Monday, March 30, 2009

The London tube

A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.

Margaret Thatcher

First of all, let me say that I'm not a huge fan of public transportation. However, I don't mind using it every now and then as long as it is reasonably priced and efficient.

I was in London this weekend, and I can tell you that the public transportation system in London is neither. It's expensive, and the constant closing of lines for maintenance makes it a nightmare to get from one part of the city to another. "Sorry, that line's closed today, so you'll have to find this and that bus to take you here and there". The bus ride takes forever, and you're lucky if you get off at the correct bus stop.

Anyway, this is all small potatoes compared to the tube, which I had the misfortune of using several times this weekend. First of all, it's ridiculously crowded, at virtually all times of the day, every day of the week. You'd think the good people of London have nothing better to do than hanging out there. As if the struggle to get to the actual train isn't frustrating and time-consuming enough (you have to walk an average of 25 kilometers, in an endless and slow-moving line of people, to get from the tube entrance to the train platform), imagine my surprise when I realise that the halfwit of a train driver doesn't even look to see if people are still boarding before he shuts the doors and leaves one half of a company behind on the platform, while the other half embarks on a journey of discomfort, squeezed together in a tiny, noisy and smelly tin can. Bon voyage.

Of course, driving a car in London is no good either, unless you've got money burning holes in your pockets. The former mayor of the city, notorious car-hater and left-wing activist "Red Ken" Livingstone saw to it that motorists travelling to London now have to pay a congestion charge of £8 per day, adding up to £40 for a work week, and around £2000 a year! Thank you so bloody much, Mr. Livingstone.

Funny thing is that this Ken Livingstone didn't impose a congestion charge on the tube while he was at it. It's just as hazardous to your health as the car congestion - if not more!

I guess, basically, London has become too large for its own good, as there is no way to get around in that city in a comfortable and efficient manner. As a tourist I can brush it of as an annoyance, but as a citizen of London...well, I guess that's why I could never move there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blizzards in spring

Sitting by the fireplace listening to the howling wind outside, and watching the snow fall might be cozy enough during winter, but we're heading towards April for Christs sake! I want to know what happened to the global warming, as obviously all that's happening is that the seasons are moving: Winter starts in January, the spring has been moved to May, the temperature doesn't heat up properly until late July, when summer arrives, and then autumn usually comes some time in October.

Well, anyway, global warming or not, these constant sub-zero temperatures and the snow are a real annoyance these days. Enough, already!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The face of opportunism

Probably the only thing more annoying than a stupid politician is an opportunistic one. You know, the ones who say one thing one day, and then the complete opposite the next day, all based on the public opinion at that particular day. Or, as the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says it:

a: exploiting opportunities with little regard to principle or consequences "a politician considered opportunistic"

Well, the Swedish Socialist Democratic party sure hit new highs, or lows, when it comes to opportunism as politicians Thomas Östros and Carin Jämtin announced today that if they win the next election they will revert the changes to the housing tax that were put into effect by the sitting government just last year. To put it short, these changes basically impose an interest rate on any profit you make when selling a house, provided you decide to postpone payment of the tax that you would otherwise have to pay (28% of the profit, if I remember correctly). In other words, you can pay your tax on the profit immediately and be done with it, or you can postpone it, investing the money in a new house, for instance, and then pay an interest rate on that money (on 1 million SEK the annual interest rate is around 5000 SEK, if I remember correctly). Of couse, no one likes to pay taxes, so the general public, who have been used to postponing this tax indefinitly and for free, is not very enthusiastic about this.

Now, here's the fascinating thing about Östros' and Jämtin's attack... While the new interest rate is annoying, the total tax burden for most home owners has decreased significantly under the new government. When Mr. Östros and his "red army" ruled Sweden home owners would pay an annual tax of 1% of the estimated value of the property, meaning that people living in Stockholm (where housing prices are high) would end up paying tens of thousands of SEK each year of money that simply wasn't was based on an estimated value, and it didn't matter if the home owner was a retiree with little or no money. "If you can't afford to pay the tax, sell your house and move". Mr. Östros had no problems with that only a few years ago, but he pretends to be appaled by this new and much more tolerable tax. In fact, the man who threw people out of their homes only a few years ago actually has the nerve to use Stockholmers as an example of people who will be hit unreasonably hard by this interest rate.

The sitting government actually changed the Socalist Democratic party's grotesque tax on housing so that no home owner will pay more than 6000 SEK annualy. Annoying, definitly, but not enough to force people out of their homes. And yes, they added the "interest rate" on the profit you make selling your house. The big difference here is that you have actually made a profit - you've got the money to pay the tax.

