Archives for: "November 2007"

Should Microsoft start building PCs?

With designs like these are think they should. These are some of the different concepts they came up with 2 or 3 years ago, as an example for PC manufacturers to take ideas from.

Microsoft "Oxygen"

Microsoft "Zinc"

Microsoft "Carbon"

Microsoft "Argon"

Microsoft "Cobalt"

Of course trust the PC manufacturers to bundle bloatware and insist on plain ugly looking boxes instead of producing high-quality machines. Would Microsoft entering the hardware business in the high-end force them to get their act together?

Hat tip Steve Clayton.

The difference between socialism, communism etc

So Brendan sent me a message a while back in which he asked:

whats the difference between socialism, communism, leninism, and marxism?

This is no simple question, but I will attempt to be brief as possible. To start off with its necessary to know a few back details.

Starting with capitalism, capitalism dates back on average 200 to 300 years (it developed in Europe, and Europe then spread it throughout the world). This is tied in with a number of key markers, firstly a political revolution, normally this results in the abolition of a monarchy, and the rest of the aristocracy. Britain is an exception here, Britain had its capitalist revolution early, as such capitalism was weak and could not totally break the monarchy. The bourgeoisie (French for middle class), then made up of merchants, business men etc, steadily growing in power became the ruling class in society, the classic example would be the French revolution.

We also see the development of the modern nation state, with a centralised government, usually a parliament full of representatives of the bourgeoisie, this leads to a single set of laws, currency, measurements and market. Which ended the often regional mess that dogged feudal society, you can imagine merchants struggling to trade between two towns because of the 20 different systems of measurements they each used. With this we also see the development of nationalism, often used by imperialist powers to justify their expansionism.

We also see the simplification of the class system, the old feudal classes like the peasantry, who were bound to the land owned by their Lord, and so on disappear. As this happens people wander into towns and cities often to "seek their fortune", however as we know they'd typically end up spinning wool or cotton for 14 hours a day just to get enough to eat.

We see the beginnings of the ruling class of capitalists, who own the tools, factories, materials etc. And the people who have to work for the capitalists in order to live.

By 1850 or so, the capitalist mode of production was the dominant one, the last traces of serfdom were being wiped out. In the last 50 or so years the number of capitalists had been dramatically reduced, put out of business due to the competition from the new technologies to increase production, and profitability.

This led many to question the system, production had increased say 4 times thanks to the technology of the industrial revolution, yet workers weren't being paid 4 times as much. This put forward the question of where profits come from, by the 1820s many socialists were coming to the conclusion that profits were the unpaid wages that the workers didn't get paid, the capitalists were pocketing the difference.

It took Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels to come up with a detailed description of what is going on in capitalist society. Anyway from there, I think we can talk about what socialism and communism are.

Socialism and communism is essentially the same thing, the goals of both are the establishment of a communist society (although not all socialists accept communism will follow). Various communist sects have existed throughout history, going back maybe a couple of thousand years, their goal to create a better world. It wasn't until Karl Marx did they actually have their feet on the ground.

Karl Marx said that now it is actually achievable, thanks to the direction capitalism was developing in. It was creating a class of people worldwide, who could lead a revolution and end the class war that has raged for thousands of years by making the means of production, the economic power base of every ruling class, public property, where not a minority control them but everybody democratically.

A socialist society, or the lower phase of communist society. Is one which has the workers as the new ruling class, and one where the means of production are under their control, as a whole, not through a tiny minority.

A socialist society would look similar to a capitalist one, there would be a state, there would be money, and people would go to work and get paid. However the place they went to work would be owned collectively by the society, and as such also controlled by the society.

As we see in Venezuela today some factories have been taken over by the workers, in some cases they meet each morning to manage the operations of the factory for that day, in some cases they elect a management to do this for them. There are many ways the people can control the economy democratically.

There will also be a few other key differences to the workplace; technology will no longer be feared. In capitalist society if a robot can help a worker do a job, in many cases the capitalist will sack the worker to increase profits.

