Latest blog/rant from the developer, Mike Towle . . . . . . . .
For a web site that promotes and distributes PC based accounting software, you might think this blog sometimes goes a bit off message. You'd be right. Many of my blogs have nothing to do with accounts or software, and this one doesn't even have anything to do with our planet! One evening I found myself looking at the sky. There are around 200 billion stars in our galaxy and around 2,000 billion galaxies in the known universe. If my maths is right, that's 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Most with planets around them. So there must be intelligent life out there. But where is everyone?
The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Our own star, the sun, is a second generation star. It's 4.6 billion years old. So a LOT of stars have come and gone before our star was even born. These are all huge numbers. But it takes life a long time to get started, and then develop into something like us. Our planet was created at about the same time as the sun, from the same cloud of dust and gas. Life started around 3.8 billion years ago. Assuming life also started on some other planets, and it's pretty hard to believe that out of 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars life only started on a small planet orbiting this one, then it's also reasonable to assume that it started earlier on some than on others, and developed at slightly different rates. If you look back at how humans have developed, we first appeared around 200,000 years ago. A blink of the eye when you consider the Earth is 4,600,000,000 years old. It's only really in the last 1,000 years that we've become technically advanced. The last 250 years in particular. In fact, look how far we've come in just the last 50 years. Which is nothing terms of the age of a star or planet.
So, if intelligent life developed elsewhere in the universe, some of it could have reached the technological stage we're at now a long time ago. Probably millions of years ago. Try and imagine how advanced the human race will be in 1,000 years time, 100,000 years, or 10,000,000 years. Even looking 1,000 years into the future is impossible. The technical advances we'll have made in that time are far beyond anything we can imagine (even Star Trek is only set between about 150 and 370 years in the future, depending on the series). Yet there must be thousands, if not millions of intelligent alien civilisations out there who are thousands, if not millions of years ahead of us.
In 1961 Dr. Frank Drake produced an equation that helps work all this out. You can find details on this page on Wikipedia
. However, the equation does require some information that is currently unknown and has to be guessed at, which allows for quite a broad range of answers.
You would have thought they'd be a thriving interstellar community throughout our galaxy. It's an average size galaxy, and we're about two thirds of the way out from the center. If our galaxy was a city, we'd be in the suburbs. You'd have thought we'd be shouting at our alien neighbors to turn the music down! But it's very quiet out there.
We've found no evidence of aliens ever having visited our plant. Various Ceti projects have been searching the skies for over 40 years for alien radio transmissions, and found nothing. We've been sending probes out into space to explore the planets of our solar system for the last 50 years, and none have ever come across any alien hardware or anything to indicate someone else has been here before. Of course, it's always possible the signs are all around us, we're just so used to seeing things a certain way, we can't see what's actually right in front of us?
In the 1970's and 80's Professor Carl Sagan
discussed the possibility of aliens having visited the earth thousands of years ago. But his cautious observations contrasted to those of Erich von Daniken
who wrote several books on the subject. Unfortunately von Danikens less than careful efforts, perhaps due to an over enthusiasm for his subject, lead to most of his work being discredited. But amongst the extensive (and often dubious) body of 'evidence' put forward by von Daniken, there are some items that still resist any explanation other than alien visitors.
Assuming we're not so blind as to miss the evidence that's right in front our noses (and that may be a big assumption....), as I see it there are other possibilities:
- Other civilisations are so advanced, they know the best thing is to leave us alone to develop all by ourselves. Until such time as we're ready to join the interstellar community. That could be hundreds of years away. In the meantime they make sure we don't get visited and don't receive radio or any other signals that might cause us all kind of problems if we realised we're not alone.
- Alien civilisations are avoiding us because we're simply not of interest. We don't pick up any radio signals because technically advanced civilisations don't use radio to communicate.
- There aren't any advanced alien civilisations out there, because life or intelligent life never developed anywhere else, and our planet is truly unique. Which seems improbable. Though I believe it's a central tenet of most religions, which is thought provoking.
