Brexit: Trade is free, people are not

flags-8220_640As a Brit living in the Netherlands, I enjoy the freedom the EU provides people. This week I was in Denmark – no border controls but a different currency and even that felt like an inconvenience compared to trips to Spain, Belgium, France and Germany.

The UK vote to leave the EU is a depressing turn of events.  Of course there are many issues but then no one would claim that there are no issues with Westminster either.  For Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, having UK governments you did not vote for is quite common.

It has been too easy to pin Britain’s woes on the EU.  Immigrants, bureaucracy, and an endless list of myths like Brussels banning the “Great British” bananas and sausages or whatever other nonsense some xenophobic rag cares to invent. Ironically the Brits have typically been the most zealous at implementing every rule to emanate from the EU.  Most other countries quietly ignore or indefinitely postpone anything that doesn’t suit (e.g. Dutch continue to provide tax breaks on mortgages).  Even more ironic it was the UK that pushed for EU expansion into Eastern Europe … and then acts surprised when these new EU citizens decide to move around a bit: who would have thought?

Immigration played a major role in returning today’s outcome.  People forget that immigration works in both directions.  When I came to the Netherlands I initially had a job contract for 6 months.  The immigration office gave me a “visa” for 6 months, but this was all bluster.  I could have quit the next day and hung around as long as I liked.

What will the UK be like for average people a few years from now?  Successive UK governments have shown little regard for human rights or for the well-being of workers.  The government has already floated the idea of exiting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which would bring the country on to the same footing at Belarus; the only country between the Atlantic and the Bering Sea that is not a signatory.  This will give free reign to all manner of Neo-liberal lunacy: zero hours contacts, no minimum wage, no welfare, no privacy, minimal rights.

The UK we are told would look to become a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), you know like super-rich mini-nations such as Norway and Switzerland.  It is convenient to ignore that they must still implement a rather higher percentage of EU rules but have little say in the decision making process.  A great position to be in for a large country like the UK, though maintaining a scapegoat is likely to remain attractive for British politicians.

The UK being a member of the EEA but not the EU represents a continuation of the flaw in globalization: trade is free, but people are not.  Democracy and Capitalism is the best system we have created for people to exist under, but it has rarely ever been truly implemented.  Permitting free flow of goods but not permitting the free flow of people (especially less educated, lower skilled people) is the major glaring fault and a scenario that will perpetuate inequality.  How many people slaving in sweatshops in Asia would leave if the door was open to them?  Would this not serve to drive up salaries and improve conditions in these countries?  And of course force the Western Empire to become more efficient while making more locally?

It’s unfortunate that the UK feels it needs to pull up the draw-bridge.  Have they kept the world out or just locked themselves in?  The rich and highly skilled will continue to enjoy crossing borders along with the goods and services they control; the rest of the population will learn that while trade is free, they are not.

Corbyn is a threat … to the Establishment

One year after all the hyperbole over the threat the Scottish National Party and an independent Scotland would pose to world peace, economic stability, oil reserves, the Queen and about every other ridiculous thing all mainstream parties could invent, we find an alarmingly familiar situation in the appointment of one Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the British Labour Party.  From the majority of his own MPs to the leaders of all the other British and Western mainstream parties to the hacks churning out the fear, it’s the usual story: any politician arguing that austerity may not be a good thing or considering raising taxes on the rich or questioning the spending of billions on nuclear weapons must be crazy and not living the real world.  You know the real world, that place where we still follow the advice of the same financiers that plundered and nearly brought the world’s economic system to a halt.  That place where we make the poor and the handicapped pay for the crimes of the rich.  That place where we make the least wealthy countries hand over their assets and their autonomy in a manner that would make the colonialists of the 18th century blush.

Corbyn - a threat to Neocon Establishment Troughers Everywhere

Corbyn – a threat to Neocon Establishment Troughers Everywhere

I mean Jeremy Corbyn wears home knitted jumpers, had the lowest expenses of any MP and is a vegetarian!  How could he ever be leader of a (fading) power such as the UK?  This seemed to be a bit of a problem for the Wall Street Journal in their piece yesterday and they were not the only one.  No, the problem is that he does not go along with the increasingly monotone, all singing from the same hymn sheet world of western politics.  Now don’t get me wrong and immediately assume I am saying he’s got all the answers or that I agree with everything he says.  Nope, my point is that whenever you’ve got a group, company, organization, country where everyone thinks alike then you’ve actually got trouble in long run.  If you look back at UK politics over the last ten years you’ll rarely see a difference in the policies of the main three national parties (SNP is Scotland only).  They all want more wars, they all want to appear the toughest on immigration, they all want austerity, they all want to continue following the Neoconservative, Neoliberal agenda.