In a socialist society, the profit motive does not exist. Assume a robot costs £100 and can double the production of a single worker, who is paid say £1000 a month.

We can either halve the cost of the commodity (plus the £100 investment for the robot, materials etc) as it costs the same amount of time to make twice as many commodities.

Or we halve the amount of time the worker spends at work, the same amount of goods get produced so he still gets the £1000 a month, minus the £100 for the robot.

Lastly we can double the wages of the worker to £2000 a month (minus £100 for the robot and extra materials used).

In practise I suspect all three will happen more or less together. Socialism would bring about a technological revolution like none ever seen before in human history. Everybody will want technological progress because everybody will benefit from it, everybody will have an incentive to improve production.

Communism, or the higher phase of communist society is a society in which the state has dissolved, money has dissolved the concept of "work" has changed beyond recognition and countries and nations are confined to the history books.

As the classes dissolve due to everybody both working and collectively owning the means of production. Everybody in the society will share the same relationship to the means of production, no one group will own and no one group will work for the other group. The state, which we saw develop with the first class societies will no longer need to exist to defend the ruling class from those beneath. It will wither away just like it slowly evolved into existence.

Thanks to production being so high, people's needs will be fulfilled, money will be a non-issue, thanks to technology work won't be seen as a necessary evil, but as something we just do. Obviously to get this developed may take some time, many generations perhaps.

To touch on Marxism, Leninism, social-democracy, anarchism, Stalinism etc.

Marxism I suppose has a couple of main components, dialectical materialism, historical materialism and the labour theory of value. All of which are too much to go into in this blog post. Essentially nowadays most socialists are Marxists, either by descent or by influence, very few areas of socialism were left untouched by Marxist thinking.

Leninism has a few components, the theory of imperialism which explains how the most developed countries exploit the 3rd world by owning their means of production. And also a method for bringing about the revolution, typically how the Bolsheviks did it in 1917, after the more mainstream left-wing leaders had been paid off by the capitalists, a democratic centralist party made up of committed revolutionaries would strike the final blow against capitalism. I believe Leninism is a valid continuation of Marxism, however I don't necessarily believe a small democratic centralist revolution party is the way to go in a western parliamentary democracy. I'd also lump Trotskyism in here too, typically Stalinists use it to insult anti-Stalinists, some Marxists use it to differentiate themselves from Stalinism.

Social-democracy (up until that time socialists were in parties usually called Social Democratic, or Socialist Democratic Labour), has the nickname the social-bourgeois split from the socialist movement in 1914 following the outbreak of the First World War. They supported the nationalistic bloodshed; genuine socialists urged the troops not to fight, but to turn their guns on their leaders who had sent them off to war. Social-democracy is something that has led the workers up the hill, only for their leaders to be brought out and lead the workers back down again.

Anarchists share the goal of socialists, in that they want a communist society. They differ on how to achieve it. Anarchists believe communism can be brought about over-night simply by smashing the state. They don't think the workers should make use of the things we have won, like the right to vote etc like Marxists and other socialists do.

Stalinism, often mistakenly called socialism or communism refers to the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and beyond, and also other countries influenced by Moscow after that date, China until the 90s or so, Korea, Eastern and Central Europe, and to a lesser extend Cuba. Stalinism (and Maoism) has a few key points, its strongly nationalistic, in contrast to the internationalism of Marxism, it almost always features a personality cult, a great man to look up to, and it is always a dictatorship of a small minority, typically it also features a nationalised economy which this minority rule over.

Anyway I hope that helps answer your question.

Are We Alone sort their RSS feed out!

This is the day I've been waiting for! It seems like years I've had to manually check their website every week or two to look for any new episodes.

Now their RSS feed works properly so my computer can do the work for me.

Are We Alone is one of my favourite radio shows/webcasts, its produced by the SETI Institute. Although there are times when I wish it was more dry like all the other science/sceptical podcasts I listen to, but this also gets broadcast as an actual radio program and so it has a much lighter feel to it.

