Sonos to Earthlings: All Your Base Belong to Us. We’re with Trump on the environment, BTW

I’m going to have a grumpy old man rant here, but consumerism is getting evil. Any Sonos buyer renter should be made to play Life For Rent as the first confirmation their expensive new kit works, and to remind them they have a lease on it for about five years. Because despite what you may think, you don’t buy Sonos gear. You rent it for a one off purchase cost, and get an indeterminate term of usage. They get to switch your kit off at a time of their choosing.

if my life is for rent

Sonos is an egregious example of what’s been going wrong with consumerism for a while. Disguising a rental model as a capital purchase. Se also : PCP car ‘purchase’. My Dad was right, back in the day. If you can’t pay cash for your car, look for a cheaper one, it’s a wasting asset. However, Sonos is a deliberately wasting asset.

Back in the day, you got to buy your toaster, you plug the beggar in and welcome to several decades of toast. Now if you decided to get the burnt toast out with a butterknife after a particularly excessive night on the sauce like yours truly did as a student, then all bets are off.  1 Muppetry aside, you could anticipate decades of service.

Heck, you used to be able to change the element in a kettle. Audio gear tends to last a long time, once you are out of your twenties, where either you spend enough money to be able to turn the wick up without overloading the amp thereby trashing the tweeters, or your straitened living circumstances mean you turn it down. Small children and pets are a hazard to speakers, but then they are a hazard to lots of things.

The Ermine hifi has a Naim 250 that wasn’t new when I bought it, back in the early 1990s. My speakers date from then. I owned am AR SP8 preamplifier for over 30 years which was also secondhand when I bought it in 1984, but I sold it a couple of years ago because I moved to streaming my CDs from a NAS box, changing it for Naim streaming gizmo/tuner/analogue preamp.

I can see where Sonus scores – the Naim app has a foul user interface. But at least the back end uses open standards, and I have used an alternative Upnp browser. Mrs Ermine grouses about the control interface each time she tries to use it, But since she is prepared to stream crap from YouTube via bluetooth into the system which is does well, then she is happy because she can understand Youtube and it’s free. As long as I don’t have to listen to it its fine. I can’t stand listening to music in her mode, which is to play three quarters of a track and then jump to something else. But each to their own. I am sure this would be easier with Sonos.

Sonos is the antithesis of that sort of system. It is the Apple of the audio world – you plug it in and it Just Works. You pay for that with a locked in walled garden sort of system with the service life of a mayfly, not because it’s unreliable, but because of software designed to be obsolescent as they please. So you also pay for it with highly unethical business practices, which they borrowed from Apple, which is designed in planned obsolescence. Just that Sonos took it it a new level.

Two of the components of my 1980s/1990s system were secondhand. One served me for 34 years before I sold it and it’s presumably serving someone else. The other secondhand component is still in service. I had it refurbished once and repaired2 by Naim once, but for a piece of gear which has been serving me for getting on for thirty years it ain’t bad. It also had the decency not to take out my speakers when it failed, which is good in a power amplifier.

Sonos – and nothing I have is truly mine…

The Ermine doesn’t do Cloud. I loathe Cloud with a vengeance, because I have been suckered by it too many times. If it needs Cloud inherently, like a web server, that’s fine.

Sonos are taking this to a new level, however, and that’s because they have remote control of your gear in your home. I hate Cloud and Software as a Service3 and shit like that because if it needs Cloud so they can milk you again and again. No. Foul ‘ole Ron was right4. Buggrit, buggrem, spying on me with Rays.

I don’t have a mobile subscription. I don’t use Netflix, or Spotify, or any of that sort of thing. My CDs are ripped to the NAS and if I unplug the ADSL feed I can still play music. I don’t want service providers in my life unless there’s a good reason. Yes to electricity and gas and broadband. No to Alexa, Ring networked doorbells, Hive central heating controllers. And evil bastards like Sonus who use Cloud to brick your older equipment by remote control. Presumably you need a connection to them, else you could blackhole whatever Sonus gear phones home to. If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow as that fellow in the Nixon admin said. And you pay for that?

Sonos is hardware as a service. They want you to upgrade all the time. You aren’t going to be using your Sonos gear in 30 years. You’ll be lucky if you are using it in five. The piss-taking bastards say if you have an old component in your system then you can’t even upgrade newer ones. That’s just nasty. Oh sure, you can get a 30% discount if you set your old component to recycle mode, which bricks it.

