If you tell enough stories, perhaps the moral will show up.


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One fascinating comment on this Register story:

Good ol' Tiscali
By Anonymous Coward
In the days of dial up I once signed up with Tiscali as they were offering a free month's trial and being a student I needed to save as much money as possible. As they wanted card details that they were saying that they were only going to start debiting after my free month and I didn't want to risk forgetting to cancel, I entered 4111 1111 1111 1111 as the card number, which is a commonly used test number that validates using the card checking algorithm. This worked and allowed me to sign up for my free month.
Surprisingly (or not) my internet access continued into month 2 .....
Reminds me of the days when Mrs U was driven mad by La Redoute accepting orders with credit card numbers that didn't even pass the checksum test. Surely it won't work anywhere any more....


China Stole the Productivity Revolution

It's hardly possible to avoid writing about China today. Even if it has little to do with security. So I'm going to write about three-packs of knickers for EUR 3, or mobile phones for EUR 10.

Everyone can see that the Chinese cities are getting rich. There are still plenty of people living squalid lives with little money, but the gloss is there and, more to the point, there are more and more hard-working middle-class people. Today, it's the cities and the coasts, but if they can hold on to the currency, the banks and the economy, it'll be the whole country soon enough.

Now the point about hard-working middle-class people is that they don't stitch supermarket knickers or assemble disposable mobile phones. They're too expensive. So we have to ask, once the opulence has worked its way into China, where are our panties are going to come from then? (and theirs too, of course.) Bangladesh/Nepal/Burma just doesn't have the slack to take up the produce of three hundred million pairs of willing hands. India is on its own way already, and Africa is disorganised and thinly populated.

I see the answer to this question taking us back to, ooh, 1978 -- the Year of the Micro. Back then, the unions were huge, offshore manufacturing was inconceivable and the promise of cheap micro-processors was in the robot factories that would provide a life of leisure and customised goods for all.

Well, it didn't work out that way. No. Hey! it's thirty years later -- 2008 -- the future in anybody's language -- and

  • If I want a suit, I can't walk into a shop and be measured up by a machine which will cut it, make it and post it to me.
  • Mrs U had to buy a Toyota instead of a Nissan because the seats are too long for her thighs and there's no opportunity to get it changed.
  • Children's toys are hand-assembled -- and that's not snap-together either. There are dozens of screws -- easy to design, simple to tool, but needing a lot of work to asemble.
How crap is that? What went wrong?

Offshore manufacturing is the answer. There's no point in tooling up with fancy kit if the competition can have it made by hand for less. For a huge range of goods, manufacturing has gone backwards these last thirty years -- those screws in the toys weren't there when I was young. The products are cheaper, more varied, generally better assembled but totally uncustomised and insusceptible to automation.

So my guess is this. When the supply of cheap labour dries up, we're finally going to get the automatic factory revolution. Only, it'll be thirty years better. It'll be lead by the Chinese, because they're the ones with the problem and it's going to suit their convenience not ours. But I feel that I'm within five years of getting my machine-measured suit. It's going to be more expensive than the one stitched in a Fujiian sweatshop. But at least it'll fit.


Time for Tubby Bye-Bye, Meestair Bond

Well, the NMAAJS Daughter has been on Club Penguin for a month or so, and she's been enrolled as a secret agent. You get a tool to move around the site more easily, a range of mission games, a secret tunnel from the sports shop to the surveillance HQ and some fine clothing options like a bow tie and a tuxedo. (Why on earth would a penguin -- the world's most sophisticated bird -- need a dinner jacket?)

But the real meat is in the handbook. You have to report mean penguins and the ones who use bad words, so some harried moderator in Tucson or wherever can review the log and decide on an appropriate action.

Little do they know that the NMAAJSD has essentially no chance of spotting bad language -- we were watching two potty-mouthed puffins F Uing and F U 2ing and she had no idea what it meant. And this is the child who, on her fifth birthday, addressed the author of her being in these terms: "Just fuck off, Daddy."

Still, you have to give them credit. They're at least trying to make it fun to be a snitch, and that puts them a little ahead of the Staasi.


Air Defence Chicken

Mrs U has persuaded the broody hen to hatch eight chicks -- four of our eggs and four (of six) from a Black Rock breeder (I keep wanting to say Northern Rock....) and the time has come to let them out for a little air in an improvised run of their own.

Magpies and kestrels are an obvious worry, but it seems that hen is ahead of us. Mrs U thought the was looking a little odd one day, as the chicks cheeped and pecked in the long grass around her. She was carrying her head strangely -- almost as if she was watching the sky. Which she was. There was a single black speck circling in the skies. And the air-defence chicken led her mixed brood indoors.