More and More and More – The distorted Vision of Jeremy Bentham


More and More and More

The shabby, half empty Co-Op on Neville Road closed down and a new Waitrose sprung up in its place. Suddenly, the place is bustling.

When I worked in Africa, I would return for holidays and wander around supermarkets marvelling at the variety. I delighted in curry sauce, Marmite and Birds custard. It felt a bit like that in Waitrose. Like my first time in California; shiny happy people and the shelves fully stacked. Posh clientele crammed inside like an opening of la Boheme.

The car park was worse than a game of Tetris and taxis awaited the immaculate elderly. Even the trolleys glided silently, devoid of rattles and outside they were not chained up like dogs; Waitrose customers wouldn’t be seen dead stealing trolleys. Branded clothing only and away with cheap TVs and washing machines; triple the size of the wine section. Vegetables from all over the planet all in their prime. Slimmer isles but packed with “fifty kinds of toothpaste and forty types of soap”. The massive pressure of the middle class has erupted to claim its birthright. We have disposable income and we shall shop. It’s all we do. The only respite from the relentless press of people was the cleaning products isle. Waitrose customers have staff and they shop at Lidl.

“The system” is now tuned to ensure maximum efficiency and our lives are mere links in the supply chain. We are no longer citizens, we are customers. We are told that we even “consume” music and television. It’s said that no middle class American home is complete without an unused aqualung at the back of the wardrobe and this lunacy has spread to England where thousands of people own their own skis! Skis! In England!

In 1768 British philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared the work of government to be supplying “The greatest good for the greatest number”. Global Capitalism has replaced the word “good” with “goods” and taken up the challenge with a vengeance.

The middle class used to seek exclusivity but, in a world geared toward maximizing sales, what does that even mean anymore? The BMW 3 now outsells the Ford Mondeo. I suggest the current meaning of exclusivity is whatever the advertisers want it to mean. Perhaps this week it is Hendricks Scottish Gin, next week, who knows? And we fall for it. We drink Gin from Scotland and Scotch from England. We wouldn’t drink the water in Mexico yet we import the beer.

Adverts on the Underground

Adverts on the Underground

Indoctrinated from birth, we stoke the system. Our minds are like vacuum cleaners sucking up advertising wherever it is found. The TV, the radio, magazines, The Internet. Modern man needs stimulation and advertising give it to us. Sit on the London Underground and notice how your attention is drawn to the ads. This is why our leaders consider literacy so important We are readaholics but this junk bypasses the intellect and is dumped unprocessed into our sub-conscious. Snoop Dog is advertising financial services for God’s sake!

A middle class is now forming in the developing world and they too want to shop. They demand meat but the world can’t produce enough so scientists are seeking to farm insects for human consumption. The grave yards are so full that Floridians can now choose between cremation and “liquefaction”. There are now over 7 billion of us on planet Earth and in England we’re crammed in like battery hens. Office buildings get bigger but our houses and workspace gets smaller. The Economist advocates that we “Build on the green belt or introduce space rationing“.

Are we insane? Does it even matter?

Driven by tactical marketing decisions our leaders have no vision. They stand on the bridge bickering over which button to press but they don’t know where we’re going. Meanwhile Western voters are getting restless.

Up to now, humanity have been the glue that holds global capitalism together. While on a tour of his factory, Henry Ford II asked the leader of the automobile workers union: “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” to which the union leader replied: “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”.

The Industrial Revolution was a wonderful thing of course. It released the resources of the world to be exploited for the good of humanity. Though workers were displaced in manufacturing, jobs were created in the knowledge economy. But the second and the third wave of revolution are not yet fully played out and computers have started displacing even the most knowledgeable workers.

This time, the revolution might be different. In the U.S. real wages have hardly budged over the past four decades and the limp economic recovery is not creating jobs. The single minded pursuit of goods for the greatest number is becoming a problem for the planet just when humanity are becoming less useful to Global Capitalism.

Perhaps, it’s time to scrap Mr. Betham’s vision and develop a new one.


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Sunshine, strikes and software development

One of those days in England

One of those days in England

Tuesday was a beautiful spring morning and I got the train up to London. The English countryside looked gorgeous and green in the sun and the haze. A tube strike of course and people thronged the streets waiting for buses. Ah, after decades of  Corsets, Cash ISAs, and Caffe Latte, England is finally getting back to normal. About time the dustmen went on strike again isn’t it? Bring back the GLC.

I was heading for Infosec, the Information Security exhibition at Earl’s Court. I’m an old hand at this now: Quick sausage sandwich, a cup of coffee then a walk round the stands to see what’s current. The main point of these trips for me is to attend the education seminars. Not much really new to report but it’s still worth a look.

Advanced Persistent Threats are really just all the other threats put together and undertaken by governments in a relentless manner. The Stuxnet worm which attacked the centrifuges in nuclear processing facilities in Iran is an example.

People Talk a lot of Bollocks in Information Technology these days and part of this comes about because the industry is changing so fast. New themes emerge and people race to name them. The names get taken up by salesman who repeat them before the industry has really figured out what they mean. Cloud used to suffer in this respect though it is generally more understood these days. A seminar entitled “Actionable intelligence: Building a holistic security threat intelligence capability” demonstrated to me that the panel had not really understood the meaning of Actionable or Holistic.

A seminar entitled “‘Applification’ of business and implications for security: Securing software development” was interesting if a little meandering. The panellists discussed very pertinent issues around the security of software development. Security is often seen as a bolt on, developers are seldom given security requirements in the functional specs and, though one guy said that all developers should be security specialists, they all had to admit that finding good developers was difficult enough; finding security aware developers was almost impossible.

One pundit contrasted software development with engineering and this goes to the heart of why we still find IT systems which are not adequately secured. I recall working for an oil company close to where oil was “lifted”. A flare had been set up and, after discussing this with an engineer, I realised that he had not just stuck a pipe in the ground and hoped. He had been trained how to handle flares safely. He’d performed a formal safety assessment. What type of gas? How much gas? What was the location? He had then consulted his training or possibly relevant standards and created a mechanism with strictly defined materials, tolerances and capabilities.

This rarely happen in software development or IT projects in general. There is no recognised standard for software developers. There is no industry wide accepted training path that is comparable to engineering. Yes, standards, training and qualifications exist but they are not prerequisites. They are something to boost a CV. The main problem is that technology and the industry are still changing so quickly that standards and qualifications become redundant before they can get a grip. Further, software developers still regard themselves as creative. They like to invent clever new ways to do something where an engineer, though obviously creative, is more restricted in what he can get away with especially when safety is involved.

Probably the reason that standard are more easily enforced in engineering is that the outcomes are far more visible. If the gas flare mentioned earlier had resulted in a huge flame blowing dangerously close to a building then everyone would have known about it but a software short cut or “innovative” coding could go unnoticed until a vulnerability is finally exploited by an attacker.

The proliferation first of mini-computers and then PCs meant that many organisations chose to run their own IT functions and this led to a lot of inexperienced and unqualified people in the industry. I should know. It’s how I started. The on-going migration of software services to the Cloud may help by concentrating computing at locations where the technology and configurations can be standardised, the staff adequately trained & qualified and the overall organisation audited to ensure compliance with industry best practice.

But change is ubiquitous in IT and many of the most innovative companies are small so we can expect software development to continue in hothouse start-ups rather than mature, standard bound organisations. We should also be careful what we wish for. Many of us got intoIT because of the creative aspects and this was underlined last week by an article in The Guardian in which developers look back at BASIC computer language which is now 50 years old.

Security, reliability and availability vs fun and flying by the seat of your pants. Tough choice.

st malo beach

St Malo Beach