- Chillingly, a civilisation can only develop so far before it makes itself extinct. Either through war, or artificial intelligence which decides the animals that created it no longer serve a purpose, and/or that the existence of any form of intelligence serves no purpose. Alternatively, perhaps by some other method that hasn't yet occurred to us.
This last possibility troubles me greatly. The idea of extinction isn't very appealing, or course, and worse it's actually quite possible. Consider this: out of the 200 billion stars in our galaxy, lets say at some time life developed on 1 billion planets, of those, intelligent life developed say on just 1 million of them (that's 1 planet in 1,000). Bear in mind, these figures could well be overoptimistic. If each civilisation on average only survives being technically advanced for say 1,000 years (ie. from the point they discover electricity to their extinction), the chances of us living at the same time as another advanced civilisation in our galaxy look remote. If there have only been 1 million advanced civilisations in our galaxy, and each one on average lasts for 1,000 years, even if we strung them end to end they would only cover a time span of 1 billion years. But our planet has been around for 4.6 billion years, and the galaxy a lot longer than that. If we're late to the party, it was all over a long time ago, probably long before our ancestors even dropped from the trees and stood on two feet.
What ever the reason we haven't found evidence of intelligent alien life, we will one day have an answer. One way or the other. Sadly, that day will probably be long after my 'use by' date has expired! Perhaps one of my descendants, or one of your descendants will shake the hand of an alien, or stare at what's left of a once great civilisation that existed thousands years ago, just a hundred light years from where I'm sat now.
Many of you across the world may have noticed that the United Kingdom isn't actually very big! Yet a lot of people come from other countries to live and work here, and people are living longer, so our population is increasing. Currently the population is just over 65m, which is similar to France, which is a much bigger country. They have 306 people per square mile, the United Kingdom has 697 people living in that same space. As a result, there is enormous pressure on housing. There was a time when local councils had lots of council houses they could use to accommodate people who could not afford to buy or rent privately. But in the 1980's Mrs Thatcher forced all these councils to sell those council houses to their tenants on the cheap. She had a vision of a house owning population. The building of new council houses slowed dramatically. I guess councils were reluctant to pay for the construction of new houses that they then had to sell off. For a while it wasn't a problem, but as the population started increasing from late 1990's, it became a problem. It's now a very big problem.
The building of council houses is still far lower than it used to be, the stock of council houses is far less than it used to be, yet the demand for them has never been higher. As a result, the private rented sector has boomed. Private landlords have been buying up properties to let out. But there simply isn't enough houses to go around. Not enough houses are being built, council houses or private houses. The result is that rents have been going up and up (as have the value of the houses), it's simple supply and demand. What have the government done to fix the housing crisis? We'll they've made it a lot more difficult and expensive for private landlords to operate. This has resulted in fewer houses coming onto the rental market, and made it more expensive to own and rent out a house. Which means rents are going up even faster! More and more people are not just locked out of house ownership, but they're also being locked out of the private rental market. Just where are they supposed to live? Council houses? There aren't any! Of the few that still exist, the waiting list is huge. The closer you get to London, the worse the problem gets.
I can't understand why the government is doing nothing about it? Making things difficult for private landlords is not the solution, that was blatantly obvious from day one, although not to the government it seems. There are too few houses for the current population. We can't reduce the population (despite the Brexit vote), so we have to build more houses. It's not rocket science. The government needs to allow more land to be allocated for building, and needs to allow builders to build. At the moment, councils up and down the country seem to work to prevent or limit building as much as possible. When they should actually be bending over backwards to encourage it! These are the same councils that will complain about lack of housing stock, and will turn away the majority of people who approach them, people that are desperate because they have no where to live.
Of course the answer might be votes, as it so often is with any political party. They're a Conservative government (just right of centre for those not familiar with UK politics). The majority of their voters own houses, and they like to see the value of their houses going up. I'm sure this isn't having any bearing on government policy at all..... In the mean time, there are thousands of families who are homeless, and are living without hope. Often in appalling conditions. I watched a TV program recently where a couple with a new born baby were turned away by a council that simply didn't have anywhere to put them. Where were they supposed to live? The United Kingdom is supposed to be a developed, rich country. Yet so many of it's population live in poverty. Much of it created by the cost of housing.
