A blog by Patrick Crozier

July 29, 2002

Peter Cuthbertson's excellent Thought for
Patrick Crozier

Peter Cuthbertson's excellent Thought for the day reminds me that one of the reasons I am a libertarian is because I believe that it will actually increase the amount of order in society.

July 22, 2002

Patrick Crozier

There's obviously some sort of inter-blog war going on about this. So some points:

First, I am not sure if everyone is clear on the definition of a casualty. It does not mean a death. Any injury (and I guess sickness can count) that takes a man out of the battle is a casualty.

Second, I read this somewhere that out of a total of 5m Britons engaged in the First World War only some 750,000 died.

Third, in 1915, most Britons would have been serving on the Western Front. The British Expeditionary Force suffered 90% casualties in 1914. It was the only army we had. Considering the desperate fighting around Ypres in 1915 it was amazing there was anyone to spare for Turkey.

Fourth, by 1918 Britain was running out of men (so what happened to the 4.25m who hadn't got themselves killed?). That is why so much of the fighting that year was carried out by Australians and Canadians.

Fifth, Gallipoli sounded a good idea at the time. There was a stalemate on the Western Front and everyone could see that it would take years before you could successfully fight there without taking enormous casualties. The sensible thing seemed to be to look for a "quick win" against those useless Turks. How were we to know that Attaturk and von Sanders would be there?

One final point. Did you know that the bloodiest campaign ever fought by the British Army (in terms of casualties per day) was the Normandy campaign in WW2? The second bloodiest campaign was the 1918 campaign. No one notices if you are winning.

Marvellous article by Matthew Parris.
Patrick Crozier

Marvellous article by Matthew Parris. Say what you believe and to hell with the consequences.

July 10, 2002

Don't be beastly to BT
Patrick Crozier

Over on Libertarian Samizdata Brian Micklethwait compares BT unfavourably with stationery supplier Viking Direct. He puts the difference down to regulation. I don't agree, the fact that BT is regulated and Viking unregulated is only one of the major differences between the two.

The first, and most obvious is that BT does a whole load more than Viking. Viking just sells things. OK, there are hell of a lot of products but each one has a code and if that's proving difficult just flick to the right page of the brochure. The salesman does not need any particular skills. BT, on the other hand, sells all sorts of different things to people in many different telecoms configurations. Some are domestic, some business. Some are existing customers, some with a rival. What I am saying is that BT faces far more permutations. A single call could be about just about anything. The problem is that you can't train every single member of staff to deal with every single issue. Thus you have to route calls, thus you need dialtones and bad music.

The second, is the business about Brian's 5 favourite numbers. He is of course, right, that one bit of BT does know (or could work out) what his 5 favourite numbers are but that does not mean that the bit that phoned up does.

So, why don't they tell one another? It sounds obvious which it is. It sounds easy which it is not. When executives start mooting projects like this other executives start saying "well, can't you just add this bit of data in? And this bit. And this bit" Pretty soon you are talking about a pretty big project with enormous databases and a lot of different departments and a lot of different computer systems. Pretty soon everything is getting very political, very complicated and very expensive. The computer industry has a name for this type of exercise: Customer Relationship Management, CRM. CRM is a relatively new discipline and is characterised by a expensive, long-term projects which often fail.

By the way, the difficulty that even private sector companies have in getting all (or even some) of the information in the same place at the same time is one of the reasons I am rather sanguine about the state's attempts to put all our information on computer. If the private sector finds it difficult, what chance the government?

July 09, 2002

Patrick Crozier

Techies constantly complain about Microsoft. It's clunky, it falls over, you can't configure it, it takes up too much space. Look at alternatives like Linux and Apple, they say. So much better, so much more refined, so much more reliable. The implication is that by permitting an obviously inferior product to dominate capitalism has somehow failed.

The problem with this argument is that it ignores a fundamental point: Microsoft doesn't sell software. Microsoft sells job security. No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft. And for most of us the ability to keep paying the mortgage is pretty high on our list of priorities.

So how did Microsoft get into this position? It is worth remembering what the PC world was like 20 years ago. The world was awash with various different PC standards: Sinclair, Acorn, Commodore, Apple, Research Machines, Sord, ICL. All of them requiring different hardware and none of the compatible with anything else. When IBM released its PC incorporating Microsoft's MS-DOS the world changed overnight. Suddenly, there was a standard. Suddenly, there was certainty. And people bought into it in huge numbers. Sure, there were all sorts of things you couldn't do with it but everyone else had it, especially the client.

There is reason to believe that Microsoft maybe coming to the end of its dominance. XP seems to be more of a dead end than a brave new world and every year Linux seems to be gaining a few more adherents.

But in the meantime there is no great mystery as to why Microsoft got into the position it did. It sold something that people wanted to buy. It is just that for techies and the rest of us the priorities are different.

July 05, 2002

What should Britons think about the American Revolution?
Patrick Crozier

Or what we know as the American War of Independence. I was asked this in an e-mail earlier on today and I had to admit that it was something that simply isn't discussed. Indeed, I find myself deeply ignorant on the subject. This is the extent of my understanding:

  • Britain and France fought the Seven Years' War. Britain won. North America was British.
  • The war cost a fortune. Britain imposed a tax on Americans in order to pay for it. After all, the Americans were the major beneficiaries.
  • The Americans rebelled. The French, bitter from defeat, helped them.
  • British public opinion was divided on whether to fight the war or not, with many radicals, Ulstermen and Scotsmen finding themselves in sympathy with the rebels' ideals. That, coupled with American persistance, eventually caused the House of Commons to give up the effort.
  • The Americans got the 13 states, the British kept the rest.
  • The Americans wrote a federal constitution. With the exception of a change from a king to an elected president it was largely a codification of the unwritten British version.
  • The French found they couldn't pay their bills. The King called an Estates General and a revolution broke out plunging Europe into war for the next 25 years.
So, is this a true and fair account?
Was the outcome of the War a good thing or a bad thing?
Which side, if any, would you have been on?

July 02, 2002

The Message is getting out there
Patrick Crozier

In the future people will ask what people did before Brian's Education Blog but seeing as we are indeed living in the time before Brian's Education Blog this is what we were doing: noting that some of the top commentators have noticed that state education isn't very good. This is A N Wilson in the Standard:

In 1870, before "state" education was pioneered by the Victorians, literacy in Britain stood at 92 per cent. Most people picked up some schooling somewhere, even in workhouses. After more than a century of "state" education, it is doubtful whether literacy is anything like so high. Three hundred and fifty trainee teachers have just failed a simple English and maths test, but they have been told by Education Secretary Estelle Morris that they are still needed to instruct our children.
The message is getting out there. I would quote more but the article is only two paras long.