Nobody recycles electronics. We send it to some Godforsaken part of the world for people to strip out the precious metals at massive cost to their health. At least if you ebay the sucker, then someone else gets to use it. My 30 year old preamplifier is still in service somewhere. WTF is wrong with Sonos? Nearly all of the challenges in audio engineering have been solved. You will need to change the head unit which gets your compressed cloud music as things change. The network bit and the distributed speakers and associated clobber presumably all run uncompressed audio. That’s not going to change for the next 30 years. Some of this Sonos crap you build into your house, for God’s sake. Do you really want to remodel your house because Sonos says so?

Sonos. Just say No

Because all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to stand aside. For that sake of your grandchildren. To stand against the needless waste. And to cut greedy bastards and shady business practices off at the knees.

I’d generalise this wider. I don’t tolerate Apple anything. Not because it doesn’t work, or doesn’t look lovely. Again, a controlled walled garden ecosystem makes for a far better user interface. It’s just that you get to pay a thousand pounds for your bloody phone or computer every five years, because the cheeky buggers orphan old equipment, just because they can. That’s when they aren’t slowing them down ‘to be easier on the elderly battery’. Here’s a radical idea, Apple – hows about making the damn battery replaceable, you know, like it’s been done for all the decades since battery-power shit was invented, until you decided to fetishise ‘thinness’ as an excuse to glue you consumer gizmos shut so not bastard can fix them. Evil bastards. And then you weep crocodile tears about how you really care about the environment and talk rubbish like this

downloaded from https://www.apple.com/uk/environment/ 23 Jan 2020, doesn’t square with my experience, in particular about updating older devices.

So WTF have you orphaned my damn Ipod Touch and glued the battery inside? Last as long as humanly possible, FFS…

And as for Sonos, the service life of audio gear should be measured in decades, not years. And nothing on earth at all should be intentionally made obsolete by remote control, you evil bunch of punks.


  1. The hot tip here is to unplug the thing first. I had assumed the switch was in the live side but it was on the neutral side despite this being a Class 1 device. Still, at least I got that slice of toast out, after the flash as the element vaporised. And we had a gas grill that you lit with a match. so we were still good for toast. And fish fingers. What on earth could go wrong, eh? 
  2. Turns out I could have fixed this myself. Symptom was it blew 10A mains fuses. I popped the lid and didn’t spot any charred components or magic smoke escaping, so I assumed the power transformer had a shorted turn, and these are a custom component I couldn’t buy. Turns out one of the discrete bridge rectifier diodes had failed short. My hasty assumption cost me a couple hundred quid, which served me right for jumping to conclusions ;) 
  3. Adobe Creative Cloud, we’re looking at you. Evil courses through Adobe’s corporate veins 
  4. Terry Pratchett, Discworld ISTR 

passive investors, are you destroying your children’s world?

Most of the brouhaha about the rise of passive investing comes from the intuitive feeling that passive investors are only along for the ride, they don’t know or care ‘owt for what the companies they hold passively are up to.  Insofar as they are not engaged shareholders, they don’t guide the companies they own collectively, and the burden of shareholder feedback falls upon a smaller band of active investors.

Most of the argument about this in the FI sphere is a concern on corporate governance and returns, and there are various forms of rebuttal. The dumb passive billions are like the carriages on a train following the remaining active engines, but they switch to a different locomotive depending on the outcome, the fickle bastards. So it comes out alright in the end, is the received wisdom – the passive crew are amplifiers to the results of the active guys, rather than sponsors of their yachts. So the dumb money is safe1, because it follows the smart money.

The Anglo-Saxon business model eats the future, quoth the British Academy

who make the case in an extensive report that the narrow definition of the aims of the corporation in the English-speaking Western world makes companies focus on making money to the exclusion of all else. They are required by law to make as much money as you can for your shareholders. There is an implied “by legal means”, but globalisation means that there is a race to the bottom because what’s legal there isn’t necessarily what’s legal here. That this has been damaging to Western working populations can be seen by the changes in the workplace, particularly since the global financial crash – disaffected Western aspirations voted for Trump, and Brexit.

One of the problems of globalisation is that it has massively reduced the leverage of government regulation. The UK government could regulate to reduce practices that harm the environment, but the activity so discouraged will then migrate to a jurisdiction that doesn’t have such scruples.

On the other side, as buyers we qualify our investments by the desired rate of return. This is marginal enough as it is – the common assumption is a 4-5% real return on investment integrated over decades. The corollary of that is that you need a capital of 20-25 times your desired annual income. Shift that down to 2 to 3% and that starts to become 50 times your desired income; doing that in a 30 year working life starts to look really tough.