CNet fishing for traffic with nonsense Vista claims

I'm not going to link to the article in question but CNet have sunk to an all new low. They were doing a 'top ten terrible tech products', it had a few good mentions, Sony's rootkit on music CDs and a bunch of other things, but thrown in just to get some traffic was Windows Vista (in my opinion the best OS to date).

They go on to say:

Its incompatibility with hardware, its obsessive requirement of human interaction to clear security dialogue box warnings and its abusive use of hated DRM

For incompatibility with hardware they point to an article about the minimum requirements. So yes, like every other operating system in the history of computing it won't run on everything, you cannot run it on a toaster, you cannot run it on a Spectrum you cannot run it on a 10 year old PC.

Yes for security reasons a human needs to elevate to get administrative rights. Like every other modern operating system, how do you propose doing this without allowing everything unlimited access to the system, including malware stealing your data or destroying your data.

The DRM is utter nonsense and has been repeatedly debunked. It is disappointing to still see this mentioned.

If you're going to do this at least engage your brain and try and come up with something that a) isn't made up or b) doesn't apply to every other operating system.

Shuttle Atlantis and ISS visible over UK next week and week after

Instead of doing what I normally do of posting with very little notice, I'm going to give some notice as these shuttle and space station flyovers seem pretty popular to readers of my blog.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch on the 6th of December, it'll be on a mission to the International Space Station carrying Europe's Columbus laboratory to the station.

Like Endeavour's last mission back in August it will be visible from the UK in the evenings. By the 10th of December it'll make two passes each evening, and that will continue for about a week.

The shuttle typically takes a couple of days to catch up with and dock with the space station. The last time we didn't get to see them close together before docking, they were separated by several minutes.

If I'm feeling energetic enough, and we have the chance to see the two maybe a few hundred metres apart I'll try and take a few more images, the same way as I did with Endeavour.

Exact times for the space station can be found by using Heavens Above, the space shuttle will be posted around or just after launch, but as the shuttle is changing orbit so the data can be off by a wide margin.

The advantage with this launch being winter is you can take your kids out to see it as it gets dark earlier. The Sun has to be just at the right position to see satellites, it needs to be below the horizon for us so the sky is dark, but still above the horizon a few hundred kilometres up or more so it can illuminate whatever we're trying to look at. Which is why the visibility is always a just before sunrise or just after sunset.

McDonnell to Brown: democracy or oligarchy

LABOUR MP John McDonnell demanded that the Brown government make "a choice between democracy or oligarchy" at the weekend.

At Saturday's Hands Off Venezuela national conference in London, he condemned new Labour's ongoing hostility towards Venezuela and pledged to make solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution an issue that "no MP would be allowed to dodge."

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack roused the 200 activists present when he attacked the hypocrisy of the British government in accusing Venezuela of corruption last week.

He recalled the recent privatisation of Ministry of Defence research division QinetiQ, which saw senior managers pocketing some 20,000 per cent profit.

Conference approved five motions, including one on the forthcoming constitutional reform, which condemned international media smear campaigns and "economic sabotage" by capitalist states.

Delegates also blasted the recent "biased and misleading" This World programme on BBC2, presented by journalist John Sweeney, which quoted claims by pressure group Transparency International that Venezuela is the second most corrupt country in the Americas.

More here...

Hugo Chavez being pulled left

Chavez gave a speech last week, and I have to say what I've read of it so far is the most refreshing yet.

"...workers councils will come into being in the factories, in the workplaces, but they should reach out to the communities and be fused into other councils of popular power: community councils, students councils, etc... What for? To shout slogans? To go around shouting long live Chavez? No!... To change the relationships in the workplace, to plan production, to take over piece by piece the functions of the government and to finish up by destroying the bourgeois state."

"We are going to destroy the bourgeoisie".

Not using the word oligarchy as he normally does, referring to the worst of the capitalists, now he uses the term bourgeoisie, referring to all capitalists. He also suggests the reading of Marx, Engels and Lenin and Trotsky on how the workers themselves should organise and run society from the bottom up.