This part, that is actually reasonable if you think about it, is what Thomas Östros and Carmin Jämtin want to revert. Go back to paying 40.000 SEK a year (as opposed to a maximum of 6000 SEK today) just to be able to live in your own house. But at least you'll be able to postpone that tax on the profit indefinitly. Sounds like a sweet deal, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bad apples

I've never been a big fan of Apple. I think their products are ridiculously over-priced, and I don't care much for the lock-in effect you get when you buy Apple. For instance, why do Apple insist that you use iTunes to manage your iPod? Why do they struggle so hard, constantly making undocumented changes to the iPod firmware, to keep the far superior Winamp or Media Jukebox from working together with their products? And why the heck is it impossible to move music from the iPod and on to the computer? Oh, and why are Apple so cheap that they don't even include a battery charger with the iPod - you actually have to go and buy one yourself!

Anyway, Apple's last scheme to make more money is to put a hardware authentication chip in the headphone jack of the new iPod Shuffle. Any headphones that are to be used with this iPod need to be certified by Apple, meaning a manufacturer who wants to make iPod-compatible headphones will have to pay a licence fee to Apple... When will the insanity end? When will people stop bying over-priced products with poor functionality just because they look cool?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Copy protection

As most people know, but the movie industry is refusing to accept, creating copies of movie dvd's for personal use is perfectly legal - at least in Europe's more developed countries (well...depends on your point of view I guess, and I'll be mentioning Ipred and FRA later on, believe me!). This means that I can make a backup copy of a movie I've bought, or even make a copy of a movie I've borrowed from a friend or family member. Nothing peculiar about that.

Right now I'm trying to make a copy of a movie I've borrowed from a friend. My first attempts end with various errors, and I actually have to do some googling and install a new piece of software, AnyDVD, to accomplish my task. It took me half an hour longer to copy this "copy protected" movie than it usually does to copy dvd's without any protection. If I'd just downloaded the movie illegaly, I wouldn't even have to think about region codes or copy protection, it would be perfectly free from these ridiculous limitations, and I could make all the backup copies I wanted of it. Of course, they wouldn't be legal, but that's another discussion.

Anyway, by the time I'm done rambling about the ridiculous movie industry, the iso-file of the copy protected dvd is finished, and I'm all set for an evening of fun. About bloody time.

Oh, I almost forgot, the only thing warning a potential buyer that the use of this dvd is restricted beyond reason and law, is a tiny text on the back of the cover stating that "this dvd is copy protected and may be played only on licenced devices". Thank you so much, but I prefer to be able to play my dvd's on ALL devices, without restrictions.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Piracy is what...?

Does this scenario sound familiar to you:
- You go and buy a new DVD
- You put it in your DVD-player, go get some popcorn, a beer or whatever snacks you're into, and press play on the remote control.
- After several annoying commercials (mind you, this is a movie you've actually paid money to buy, yet still the entertainment industry is bold enough to put commercials on it - all to make a few extra bucks!) you're force-fed (the next chapter and fast forward functions are temporarily disabled) the ridiculous, boring and completly untrue "Piracy is stealing" ad.

First of all, I expect commercials on TV, but on a DVD that I've actually paid for? No thanks!

Second, piracy is not stealing. Claiming that a copyright infringement is the same as a theft is as ridiculous as claiming that running a red light is the same as murder. They are two completly separate crimes, and can not be compared in any way. So please, stop this ridiculous propaganda.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


A little known fact is that despite the mind-boggling evolution mankind has gone through in the last hundreds of years, neanderthals still walk amongst us. It's true!

One perfect example of this are the people who are physically unable to properly take advantage of the tiny stick (also known as a "turn signal lever") located to the left of the steering wheel, that activates the turn signal, as an indication to other motorists. Obviously the challenge of holding the steering wheel and at the same time use the right foot to properly accellerate, decellerate, or simply keep a steady speed, is more than enough for these people, who have sadly been outpaced by modern technology.

This, of course, represents an annoyance for the rest of us, who have a certain simultanious capacity, and often find ourselves waiting in vain for a motorist to pass us before we can enter the roundabout (as we all know, we have to yield to traffic already inside the roundabout), while in fact this neanderthal motorist has every intention of exiting the roundabout before he passes us.

Now, just in case you're not a neanderthal with no simultaneous capacity, but simply a horrible driver without a clue, please try the easy and interactive introduction to the phenomenon of roundabouts below, and stop annoying your fellow motorists. Thank you very much.

More traffic education:

About Annoyances 24x7

Annoyance is an unpleasant mental state that is characterized by such effects as irritation and distraction from one's conscious thinking. It can lead to emotions such as frustration and anger. The property of being easily annoyed is called petulance. "Annoy" (like the French ennui, a word traced by etymologists to a Latin phrase, in odio esse, to be "in hatred" or hateful of someone), to vex or affect with irritation or large porportions. In the sense of "nuisance," the noun "annoyance" is found in the English "Jury of Annoyance" appointed by an act of 1754 to report upon obstructions in the highways.