I'm no fan of Donald Trump. But maybe we need a dose of his pragmatism and business acumen at the top in this country. Because political ideals are exactly that. They rarely deliver the results anyone needs. Mr Trump is not a political animal, he has no political doctrine to follow. What would he do if he was in charge of the United Kingdom?
Since writing the above, I've read an article on the BBC news website. It claimed that up until the late 1970's councils were building around 100,000 houses a year. In the year to end of June this year, they built 1,500. The article can be found here.
German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth has told the United Kingdom that negotiations to leave the European Union "will be very difficult". Well there's a surprise. And we all thought it was going to be a breeze! Of course we know the sticking point is going to be no unlimited market access without unlimited immigration. As most people who voted the UK out of the EU did so to limit immigration, this is going to be a problem.
The three cornerstones of the EU are: free movement of capital, free movement of goods, and free movement of labour. It seems we (as I'm in the UK) want the first two, but limits put on the third. I'm no economist, but I don't know how that works. Michael Roth may have been citing the blatantly obvious, but he's just towing the party line. Angela Merkel has been talking to the other European heads of state, to see where they draw the line. It's not hard to see where they might be coming from. They can't offer the UK a deal that would be as good as the deal we have while in the EU. Otherwise they'd be no point in anyone being in the EU! So whatever deal is eventually done, and I think it'll take years, our business relationship with the EU is not going to be as strong. Access to the market, movement of capital, and movement of labour are all going to be restricted in some way.
Though if it means less paperwork and less regulation maybe it really will be for the better. For small businesses, trading across the EU has always been a nightmare that seems to get worse as each year passes. And VAT legislation, oh my goodness...... It's actually easier for small businesses to trade with countries outside the EU than in it. Which rather suggests, for small businesses at least, the whole thing's been a bit of a failure.
So, two months after the referendum, am I still in the Remain camp? Oh yes. The EU needs a major overhaul, not just some tinkering around the edges, but real fundamental bottom up redesign! But despite its shortcomings, we're better off in it. It might be a mess, but we were all in it together. If we get a great deal with EU, I might change my mind. But I don't think it's going to happen. I'll miss being being part of the gang!
I've just read that Sage, a huge software company based in the United Kingdom, have suffered a data breach which may have compromised personal information held in the on-line payrolls of 280 of it's business customers. Probably thousands of employees.
Sage are a very well know, very established company. Their accounting software products are respected and used by a large number of organizations including many accounting practices, certainly in the United Kingdom. Many people who learned bookkeeping did so on Sage software. They are a FTSE100 company, with annual sales of nearly $2bn. If this company, with all it's vast resources and presumably extremely tight security can suffer a data breach, what does that say about all those smaller companies offering cloud based accounting/payroll services?
I think part of the problem is that on-line services are marketed as 'The Cloud'. It's friendly sounding, trendy, and much hyped. The reality is 'The Cloud' can mean all sorts of things. Basically anything stored on someone's server connected to the internet. That server may be in the UK, USA, China, Russia..... You don't know. Because it's in 'The Cloud'. Your valuable data you have securely stored in 'The Cloud' could be anywhere, accessible by who knows who? In the case of this Sage data breach, I don't know where the server is, but Sage have said some one used an 'internal login'. I guess that's a special login that allows someone access to everyone else's private data? Why does such a login even exist? None of this sounds very safe or secure to me.
The people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. Is this a triumph of democracy, or a catastrophic error of judgement? Does this mean the European Union has failed? For small businesses, the problems have started already.
As well as Adminsoft Ltd. I run two other businesses. One of them buys much of it's product from suppliers based on the European mainland: mainly Poland, Czech Republic and France. We operate the usual 30 day credit accounts, and order and pay in Sterling (Great Britain Pounds). When we tried to place an order on 24th June, the day after the Brexit vote, the supplier would not take our order. Sterling was no good to them now. We either had to work in Euro, or if we insisted on using Sterling we'd have to pay upfront. The order is to supply an order from a regular customer of ours. Are we supposed to go back to our customer and tell them it's cash upfront from now on? I wonder what problems the following weeks will bring? I worry this may be the tip of a rather large recession shaped iceberg.