Like Castro, Chavez came to power on a platform not of revolution but social reform to ease the burden of the most down-trodden within society. But like Castro he is reaching the same conclusion the capitalists just won't let him carry out such a program without economic sabotage and attempted coup d'états, why? Because they're unwilling to let their profits be "wasted" on helping the workers, despite the obvious fact that its the workers who make those profits in the first place.

It only took a few healthcare reforms, like opening free clinics for the capitalists of Venezuela to want the guy out. Now he sees the only way to safeguard the gains that have been made is to empower the working class themselves to build their own state to replace the bourgeois and bureaucratic state that Chavez inherited, so they can start to learn how to run society themselves and close the door on the power of big business.

I've been selected to stand as Yeovil's Labour Party candidate

This evening the Yeovil Labour Party held its hustings event to select a candidate to stand in the next general election.

Three candidates stood for the position, Colin Counter, and Colin Rolfe who stood for us at the last election and lastly myself.

I'm pleased to announce I was selected with a majority vote. Below is the rough outline of the speech I gave at the hustings:

The Labour Party was founded for a noble cause, to represent the working people of Britain by becoming a mass party of the working class.

I think we are all disappointed with the record of this government even if we don’t like to admit it publically, there was so much we could have undone from the Tory years, so much that wasn’t done, or too much that was done – in the wrong direction, like privatisation.

I was 14 when Mr Blair moved into number 10. By that time I was already interested in politics and considered myself a socialist. I remember that we had support from a broad section of the population, everybody was optimistic that the damage Thatcher and Major had brought would be undone. I don’t think we’ve done that.

Yes the leadership have carried out several key progressive steps for the people of this country, fox hunting semi-banned, resolution to the Northern Ireland issue, the minimum wage probably being the biggest one. When I started working I got £4.10 an hour, now it’s £5.55. An improvement of just over 30%, even with inflation that’s about a pound an hour more. Not too shabby, however in the same time property prices have almost doubled. Why?

Because interfering in the market should be avoided at all costs, at least according to the ideology of our leadership. Instead of doing the obvious thing when this housing issue surfaced, like building more council houses, and putting a stop to land lords buying up multiple properties and renting them out so they can live off other people’s work. They let the market carry on building super-profitable living spaces in London to be sold on for a couple of million quid.

There’s a lot of things this government has done which I think are wrong, and which I hope many of you will agree with me on. Shooting down the Trade Union Freedom bill, and not stopping let alone reversing privatisation in the public sector, they’ve privatised more jobs faster than even the Tories. These are things people care about, public service being put before private profit.

Just last week Gordon made a speech on climate change, while at the same time caving to BAA’s expansion plans for Heathrow airport. If you put the environment first you’d cut into the amount of air travel by nationalising the railways and building a high-speed network like they did in France.

We don’t have a political party in this country which stands up for these ideas, people rightly say it’s the Labour Party that should be doing this, yet at the moment it isn’t. I believe this is one of the key reasons why voter turnout is so low. Particularly among my generation.

I was talking to a work colleague of mine a couple of months back; I asked him who he normally votes for. He replied that he doesn’t. Now this guy is 27 and he’s never voted, I pressed him a bit more and he said “well I wouldn’t vote for Tony Blair”, yes, several months after Tony Blair had stepped down, I also asked him if he was registered in Sedgefield and he just looked confused. Everybody at work that day I asked, 4 or 5 of them said they hadn’t voted before, all of these people were in their early or mid 20s.

I think we need to tackle this over the coming years. Through reaching out to younger people informing them of the historical positions of the parties, something in my mini survey they know little about. They should know about which party historically represents them and which one represents the interests of the privileged few.

To do this we need to be a little bit radical, not be afraid to be open and transparent not be afraid to speak our minds and differentiate ourselves with the leadership when we want to, and not attempt to defend the indefensible – which is one of the key reasons politicians have a reputation of being less than honest.