The SNP took 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland in May.  This is a party that questioned the status quo and pushed for greater equality, better care for the weakest, the scrapping of Trident, the growth of renewable energy.  After their leader appeared on UK television before the 2015 General Election one of the most googled search terms by people in England was “How can I vote for the SNP?” They asked this because they wanted an alternative.  If Corbyn can survive the Ides of March then perhaps he can be this alternative.  Being confronted by an alternative agenda is never a bad thing; it forces you to re-evaluate your beliefs and question your decisions. It tempers the excesses.

Scottish Independence: Putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others?

At the end of May I returned from a week in Scotland on the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry. By coincidence it was exactly 15 years to the day after I took the same ferry to begin a new life in the Netherlands. Post-independence referendum and post-UK General Election (in which the Scottish National Party gained 56 of the 59 Scottish seats) there is a definite change in the country I grew up in and last visited in 2012. A little prouder (in a good way) and more self-certain perhaps. The issues of whether Europe needs yet another country, whether it’s all about nationalism and hating the English, and whether the Scots would be a few pounds better or worse off was all rendered surprisingly clear.

saltireThe backgrounds of the people I met that supported independence were diverse. “Immigrants” (from EU and other parts of Britain), taxi drivers, company directors, paramedics, blacksmiths, lecturers, designers, engineers, shop assistants, but they all had one thing in common: the belief that the Westminster based politics is corrupt, unfair and unsustainable. And it will need a massive shock such as Scotland leaving to instigate change. The lack of investment in home-grown business and infrastructure, and the indefinite austerity that is hitting the weakest and most vulnerable cannot persist without grave repercussions for the fabric of British society. The people of Scotland for the most part appear to be highly politically attuned. They are hugely sceptical of the trickle down economic model and have no doubts that there is a massive shift of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest percentile.

As an engineer I have strong views on access to high quality education. In England many young people are already in debt to the tune of £40K by the time they have a three year Bachelors and are 21 years old. Meanwhile their Scottish based counterparts have paid no fees whatsoever (by the way things like medical prescriptions and bridge tolls are also free in Scotland). Such personal debt greatly controls subsequent opportunities and decision making, restricting the paths that are open to us (e.g. how readily would you quit a job if the employer locked you in by funding your studies?). Furthermore I believe investment in important research areas such as renewable energy is lacking in the UK. The threat of the UK exiting the EU should also be a cause for concern: loss of EU funding and collaboration, restrictions on the free movement of knowledge workers, impact on international trade, a likely exodus of multinationals, and possible repercussions for European stability and peace.

Last year a professor from England working at St. Andrews University succinctly said on Radio 4: “I would have liked to have saved the whole UK but I will settle for saving a little part of it.”

I actually believe that an independent Scotland would quickly bring about a change in the rest of the UK. One would hope regional assemblies would better address the needs of areas outside the Southeast and that following Scotland’s example a more progressive and liberal politics can take a foothold.  To expect this to happen without Scotland’s exit is naïve.

Spanish Hologram Protest Raises an Unexpected Question on the State of Technology

hologram

Impressive, but why can I not find any details on how it was done…?

Well I guess the protesters have done a good job in getting as much publicity as possible for their holographic protest march.  Since it is now illegal to protest outside public buildings in Spain (without permission), people organized a protest consisting of holograms of supporters.  Like many supposedly democratic countries, the rights of the citizens are apparently again being reduced, so you could say this is a worth cause.

Looking at the images it all looks like a load of Star Wars R2D2 Princess Leia projections marching along the street.  Impressive stuff.  However I am left with a feeling that is tending to diminish the importance of the actions: why can I not find a single news or blog report that actually details how the holograms are projected?  What equipment was necessary?  If you were there did it look like on camera, or was CGI used?

Sure you can visit the website of the organizers and quickly add your own face and sound-bite, so that you too will appear.  But how did they do it?  Why do so few people apparently care?  Once I’d briefly thought about the state of democracy in contemporary western countries I immediately was asking how they did it?  Maybe it’s so bloody obvious these days and I’m just too old and not “with it” enough.  If I was would I then know that if I’d spent a higher amount of my mobile phone or had an Xbox One that a holographic projector is built-in to these gadgets?

Or more worrying, do most people just have the mind set of “Using technology we can do anything, and I don’t care how”?

