Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Morality of Ledgers

BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme, Today, devoted this morning's output to the question of how digital technologies are changing the way we live. They marvelled at developments in artificial intelligence, the proliferation of start-ups and the speed at which traditional jobs were disappearing. There was a plethora of modernity and technospeak, but I was greatly heartened - and dismayed - at the phrase used by one of the experts. Leslie Berlin said, in the context of the impact of Silicon Valley and the developments of which she approves

... all of this has to be put on the good side of the ledger

 Writing as someone who learned their craft back in the days when ledgers meant ledgers - thick volumes in weighty black binders containing bookkeeping entries which we auditors used to embellish with curious ticks, curls and marks, sometimes in green ink, sometimes in purple - and which survive only on the dusty shelves of Museums of Accountancy - it is indeed life affirming to think that this word still carries a meaning for the modern entrepreneur, though what the younger listeners to Today (if there are any) made of her imagery I have no idea. She did not invoke the usual discussion so dear to us accounting veterans as to whether the ledger should be laid out facing or sideways on to the window, nor the best way to remove the stains left by chocolate biscuits, nor the fierce, sometimes violent, altercations about the most appropriate colour for ticking up a calculated balance the third year running (having already used the traditional green and purple pens in previous years).

Pleased as I was to hear that ledgers, and all that they stand for, are still in vogue with the highest of hi-tech trend-setters, I was not in any way chuffed at all at the wanton ignorance displayed by the words 'good side'. Ledgers do not have good or bad sides. They are repositories of information and how that information is processed is up to the person perusing it. The problem, I think, lies with the commonly misunderstood words 'debit' and 'credit'; these are technical terms used in bookkeeping and imply no moral virtues and 'credit' is the prime culprit because it has at least three utterly different meanings;
  • Credit (accounting expression): an entry made in the ledger on the side nearest the window, an entry that is not a debit
  • Credit (expression of social approbation) "It was to Don's credit that he he acknowledged that he was the audit clerk who had dropped the chocolate biscuit onto line 34 of the ledger thereby obliterating the entry referring to the sale of 14 widgets at £1 13/6d (gross)"
  • Credit (measure of financial standing or believability) "Would you credit it, that sodding bookie has refused to give me any more credit?"
So there are no good or bad sides, just as people who talk about things being "on the credit side of the balance sheet" know not of which they speak. Perhaps the concept of souls being weighed in the balance on judgement day has something to do with it. But surely even the gods, these days, use computerised systems to keep track of who is worthy and who is going into the land of perpetual twilight; although one imagines meeting Anubis, the fearsome jackal-headed god who, as he goes to measure your sins against a mere feather, says wearily "I'm sorry, the computer's running very slowly today, can you come back in a thousand years?" That's the thing about ledgers - they may be obscured by chocolate but at least they don't need to be taken offline, virus-checked and rebooted at regular intervals.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Desperately Seeking Sydni

As I have written recently, I joined Facebook in order to keep in touch with a small group interested in the products of the computer software company from which, many years ago, I drew a regular wage packet. I do nothing whatsoever other than read the messages and now and then pop in a pithy comment of my own, none of which are likely to end up in the forthcoming slim volume provisionally entitled The Wit and Wisdom of A Commuter (Ruislip). So you may imagine my surprise when I received an email from Facebook (apparently) which featured a small picture of a young lady of a certain physical attractiveness disporting herself upon a chaise longue in her undergarments*. The accompanying text said no more than
Sydni Bau wants to be friends with you on Facebook
and invited me to click a link to commence this relationship.

To someone of my advanced years it is undeniably fascinating that this hitherto unknown female should have such sufficient confidence in our reaching an understanding that she is happy to share with me those things that ladies normally reserve for a much better acquaintance. But I failed to click on the button and, as Facebook does not give you the option of rejecting the offer, I simply ignored it. No doubt Mr Zuckerberg and his minions will start harassing me to say I have invitations outstanding but if that is how they wish to waste their time, who am I to interfere?  I don't suppose they get much fun these days.

The reason I have abstained from that tempting little blue button is simple. I Googled Sydni Bau, figuring that someone like that, who (if we are to speak frankly) appears to put it about a bit, must be known to others - New Scotland Yard if nothing else - and also because the idea of anyone, male or female, calling themselves Sydni has an alluring quality all of its own. Nobody of that name turned up. One or two Sydnis did, none of whom were Baus, but I also learned that it is defined on the Urban Dictionary website as a "Silly or goofy girl."

Anyway, dear Sydni, if you happen to read this, do get in touch again and this time give me some tangible reason for being friends. I'm happily married, you know, and so we need to find some more suitable mutual interests. A love of stupid names perhaps?

* The Editor wishes to point out that copies of the photograph may be obtained upon request. It will be supplied in a plain brown email and marked "Paving Stone Monthly" to avoid embarrassment.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bakers and Breaks

The all-new, improved, Great British Bake-Off began its seventh series last night having moved from the BBC to Channel 4. One new judge, two new presenters and otherwise exactly the same as before - twelve pleasant and normal people demonstrating their skills and not one of whom whooped, high-fived or had an emotional backstory causing tears and sympathetic hugs while the cameras gloated - and some splendid cakes to be admired. Same tent, same setting, same awful weather raging outside and identical format.

Except, that being on commercial television, there were ad breaks. C4 decided to keep the content roughly as before and so had to stretch running time by fifteen minutes. I can't recall this being done for anything else; we are used to brilliant shows running for nearly thirty minutes on radio moving to TV and being butchered to less than 24 minutes of content (example: Harry Hill who used the time on radio to develop wonderful running gags that vanished when he transferred to the box).