A quick spin through the top components of a whole world index fund

Do big firms eat the future? A glance at the undesirable practices of the biggest components of a well-regarded recommendation of world index fund VWRL isn’t happy reading for those with a social conscience:

Apple Inc: Failure to adhere to Chinese labour laws. I’d charge ’em with price-fixing, planned obsolescence, anticompetitive practices, non-replaceable batteries2 and refusal to engage with third-party or DIY repairs. Pictures of workers and pollution here

MSFT: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt. Yesterday’s men, they tried to rule the world and failed, though they were done for antitrust offences ISTR. Bill’s still rich as Croesus

AMZN: So bad Wikipedia has a page dedicated to AMZN criticism. Closer to home they treat people like shit in distribution centres. I think their riposte boils down to ‘treating people like shit is part of our business’ and while it’s true that I left work because I was treated like shit at a critical juncture, it’s notable that for the vast majority of my working life treating people like shit wasn’t a widespread part of my work experience or that of people I know.

FB: Suborning the political process, getting rich on fake news, making sociopaths of us all, aiding and abetting Dominic Cummings, refusing to stop meddling in elections by showing different things to different people. Selling personal data to the highest bidder, lying about it until caught. The problem was manifest from the get-go as the youthful Zuck described his punters as dumb f**s. Evil courses through the company’s veins. If I were God for a day social media is a class of product/service I’d uninvent and rewire human brains so it could never be dreamed up again. Yes, it’s nice that Grandma in York can keep in touch with the grandkids Down Under but the collateral damage in terms of human misery is appalling IMO

JPM: I couldn’t come up with any dirt but they paid a $13bn fine for something to do with the GFC. Presumably they have enough money to pay decent lawyers to get them off the hook, so it must’ve been bad.

Two lots of Alphabet, Google’s holding/parent company: How’s that ‘Don’t be evil’ thing going down with y’all? Oh and this

on Youtube, owned by Google. It’s either irony, hubris or advertising, and I am not clever enough to determine which. Orwell called it forty or fifty years too early with “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.” Usual charges against Big Data, suborning the common weal, all that stuff. I’m kinda tickled that the Google search of what’s wrong with Google assumes you have technical problems, rather than searching for the central heart of darkness. Chapeau for the subtle control of framing, guys. What’s wrong with Google? Nothing to see here, move along now.

JNJ: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt.

VISA: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt.

NESTLE: Baby Milk Action. ’nuff said, although the £25 Kit-Kat should get an honourable mention just for taking the piss, I can’t make the case that it’s evil.

It may help me retire early, but I’m not sure I can actually feel good about owning VWRL. Perhaps I can tell myself that’s only 12% of the market cap (and mainly American) and that the levels of evil were dropping as I went down the list to the smaller fry, but to be honest I’m not sure I want to know what the rest of them get up to after this exercise!

On the other hand if you try and stick to being ethical you get slaughtered in the markets. Sin pays. You can read countervailing arguments, but it’s people talking their book. It is interesting to observe that ethical investment screening locks you out of nearly two-thirds of the UK’s largest firms. This suggests ethical passive investing just isn’t possible in the UK market. Passive investing only works if it is representative of the market by capitalisation, and a third just isn’t representative. Turn the telescope round and the British Academy chaps have some point – two thirds of the top British firms are harming the public good somewhere.

Maybe nobody will be able to retire in future if this is cleaned up, the rate of return will be so dreadful you just aren’t going to live long enough to save enough to get out of the rat race. Historically, capital accumulated very slowly across a human life, to the extent that dynastic and ancestral capital ruled society. You still see the background radiation of this in that 25000 landowners own half the UK. and the largest share of a third is the aristocracy, where the land has remained in the same families since William the Conk declared himself owner of all of it after 1066 3.

The problem is that money is power, and power corrupts. Most of these firms get an edge through scale. With the exception of FB, they all provide a useful or valued service, they just happen to cut corners in parts of their operation, and globalisation weakens limits on their ability to cut those corners in dark places. We’ve seen some of this movie before – the robber barons of the Gilded Age, and a lot of the pollution and abusive work practices echo what happened4 in the industrialising West in the last century or two. Tim Worstall would probably say that sort of exploitation is a price worth paying. It worked in the West and it’ll work for the global poor.