When it was first announced there would be a referendum on the UKs membership of the EU, I sat on the fence for a long time. Eventually I opted to vote 'Remain'. My reasoning went like this: if we vote to leave, they'll be maybe four or five years of turmoil and uncertainty while the UK government sorts out a deal with the EU, and ploughs through over 40 years of legislation originated from the EU. During that time, big business will not invest in the UK, some will scale back their operations, some will move out. In this uncertain atmosphere many people will put off buying decisions. Due to the fall in value of the Pound, inflation might take off. Which all means there's a good chance the UK will fall into recession, maybe a bad one. It could take ten years for things to settle down. It looked like the cost in the short to medium term would be high. So is it worth it in the long term? In say 20 years time, will we be better off? I couldn't answer that question. No one can. So I decided leaving the EU simply wasn't worth the risk. The chance that maybe, just maybe, we'd be a bit better off in 20 years time wasn't worth the huge cost that I knew we'd suffer in the short to medium term.
Also, at the back of my mind is the nagging feeling that in today's wired world, where we can communicate with someone the other side of the planet as easily as we can communicate with someone just down the road, where big businesses are global, where even the tiniest businesses (like Adminsoft) can trade across the planet, shouldn't the UK be integrating with it's neighbours? Rather than pulling up the drawbridge? Surely it's much more forward looking to get closer to our nearest trading partners, rather than distancing ourselves? Europe has a lot of challenges and threats, surely we need to stand together?
'Great' Britain hasn't been 'Great' for over a hundred years. We lost our empire a long time ago. Now we're faced with losing the United Kingdom, as Scotland who are very keen to stay in the EU now want another referendum on independence. Some politicians in Northern Ireland want one too. They don't want border controls putting up between themselves and the Irish Republic again. And who can blame them? We should be demolishing borders, not creating them. Soon, the United Kingdom might just be England and Wales. As if all this isn't bad enough, the Brexit vote has encouraged many politicians in other EU countries to seek their own EU referendums. Several governments are under a lot of pressure. It seems Brexit may not just be responsible for the break up of the United Kingdom, but could also be the seed that causes the break up of the EU itself.
Of course, it could also be the kick in the posterior that many EU politicians need in order to make some real
reforms in the EU. If they did, maybe the UK would consider a second referendum? If all the political turmoil caused by Brexit brought about an early election in the UK, any party promising a new referendum on EU membership would probably win hands down. Likelihood of this happening, dunno, could be as high as 50%?
Supporters of leaving the EU will say that we can now setup our own trade deals with other countries that somehow will be more beneficial than those setup by the EU. But precisely how is a country of 65 million people going to get a better deal than a trading bloc of 500 million people? No, I don't know the answer to that either.
Many people who voted to leave did so because they felt the sovereignty of the United Kingdom was under threat. But is sovereignty relevant anymore? I'm over 50 years old and I feel more European than British. Younger people even more so. In fact 75% of those in the 18 to 24 age range voted to remain in the EU. It's clear where they felt they belong, and where they saw their future. It's the older generation that has voted the UK out. Young people travel so much more now than they used to. They're highly mobile. They embrace other cultures and different ideas. A great many of them travel and work around Europe. Have we let them down?
Mass immigration was the top of the agenda for many people. And sure, we've taken in a lot of people very quickly, to the point where things like housing and health care are under strain. But the United Kingdom has an aging population. We're not having enough babies! So we NEED young people coming into this country to work and live. Otherwise, years from now the UK will have an old population with too few young people to support it.
The big question is: are we making things better for our children? As a result of Brexit will they have more opportunities than we did? There's a chance things will be better, but I think it's a slim chance. My fear is that on June 23rd we slammed the door shut on their futures. In ten to twenty years time, the United Kingdom (OK, maybe England and Wales) having suffered years of problems and recession may well be a poorer place, heavily in debt, and with an aging population. No longer the world's fifth largest economy, we'll be the country that young people can't wait to leave in order to secure themselves a better future.