1000 Year Idiocracy

Some light reading

Some light reading

Our house can be a frightening place.  Having a young kid and a being married to a physicist means that within the same minute I can be tripping over a copy of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and then placing my backside on a rather thick tome about Quantum Mechanics.  Sometimes I dare to open the latter and usually quickly regret the decision, wishing I’d stuck with Thomas and his mates. I may be an engineer and have my degree and my IET membership but nothing prepares mere mortals for such assaults on the mind as full on quantum mechanics. During periods where my better half is teaching, pieces of paper litter the house covered in hundreds of equations that look like they’ve fallen out of a low budget sci-fi movie where the director needs to demonstrate that the mad scientist character is a genius and is working on something very hard. And forget ever trying to use that phrase “It’s not rocket science” in our home, because as I am sharply informed, “Rocket science is easy”.

Today I began looking through the book Optics by Eugene Hecht.  The introduction gave me false hope of actually getting somewhere since it was a brief history of optics covering the ancient Greeks and Romans. And then there was something interesting.  Essentially in Europe for a period of approximately 1000 years from around AD475 science stood still.  This fact made me pause.  I skipped a few pages to chapter one and quickly changed my mind as the first equations slammed into view.  What does it mean that scientific progress essentially stopped for 1000 years?  Could that happen again?

couv_idiocracyIf you’ve not seen it then I highly recommend tracking down the film Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge.  Mike Judge is more famous for Beavis and Butthead but this film is far more deserving of attention (his other film Office Space is also excellent). In Idiocracy he takes the concept that intelligent people are having less kids compared to say less intelligent people.  He even touches on why.  The result is that in 500 years time the world is populated by complete morons.  Technology still exists but no one knows how it actually works. A totally average man who was frozen in 2006 wakes up in the future to discover he is the most intelligent man on earth. Much hilarity follows.

When I visit companies today a common point of discussion is the difficulty in finding skilled and motivated personnel. What is happening here?  Northern Europe is hiring the brightest minds from the cash strapped southern regions because they cannot find enough of the right people at home.  If that is the case what do people in the affluent lands actually want to do for a living?  My wife gets complaints from students that her lectures feature “too many equations”.  Since student complaints are taken very seriously by the powers that be, a retort that “this is quantum bloody mechanics not Thomas the Tank Engine” will not suffice.  But before deriding today’s students we should also compare previous generations with their forebears – did they also make a slide backwards? What does it mean that more respect and reward is now available for the pseudo-geeks who write a chat app or an obese vexed avian app than the scientists who design the lithography systems that create the chips?  Why study physics for hard won, meagre returns, most likely in an increasingly brutal academic position when you can learn Java in a weekend and ride a bubble to riches?

Anyway I will let you draw your own conclusions from the above comments.  I should not need to do any conclusion drawing for you.  It’s not quantum mechanics.  It’s not even rocket science.

That’s Embedded World over for another year

Erik at Embedded World 2015, manning the mighty 4DSP stand

Erik at Embedded World 2015, manning the mighty 4DSP stand

First time at Embedded World for 4DSP as an exhibitor.  We were co-exhibitor on the DSPValley stand.  Very few new leads but that was not expected.  It was more important to meet existing customers and people we are already in discussion with.  To that end it was a great success and we really enjoyed meeting so many people and discussing both technical and business aspects.  It is always good to put a face to the names and while I try to visit customers when I can it is not always feasible or viable or even desirable.  If someone is just researching the market, or are clear on what they want, then they do not always want a business development / salesperson, no matter how nice and well informed (!) to drop past.  Over the next month I will follow up with everyone and see how we can best proceed.

I must say that the chaps from DSPValley did a great job and took on pretty much all the headache of organizing a stand at such an event.  Apart from sending some text and images, we basically just needed to turn up.  That was invaluable given the limited time we had during the last months.  Hats off to Bjorn and his colleagues.

Embedded World 2015 with 4DSP

info_header_kurz-en-2015

Time to resurrect this blog and use it for what it was intended – an ad hoc, unstructured means of sharing information.  Information on what?  Well I figure most people reading this will be engineers and other technical folks, so probably many on and off topic subjects that I find interesting may be interesting for you, too.  Previous posts ranged from GPU programming to FPGAs to politics to ethics and I don’t see this changing.  The latter may be an unusual slant, but I believe strongly it is a subject that engineers and scientists should delve into, even if unwillingly.  What are the repercussions of surveillance, of Silicon Valley solutionism, for example?

4DSP Logo

Back to more practical matters on the short term.  24-26 February sees the annual Embedded World exhibition and conference in Nurnberg / Nuremberg, Germany.  I will be in attendance with 4DSP at booth 611 in hall 4.  Please feel free to make an appointment or just drop past and have a chat about the latest 4DSP Xilinx Ultrascale FPGA boards and high speed digitizers and waveform generators.  Or about the role of technology in current world events.  It’s all interesting.