Globalisation was good for humanity in general, but not for most people in the West

In the article the crisis of capitalism Milanovic argues that

The western malaise is the product of uneven distribution of the gains from globalisation. When globalisation began in the 1980s, it was politically “sold” in the west – especially as it came together with “the end of history” – on the premise that it would disproportionately benefit richer countries. The outcome was the opposite. Asia in particular was a beneficiary, especially the most populous countries: China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. In Europe, as in the US, it benefitted the 1%. It is the gap between the expectations entertained by the middle classes and the low growth in their incomes that has fuelled dissatisfaction with globalisation and, by association, with capitalism.

Harvard isn’t noted for being a hotbed of Marxist anti-globalisation thinking, but their Dani Rodrik made a similar case in 1997 in his book Has Globalisation Gone Too Far5, observing that lower-skilled wages have fallen in real terms in the US and then Europe since the 1970s. This fall predated my entry into the workplace. I did not observe this at first, because my experience of the workplace was different from my father’s6. He was a maintenance fitter, I worked in industrial research. The suckout took thirty years to reach me, but reach me it did – I retired eight years earlier than normal retirement age for The Firm to escape this deterioration in the workplace.

It’s quite chastening to see that the pathologies dragging us down now were foretold in 1997, exactly as I reached the halfway mark of my shortened working life. Of course, the problem with working out which portents of doom to heed is that  there are so many of them, most of the things that could go wrong don’t go wrong. The bear case always sounds smarter. It’s still eerie to see that over twenty years ago a forecast of the troubles we  face now was written:

Globalization is exposing social fissures between those with the education, skills, and mobility to flourish in an unfettered world market―the apparent “winners”―and those without. These apparent “losers” are increasingly anxious about their standards of living and their precarious place in an integrated world economy. The result is severe tension between the market and broad sectors of society, with governments caught in the middle. Compounding the very real problems that need to be addressed by all involved, the knee-jerk rhetoric of both sides threatens to crowd out rational debate.

The standard answer to that from Calvinist work-is-good-for-you believers is adapt to creative destruction, get on your bike, or die, suckas. Bollocks to that – life is about more than work, I don’t want to hustle for the rest of my days, because I loathe hustle and self-promotion. Had I been born ten years later, that escape route wouldn’t have been an option open to me.

There’s no good reason to put up with a deteriorating workplace if you can buy manumission from The Man. Arguably the stagnation in living standards since I left work meant I haven’t gotten relatively poorer as a result of rising wages in the time I have been out of the workforce. Observation shows that in the West, and in Britain in particular, work is getting more shit for most people. Rodrik was right.

There’s a case to be made that Brexit was partly a rejection of globalisation, the line that if I am going down, you lot are going down with me. Time will show if they get what they wished for. Let’s hope they like it, eh? They’re not going to get a do-over.

Globalisation is much more popular in Asia than in the West, according to Milanovic

But the dissatisfaction with globalised capitalism is not universal: a YouGov survey showed a very high degree of support for globalisation in Asia, with the lowest support in the US and France.

It stands to reason – it has been a win, particularly for the Asian middle class.

Who has gained from globalisation, 1998 to 2008. Tea-leafed from Milanovich’s report in the Harvard Business Review, “Why the Global 1% and the Asian Middle Class Have Gained the Most from Globalization”

Right-wing nut-jobs like the Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall makes a cogent case that globalisation has been a good thing for humanity in the round. He is probably right in that nobody has experienced an absolute terms retrenchment7, but if I had followed my Dad into a blue collar job and Tim showed up in a bar telling me “chin up old boy, your end of the boat had to go down for the greater good, but though you can’t buy a house your telly’s sharper and your phone isn’t screwed to the wall like your Dad’s” then he might end up with a robust and physical riposte, because I don’t particularly care about humanity if I am feeling shat on. He’s also got an answer to the tosspot8 David Attenborough yammering on about environmental issues and that there is no problem that exists in the world to which the right answer is ‘more human beings’, basically don’tcha worry your little head about that, capitalism will fix that too.

Even on a white-collar income, Dani Rodrik’s declining trajectory is shown in my life. I discharged my mortgage ten years later in life than my Dad did, on his single household income. The arrow of time still points in the same direction, the retrenchment in home ownership9 in more recent generations. Worstall would say so what, Millennials will live longer than previous generations, and they have far more choice in what to spend their incomes on. If he makes the case in some hipster east London bar through a mouthful of smashed avocado on toast, he may be met with some pushback in the form of “as long as those things we can afford don’t include buying a house or having children, yes”.

Is your passive FI/RE dream eating your children’s future?