Advertisers must have thought that this was a great way to show off their products. But in the Commuter household the response was what it always is - the moment the programme ident appears at the bottom of the screen to signify the end of a segment, the remote control is raised and the mute button pressed. Even then some ads were painful to watch - literally. Ebay had a sequence in which the screen changed background colour repeatedly; glimpsed from the corner of the eye this made a stroboscopic effect akin to glimpsing the sun through the trees whilst moving at high speed. Yuck. Presumably nobody connected with Ebay bothers to watch. This "viewer" moved his head further to one side and thereby ignored everything happening on the screen until his more tolerant wife nudged him to restore the sound.

Watching ads without the sound, other than those with genuinely irritating flashing screens, is a slightly surreal experience. "There's that bloke with the beard" you say1 "I wonder what he's on about? If I had a beard would I get more offers of work? Oh look, here's a very sincere and twinkly-eyed man in a nice sweater leaning forward ever so slightly to share his wisdom, or something. What can he be on about? and how many ever-so-slightly less sincere and twinkly-eyed actors did they audition before deciding he was the right man for the knitware?2 Ah, a young person in a white coat pointing at something. Fascinating, really fascinating.  Oh, there's a car. Driven on utterly empty city streets. By a young man with a beard. Who ever would have expected that, certainly never seen that before in an ad, what fantastic imagination these creative chaps have, I do hope they get loads of awards. And there's that comedian I used to like, but am now rather sick of, poncing about on a cruise ship and pretending to be just another paying passenger, that must get him a BAFTA or my name's not Merridew Withers"3

It is vitally important to keep the sound off. Nothing these people say is of the slightest interest given that it is all written by admen. It is equally important to indulge in these speculations because it drives away the message that the ad is trying to implant in your brain and puts your own thoughts in there instead, and I want to keep it that way.

We seem to have wandered off the GBBO but there isn't much more to say about it. I fear that the subject of advertisements, their rotting effect on the brain and the need to combat them with constant cynicism and derision is one that will remain with us.

1. Alright, I say it
2. Or does he have to supply his own jumper? Is there a clothing allowance for this or does his agent negotiate it all as part of the fee? These are the sort of questions that some sort of hard-hitting documentary ought to be addressing.
3. No it's not.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How dumb is TripAdvisor (again)?

I've written about them before and may, sadly, have to do so again because I see no improvement. Before I deliver this morning's little blast of invective, here are some facts to mull over:

  • Fact. Every review I have put on to the aforesaid website has been of somewhere in the UK or in relatively close parts of Europe
  • Fact. Every journey upon which I have embarked in the past eight years has been facilitated [Nice choice of pretentious words: Ed] by car, coach or by train. I began submitting reviews to TA in April 2014.
  • Fact. TA have never bothered to ask me how I reached those places subject to my expert analysis and therefore has no right to reach any conclusions about the mode of transport.
Good. Now we have established the foundations, we can build the structure. Consider this email that arrived still hot and steaming into my in-tray this morning:

The answers to their questions are as follows:
  • How was your flight? There was no flight, dumbo and why do you assume I flew in the first place?
  • Can you help again by sharing advice on flights you've taken? Delighted to. Based partly on my experiences in the past but mainly on what I learn from others today, flying is horrible, airports treat passengers in a disgusting and shamelessly commercial way, the security (100ml of a fluid good, 101ml some sort of risk) is a joke and the way that people can be casually bumped off flights they have paid for well in advance something that should be outlawed. My advice, which I gladly share with anyone idiotic enough to wish to fly, is Just Say No.
  • Where will you fly next? Up to Heaven to meet my maker and his pals [Or her pals. Can't be too careful these days: Ed] when the Glorious Day Of Judgement sounds, followed by the long Glorious Evening Of Hanging About On Some Clouds and the even longer Glorious Night Of Watching Celestial TV Because There's Nothing Else To Do Up Here.
I don't think I'll bother submitting a review for this last one. I don't want to spoil the destination by having loads of others going there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

AI or AS?

Artificial intelligence may well be the future but they will have to weed out the artificial stupids first. Consider the following email, not the first of its type, received here at Ramblings Towers this morning from a sender claiming to be in Belmont, California.

Want to simplify your multi-location phone administration?  

It asks me in the subject. Yes sure, if I had a multi-location phone administration system no doubt I would be looking to simplify it, but why I would wait until some chancer happens to email me about it is something to be pondered. Anyway, let us move on to the first couple of lines of the epistle.

Hi Thomas,

Because Bristow has multiple locations I wanted to follow up on my last email about your phone system.

There's nobody here called Thomas. And Bristow is a cartoon character about whom I have created an extensive and award-winning1 website. So what is going on? The program that has generated this spam email has grazed my website, found the first name on it and assumed that this must be a business. It is hard to think that someone writing code to support a mass spam-out to potential business customers could have come up with anything stupider. I assume it is a program, rather than some bored intern trying to flick through a long list of names from a directory or some such, because it would be apparent to any human, even an intern in California, that my website does not relate to a business. And that there is nobody called Thomas referred to in it. And that my real email address is displayed fairly prominently, so they couldn't even get that right.

I don't think I will take up the kind offer to phone them tomorrow, especially as they have not offered to accept the cost of the call. Perhaps if they offered some extra incentives then we might consider which of our many locations (bedroom, study, living room) could successfully leverage2 a new phone system. How about an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco for myself, Mrs. Commuter and Thomas? But if they insist we can leave him behind to look after our many locations.

1.  Bound to get one sooner or later so this is not as inaccurate as some may think
2. You simply have to insert this awful word into any business conversation with an American if you wish to be taken seriously.