Just remember, we did this to ourselves.
I suspect, many of the people who voted to leave the EU are regretting it already. We were told that a big chunk of the money that we pay to the EU would go to the National Health Service instead. Now we're told by the Leave campaigners that's actually not likely to happen. The immigration that many people are worried about will continue, because it will be a prerequisite to access the EU single market. I think what many people are now realising, is that when we leave we'll still be subject to all the rules coming out of the EU, but will have no say in them. Where ever the EU leads, we will have to follow. By leaving the EU we will not be increasing our power or authority on the world stage, we'll be reducing it.
Well, those are my thoughts on the matter. I really hope I'm wrong. I hope I can one day say "I know, I'm an idiot, I should have voted 'Leave' too..." I hope our government can do a great deal with the EU that satisfies the majority of the population (which means unfettered access to the single market, controlling immigration, no payments into the EU, and not being subject to all the legislation coming out the EU) and they can do it quickly. I also hope that at the same time they make some great trade deals with our trading partners outside of the EU, that are more beneficial than the ones we already have as part of the EU, and that the UK will propser. But I'm afraid it all sounds rather fanciful.
I'll end on some good news though. For those of you outside of the United Kingdom, purchasing a Software Registration Key for Adminsoft Accounts in Sterling just got a lot cheaper!!!
Our government wants to be able to spy on the internet activity of every one of us. Doesn't matter who you are, or whether your behavior is completely beyond reproach. You're a suspect until proven otherwise, and you'll have to keep proving it.
In the United Kingdom they want to pass a law (part of the Investigatory Powers Bill) that will force all internet service providers to keep a log of every web site every person in the United Kingdom visits. They tell us it's for security. It's to keep track of terrorists. To find out what they're up to. Except any terrorist who wishes to communicate with other terrorists, or wants to look at a web site that would be incriminating, is going to use some anonymous method of browsing, perhaps an off shore proxy server. So their activity is completely untraceable. So where's the security?
They tells us there'll be very strict procedures in place to ensure only those who are authorized to look at this data have access to it. But the government has a really bad track record when it comes to data security (OK, and most other stuff too.....). It's not unheard of for them to sell old PC's or servers with confidential data on their hard drives, or to leave laptops, CD's, or USB memory sticks or trains or planes, or simply to allow someone access to data who should never be allowed access.
What if the web logs of some leading politician or celebrity are obtained by someone intent on blackmail? Is the government going to pay the ransom? Hardly. What if that person publishes the data? It could ruin someone's career, maybe their life. The old argument is, if you've done nothing wrong then you've nothing to hide. But when was the last time you used the internet to check out a health issue, or a tax issue, or a legal issue, or maybe to purchase something a little titillating for your partner? Would you want this browsing activity to be available to everyone? It's not about doing something wrong, it's about privacy.
This law will do little or nothing in the fight against terrorism. Possibly quite the opposite, it'll be a distraction. Taking away resources that should be put to better use. The real victims will be those innocent people killed because nothing untoward showed up on the terrorists internet access log. Then the government will insist the problem was they didn't have sufficient power, and they need to ban offshore proxy servers? Maybe all proxy servers? And maybe other sites or servers using a different technology to offer anonymity? If they can ban those sites, do they ban sites whose political views are maybe a little extreme? Do they end up banning all sites whose political views are not aligned with the government of the day?
The internet is slowly creeping into every part of our lives. We use it for entertainment, communication, as a source of news and information, to locate places we wish to visit, to arrange those visits through booking hotels, air and/or train travel. We're starting to use it to remotely control our central heating systems, to monitor our home/office security, even to locate our children and pets. I've only touched the surface, the list is getting longer. How much of this activity do we want the government to monitor? Technically, there's nothing to stop them from monitoring all of it. In the future, perhaps the near future, some misguided government at the behest of the security services may just find it irresistible. Perhaps the government of today is just laying the ground work?
We all thought 1984 had come and gone. But actually, it's still coming. Little bit by little bit.
If you would like to comment on any of the issues covered in Mike's blogs, or would like to suggest some improvements to the software, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org