The British Academy lays out the charge on page 27, Corporate Financing that the arm’s-length passive ownership is not only detrimental to the common weal, but it amplifies the actions of bad actors

Traditionally, corporate financing has been concerned with the interests of investors alone. Stock market listed companies in the UK and US are dominated by dispersed passive shareholders who do not provide the active engagement with companies that is associated with larger share blocks in other countries around the world.

In particular, universal shareholders who hold the global portfolio of shares through index funds have risen to the fore. To the extent that there are engaged investors, they take the form of short-term hedge fund activists who hold blocks of shares in companies for an average of between two to four years.

What is for the most part missing in the UK and US are long-term, engaged holders of blocks of shares who act as true owners of corporate purposes . Since one cannot have a relationship with the anonymous, the absence of identifiable holders of blocks of shares undermines the provision of long-term relationship forms of equity finance. The result is not only insufficient governance and stewardship by investors but also a deficiency of committed owners of corporate purposes.

I am not clever enough to see if they are right, but at least some of that seems to have a grain of truth to it. This bell has been tolling for some time – 8 years ago I watched the programme Finished at Fifty that showed a stark contrast between the lifestyles of a Chinese middle class aspirant in an economy with rising prospects and a fifty-year old Brit who had already been offed from one job, carried too much mortgage for his stage of life, lived high on the hog and wasn’t looking at the road ahead. Some of the anger I had in that post is because I saw myself in him, and I was half-way through extricating myself from that sort of folly. We hate seeing in others the dim reflection of our Shadow, and that was why watching this berk do what I had done two years before got on my tits so much…

The stench of decline in the West has grown worse since that programme, in the English-speaking world it’s names are Trump and Brexit, and they harken back to making America Great Again and its Mini-Me Brexit Putting the Great back into Great Britain Again over here.

Putting the Great back into Britain

It just ain’t gonna happen, guys. Sic transit gloria mundi. Well, it’s going to happen for the better off, but although I am over halfway up the UK wealth scale10  I am nowhere near safe from that firestorm, and I don’t even have the right to live elsewhere any more11 any more because of these nostalgic dreamers of Imperial glories past selling their jingoistic story.

Jacob Rees-Mogg will do all right out of it

Jakes will do all right out of it. Of course he’s not influencing Somerset Capital Management‘s investment decisions since he’s an MP. So that’s all tickety-boo and above board then. But the engine of globalisation is driven by our money as well as his. Perhaps I am closer to Tim Worstall than I like to think. It’s not a good feeling.


  1. I am sure one day there will be someone with enough cash to be able to flush this dumb money by pumping and dumping enough stocks along the index rebalancing cycle, but it hasn’t happened so far that we know of. 
  2. The battery works on a chemical process and has a finite number of cycles before it loses capacity. Once upon a time you could change the rechargeable battery in a mobile phone just like in any other electronic doo-hickey. Apple led the way by glueing the damn thing inside the case, so you get to throw the whole thing in the trash when the battery is knackered. 
  3. The Domesday Book of 1086 is the first and last comprehensive record of land ownership in England. Unlike any other self-respecting European country the cadastral records of the modern Land Registry don’t cover 14% of the country because the aristocracy don’t want you to know how rich they are. Land is their preferred method of preserving capital across the generations. Estates aren’t sold when inherited, so they can do this on the Q.T. 
  4. for instance the Dhaka garment factory fire of 2012 has echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster in NYC a hundred years earlier 
  5. Yeah, that’s an Amazon link. I am part of the problem, as I’m sure are most of you. Don’t like His Jeffness? Google it…oh never mind 
  6. My Dad retired just after his 65th birthday, having worked at that company for 23 years, but he started work at 14, so he worked for 50 years in total. 
  7. I find this hard to square with the increasing signs of overt poverty in the UK, the increased amount of visible homelessness, the food banks that Iain Duncan-Smith regarded as just the third sector picking up the slack rather than the direct result of his vile disdain for the lower orders not being able to ride out the five-week delay built into Universal Credit welfare reforms pour encourager les autres. But let’s not pick the fight with Sir Tim Worstall, eh? 
  8. If you’re about to pound the keyboard giving me what for about the dastardly disrepect shown to Sir David, may I respectfully suggest to you that your irony detector has failed in service. 
  9. You can make the case that home-ownership isn’t as well suited to modern insecure working patterns. The trouble is that the rental market is too skewed to favour landlords in Britain, with virtually no security of tenure what with the section 21 eviction at short notice without reason, though there are moves afoot to change this. That won’t take things anywhere near the sort of security of tenure German renters have, for instance. 
  10. the median UK household wealth is about £260k according to the ONS 
  11. I suppose I could buy Maltese citizenship but Brexit has shown just how frail supranational entitlements of residency really are. You gotta admire Maltese chutzpah, when the EU gave them a bollocking for selling citizenship they simply raised the price (to more than I can probably afford) and said that that was all right then. Malta’s got other serious problems – it is far too close to obvious geopolitical hazards, the government seems to have issues with journalists who find out too much. Before Brits point fingers at those Maltese fly-by-nights note that the UK government sells citizenship on a sliding scale of £2,000,000 to £10,000,000. Interested? Apply right here on gov.uk. The extra £8M readies buys you three years off the settlement delay, and you can fast-track the application for 500 nuts (on top of the £1600 fee).  We don’t give you all that US bollocks about moral turpitude. Acts of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen are absolutely fine with us. As long as you do your crime and skip the country where you perpetrated it within 12 months, or your criminality is more than 10 years ago we’ll whistle a dancing tune and welcome you and your money with open arms. What’s more, unlike those money-grabbing Maltese the money is still yours, all we ask is you lob it in a UK bank and convert it to sterling. Ta muchly. Obviously if you wanted to get EU citizenship you are SOL, but £2mill ought to get you a suitable gated pad with a concierge, so you don’t need to fear the revolting proletariat in the years to come. Toodle pip old boy and the best of British luck in sharing your ill-gotten gains with us investing sagely. 