With Gordon appealing to the centre and centre-right ground at least at the moment, areas where David Laws and the Tories like to sit, we can make good use of the huge amount of unrepresented space on the left-wing of the spectrum and hopefully re-connect with voters we have lost, members we have lost and make new connections with my generation. Perhaps with such a program, based on transparency, honesty and the correct working class policies we can build this party and start advancing our share of the vote.

I know some will label me as a grumpy socialist, and won’t like my public criticism of the leadership. OK fair enough. Yes sure I’m left-wing, yes I believe in public ownership, and yes I criticise, heck I like to criticise, but according to Clause IV we’re a democratic socialist party, a democratic party without criticism isn’t very democratic. And a socialist party which doesn’t stick up for the working class isn’t very socialist.

Thank you.

I'd again like to thank all the people for showing their support. I am determined to work hard between now and the election and increase our share of the vote, and provide a platform for these ideas going forward.

Homeopathic mumbo jumbo needs to be booted out of the NHS

The Guardian published an article written by Jeanette Winterson (not a scientist), on why she thinks homeopathy is wonderful.

Another reason why topics like this should be covered by dedicated science writers. Dedicated science writers would not base an entire article on one anecdotal experience.

Picture this. I am staying in a remote cottage in Cornwall without a car. I have a temperature of 102, spots on my throat, delirium, and a book to finish writing. My desperate publisher suggests I call Hilary Fairclough, a homeopath who has practices in London and Penzance. She sends round a remedy called Lachesis, made from snake venom. Four hours later I have no symptoms whatsoever.

She then has the nerve to go on and say:

Right now, though, a fierce debate is raging between those, like me, who trust homeopathy because it works for them, and those who call it shamanistic claptrap, without clinical proof or any scientific base.

This shows exactly what is going on here. The science which clearly demonstrates it offers no benefits vs. her (and every other true believers') anecdotal experiences.

In science anecdotes are worthless.

Who here has woken up one morning with a temperature and felt a bit rough yet through the course of the day felt much better? Did any of you walk down or up some stairs during the course of the day? You did? Wow, walking up and down the stairs is a cure!

Or maybe it was tapping on that plank of wood, spinning around on your chair, or having a bit to eat. Or heck, maybe that thing called the immune system fought it off by itself.

The trouble with anecdotes is they're uncontrolled and introduce far too many variables to know what exactly is going on, who knows what she took before taking the sugar pill. They're also isolated, perhaps there were a hundred other people who were also in Jeanette's position, yet they didn't take any sugar pill and felt better anyway. With anecdotes we don't know what the bigger picture is.

Only by doing controlled studies can we account for those variables. Such studies have been done and show homeopathy doesn't work.

Here's James Randi going over homeopathy (I didn't want this post turning into a huge rant of why it doesn't work). So I'll hand you over to him:

This sort of nonsense is funded by the NHS (they recently put £25 million into opening a Homeopathic hospital), and that is not on. The NHS needs to fund things that actually work, things that have been tested and have scientific evidence to back them up. If people want to waste money on sugar pills, they should do it with their own money.

Comet Holmes fading as it grows larger than the Sun

I just went out tonight (spotted a Leonid!) and noticed Comet Holmes has vanished, well it hasn't vanished it is still there but I couldn't make it out among the light pollution with just my eyes after a few minutes of dark adaption. I wouldn't call it an easy naked eye object anymore.

Part of the trouble comes from its angular size, it spreads the light out over an area larger than the Moon which makes it difficult for our eyes to detect. So make the most of this now binocular object before it fades any further.

2007 has been a good year for comets, we had McNaught in January, which was so bright it was visible in daylight (although I failed at spotting it). Then Comet Holmes, which put on an amazing show considering it is outside the orbit of Mars. When a little snowball about 3 kilometres across blows off a shell of material around 1.5 million kilometres across, becoming largest object in the solar system (yes larger than the Sun) you can't help but wonder how awesome it would be if it wasn't half way across the inner solar system, but was a little bit closer to home, what would really be good was if the Earth passed through all the ice and dust its blown off, then we'd have a real display. Oh well maybe one day.

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