.

So the repair install ran some stuff for a bit and then said it needed to reboot before resuming the install. It did, apparently working fine and booting like my computer usually does, until it got to the point at which XP should start and instead it gave me a BSOD about my graphics driver. I tried booting into safe mode, and apparently I couldn't because XP was still being installed.

Some Google-fu led me to a solution involving deleting files from the recovery console, which worked, and it successfully started the second half of the install. A this point it was fairly late at night and I had an outing the next morning, so I figured I'd just go to bed and let it run overnight. Sure, it said it only had 39 minutes remaining, but whatever.

I woke up the next morning with it on 37 minutes remaining and seemingly crashed at some point through the install. FFFUUUUUUU. Would it be OK if I just turned it off? Did I actually have a choice? The answer to the latter question was no, but the answer to the former question was apparently yes, and it ran the install fine a second time with no issues. And after having to reinstall a ton of windows updates and many nights of screwing around and making very little progress I finally had a working computer again, and one which was seemingly free of viruses too.

The real stupid irony of all this shit is that only a week earlier I'd made the claim that I thought NoScript was a waste of time, because constantly having to allow stuff and faff with settings was way more trouble than the hour I'd maybe have to spend removing the virus I'd get every one or two years from not using it. TEMPTING FATE, MUCH?
Though I still don't really want NoScript, so I guess the real lesson from this whole escapade is that I'm a fucking idiot who won't learn his lesson.

On the bright side, last week was made somewhat tolerable by the fact that my course was awesome. We were doing an assembly robot lab that was good fun, and was something I was actually pretty awesome at. The entire day spent tinkering around successfully in the lab was certainly a shitload more enjoyable than the entire evenings spent tinkering around unsuccessfully with my laptop at least.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bish Bash Bosch

Somewhat terrible pun for the blog title, but I like terrible puns (and despite Sadia posting it on Facebook first, it was my brainchild), so there you go.

The placement at Bosch was somewhat good. The project itself went fairly smoothly, although it's fairly difficult with these sorts of things to tread the line between not really doing enough work, and overcomplicating things so much that it's impossible to get anywhere because you keep spending so much time on details. There's always more that you [i]could[/i] do, but there's only so much time you're actually there.

One thing that I did really learn from the placement is that whilst I enjoy doing that sort of work, but I don't enjoy that sort of lifestyle. If I ever want to go into some sort of manufacturing improvement consultancy stuff it'll ideally have to be one where I'm either largely stationed in one place, or I'm just employed by a single company at a single factory. There are perks to living in hotels, such as having full English breakfasts cooked for you every morning, and having a shower that isn't completely shit (like the one in my student house is), but after a couple of days they quickly stop being novel and I find that I'm just really not that much of a fan of spending every evening eating out in a pub and then having a hotel room to go back to. It's a fairly soulless existence and not one I'm particularly keen on.

It also doesn't help that almost all of UK manufacturing is based in towns that are completely shite. Other than a particularly epic sports centre (which is the only reason I'd been there before), there's basically nothing in Stowmarket. It doesn't seem to be much better for many of the other places we've visited either. I guess working for Newton or Stroud or a similar company you get jetted off to various places around Europe, but I'd expect that shithole manufacturing towns in Germany are still fundamentally the same as the shithole manufacturing towns in the UK.

So yeah, the project itself was interesting and good fun overall, but I vastly prefer living at home over living in a hotel.

Because I don't have a humorous image for this week, here is a compilation video of babies tasting lemons:

A fair amount of stuff seems to be happening now to start mapping my summer out too. Aside from the somewhat scary prospect of having to find myself a job (though I'm at least starting to get a decent idea of the sort of companies I want to work for), there's the MET overseas research project and a few other things.

The MET overseas research project is basically a two-week study tour of various factories in some far, foreign land. The current plan for the tour is for it to be a week in South Korea followed by a week in Japan, which I'm looking forward to so much because they're basically the top two countries I most want to visit in the world, and I expect it'll be unbelievably cool.

Pretty much all of the expenses are paid for by sponsorship fund-raising, and quite awesomely we don't have to fly back with the group at the end of the study tour, but can stay out in Japan, and our eventual flights back will only cost us the difference between the flights we get and the flights we'd have otherwise gotten if we'd flown back with everyone else.

The tour leaves the Sunday or Monday right after graduation, and my plan was that after the two weeks of the tour I'd stay on for another two weeks in Japan as a holiday. This has sort of been thrown into disarray by Paul 'rubbish tekkers' Erdunast announcing that the inaugural UK Tetris Championships is going to be held in London on the 21st July. Given I mostly don't play that much any more I'm not really sure whether I want to sacrifice a second week in Japan to go, but at the moment I probably will because the format of the tournament means I have a pretty good chance of getting at least to the final assuming I put in a little bit of practice beforehand and no big names decide to fly over from the USA or Japan.n Plus three weeks in South-East Asia should be plenty anyway.

Then there's also potentially Eindhoven 2012 to fit in somewhere, and whenever my job starts. It's only November and I'm already massively looking forward to July.