Two Factor Security shouldn’t involve a mobile phone

If I were God for a day the piece of technology I’d uninvent in a heartbeat is the mobile phone, with a special mention for its bastard spawn the smartphone. It’s made rude shits of us all, because the phone trumps the person you’re talking to in meatspace right here right now. It enables zero hours contracts, things like Uber and pretty much anything that allows us to treat human beings more like pieces of machinery. It allows Facebook to track the proles all over the place and sell them shit they don’t need to impress people they don’t like…you  know the pack drill. Pretty much anything that’s good for Facebook1 is bad for the common weal.

I give a few people I want to talk to my phone number, and even fewer a mobile number, along with the exhortation do not make the assumption that you can get me on this. One colleague summed it up perfectly when I was at work – he only uses a mobile when he is mobile. Well, yeah. Duh.  Unlike the rest of the human race it seems, I go about my business without carrying a mobile phone with me. I don’t want to be disturbed at anybody’s whim if I am doing something else. I think the AI guys can beat humans by just taking a break for a few years, then the gormless numpties that are us will lose the fight, like Idiocracy on speed.

Asimov missed the target in The Feeling of Power.

The congressman took out his pocket computer, nudged the milled edges twice, looked at its face as it lay there in the palm of his hand, and put it back.

It’s not just maths, it’s orientating ourselves spatially using a map, knowing shit that you ought to know without the Big G, all sorts. But this fight has been lost, the bad guys won. In the fight between Them and Us, Them routed Us comprehensively.

Increasingly seems that banks want, nay demand to have a mobile number, and they just can’t believe I don’t have one. So the blighters continually demand one, and say I can’t use t’internet to buy shit without. Sure I possess one, but since it spends most of its time in one place it’s not the vade mecum that it is for everyone else. I gotta switch the damn thing on, because I’m sick of the FAANGs “following me around with Rays2” otherwise.

2FA – what you have and what you know

I understand the point of 2FA3. Way back in the mists of time, you could present your credit card, and the spotty yoof would take a print from the embossed card and get you to sign it, and then inspect the signature with the one on the back to see if it matched. That was the something you have – the card – and the something you know, which is how to scrawl your moniker in such a way as to match the one on the back. The obvious problem was presumably visual artists could match anyone’s signature, so we went away and invented Chip and PIN, and all was well with the world.

Then some more spotty youths invented t’internet. Bless their idealistic souls, they built it along the models of some prelapsarian Eden where Bad Guys didn’t exist. It’s one of the reasons why email is so broken and you get all those letters from people you know, even those that are dead, saying they’re stuck in some God-forsaken place without money could you just Western Union4 over some cash.

So we all got on our computers to buy our consumer shit that we see people with on Instagram, and they had to invent some other sort of out of band authorisation, involving injecting spurious data from third party sites5 and calling it 3d secure, ‘cos obviously knowing the number on the front and the one on the back is trivially easy for some punk that’s just nicked your card, as long as it’s not something he wants delivered.

That’s not up to snuff for actually using your bank online. Obviously they could ask you to put your PIN in the computer the way you do at an ATM, but all sorts of Bad Guys are in your computer along with the NSA, GCHQ and some random assortment of Russian whatevers. You’re probably OK form the latter sort of Bad Guys but it’s the ones who don’t have enough money that you have to worry about. Sometimes it’s a wonder you can get the lid back on your computer, there are so many bad guys in there. So the banks give you a gizmo you stick your card in that has no ports for a keylogger etc. Yet, anyway. The whole point is you don’t plug it into your computer where all the Bad Guys are hanging out.

I was pretty much OK with that as an option, and I would have been OK to use that on the Web instead of 3D (in)secure. But the banks now want to send out text messages to a mobile phone.

A mobile is highly thievable, insecure and spoofable

Hoodied n’er-do-well on a bike about to half-inch a phone in London, as shown by the Metropolitan Police

Now I don’t spend time thinking about mobile security but it’s pretty obvious that mobes are highly liftable. Plus, it turns out, they are highly spoofable by design, which is a big Security Fail for the banks, because Mr Big Bank sends you a SMS text message to a phone number.

In an epic fail, Mr Big Bank failed to realise that the phone number is not an inalienable parameter of the mobile phone, it is a function of the SIM card. The clue’s in the name – Subscriber Identification Module6.

So there’s no security to be had by texting your mobile number, because Bad Guys can get your number reallocated to them. As happened to gobshite Jack Monroe. While she may sometimes talk rot in along with a fair amount of sense presented in an edgy manner, she doesn’t deserve to have Bad Guys run off with some of her hard-earned. There’s also an object lesson here, which is if you must put your birth date on Facebook then for God’s skae make it a day, month and year which are not the same as the ones you give to your bank, huh? HM the Queen can have a real birthday and an official birthday. If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, it’s good enough for her subjects. OK so she has managed a fail by blathering her real birthday on the website, but she has the advantage over you and I that she has staff to sort out her money, so it’s not like she has to ring up the Bank of England and some droid in another continent asks her for her birthday to let her know how many billions she has in the Bank light now. Don’t plaster your birthday over social media, peeps, and if you must, make sure it’s wrong. Sure, it’s an example of security by obscurity but don’t make it unnecessarily  easy for the bad guys, eh? At least make your Social Media Self a couple of years older or younger if you’ve already let the cat out of the bag.

Mr Big Bank., let’s have less of this garbage about enhancing security and making life twice as hard as it needs to be. You had a perfectly serviceable method with the card reader gizmo to get an out of band validation of the customer’s pin, which you spurned in favour of the mobile phone. There is absolutely nothing secure about a mobile phone, and the smartphone is known only for being a totally uncontrolled piece of computing hardware which has a totally uncontrolled set of software applications and an equally uncontrolled software patch status.

The one thing we know about the smartphone is that is does pretty much anything it does incompetently, it’s nickable as hell and there’s no process of nailing the phone number to the phone, even if that were desirable. So, banksters, quit the fetishisation of the smartphone as a way to add security. Use either the card readers you have already, or suck it up. As for the rubes that grizzled on the radio about not being able to use their bank details stored on their mobile phones due to yesterday’s Three outage, well, whaddya expect? A bank card just is. If you want to save yourself the burden of carry less than 1g of plastic by sticking it on your phone where you need a working network connection as well as the damn phone, well, you’ve just discovered that the extra requirement inherently reduces reliability. Live and learn, eh?


  1. OK, let’s not pick on the Zuck. Anything that’s good for the FAANGs isn’t good for the common weal. 
  2. Terry Pratchett, Soul Music, Foul Ole Ron 
  3. Two Factor Authentication
  4. The rule is simple. If it involves Western Union it’s a scam at best and criminal at worst. Presumably there is a correct use for Western Union but I’ve never run across it. Why the heck they don’t re-christen it Bank of Con-Artists and Thieving Scumbags is a mystery to me. 
  5. how injecting cross-site scripting Javascript into a web page makes the system more secure beats the hell out of me because in pretty much every other application on the Web that’s a big No No. 
  6. Else it would be called the PIM, huh? There is a phone identifier snazzily called the IMEI that is meant to identify the phone. No idea how spoofable that is. There’s still the problem that phones are small and valuable, thus attractive to thieving barstewards. 

All you cash belong to Zuck

Say what you like about Mark Zuck, but the fellow doesn’t lack ambition. There’s a bit of the Terminator in him, or one of those mediaeval giants that takes quivers full of arrows but keeps on coming.

It not just your innermost secrets, your lives, your loves and of course what consumer goods you buy he wants to know. The Zuck is now coming for your money. Be very afraid. It’s called Libra, it’s blockchain, and Mark is doing it because he wants to make more money and know how you spend yours has a deep compassion for the

1.7bn people around the world without a bank account would be able to use it to make instant and nearly free international money transfers from their mobile phones

Earth calling Zuck. You may have a brain the size of a planet but has it ever occurred to you that a good number of these people don’t have a bank account because they don’t have any money? How do you fix that? Well, paying your taxes rather than spiriting the ill-gotten gains into Moneyland would help this altruistic aim more than facilitating people to spend money they don’t have, all watched over by the benevolent gaze of Facebook’s servers.

the great and the good involved with Libra

There are other companies involved, and of course Libra’s website makes much of its credentials as a not-for-profit independent company, along with all the good is will do for these good folk who are unbanked, possibly ‘cuz they don’t have anything to bank. To wit:

Reinvent money. Transform the global economy. So people everywhere can live better lives.

There’s a Youtube puffery vid for ya

There are some questionable statements delivered in that minute and a half:

Technology has improved the world around us

Not sure what Extinction rebellion would say about that. Not if you’re a London sparrow. Or a cyberbullied teen. But sure, it’s improved many things, lets move on:

So why is it simple to send these [on screen example of low-value consumer goods] anywhere, but not money? What if we made money truly global, stable, and secure

Err, that’s because there’s no United States of Earth to protect us from the goddamned strongmen that we already have and seem to be siphoning off resources into offshore tax havens? Who watches the watchers, and how to we kick the blighters out if we create such an overarching single point of failure? The problems here aren’t technical. They are human. The history of the world shows you shouldn’t put a few people in charge of power. Piss off, Zuck and your ubermensch mates. What part of No do you not understand? As for secure, with Facebook on the board that’s just not happening. I’m not even sure it’s possible at all. Every bugger has their price.

Let’s run Libra through the bullshit translator, shall we. Let’s take a look and what’s wrong with money now. Money is two things. One is a medium of interchange. If you have money, you can get people to do things for you, right now – clean my windows, fix my drains, make me and my SO a nice meal in attractive surroundings, build be a superyacht so I can big up my ego.

It’s also a claim on future human work, which is often called a ‘store of value’. For various technical reasons, ever since 1971 and arguably before then, it’s not particularly good at that. To store value these days you are usually advised to use it as a medium of interchange to buy a diversified array of other things like equities and bonds. Storing value as currency doesn’t work that well in normal times. It can work exceptionally poorly in abnormal items – Venezuela now, Argentina not so long ago, Germany in between the wars. It was pretty iffy in Britain in the 1970s 😉

Improvement is possible. Some people critique the issue of there being no anchor – once upon a time currencies were backed by gold. With crypto you could probably achieve a similar limit in the money supply, well, until quantum computing comes along and people get to forge it. But that’s technical, it’s probably solvable. There was a problem with the gold standard in an expanding postwar economy. If your money is fixed and the amount of valuable stuff in the economy it is chasing rises, you are locked into deflation, and the real value of your mortgages and bank loans goes up with time. Of course, having floating currencies lets politicians promise more than they can deliver and let a slow devaluation in the currency tax people invisibly. But given that we don’t want to pay tax I guess it’s got to come from somewhere…

OK, maybe we have gone ex-growth, environmental degradation may mean contraction and convergence. Maybe a fixed  worldwide amount of money could work. But not if it’s run by Facebook.

Iffen it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Banks use ancient IT systems, but I can’t recall the last time a load of money just disappeared. Challenger banks are making the user interface better. Western consumers don’t need easier payment systems and micropayments. really they don’t. Consumer debt is already bad enough

UK households already owe £60k on average. They don’t need easier spending

One of the easiest wins you can have with spending is simply to insert a wait loop. want to buy something that’s over £50 and isn’t a matter of health and safety? Stick it on a piece of paper with the date, and wait a week. If you still want it a week later, go buy it. It’s amazing how many want-it-now purchases can be canned.

Paying for something really isn’t that hard these days, assuming you have the money. We don’t need a totally new edifice run by tech giants to fix something that just ain’t broke in that way.

I’m not saying that money can’t be improved. But let’s think long and hard about the requirements capture, the social ramifications and how we kick out abusers of power and grifters before we build a system because money attracts bad sorts like shit attracts flies. Before we have a Global Currency of Earth let’s have a United States of Earth first, eh? Currency unions are historically rife with problems – ask the Greeks how that’s going over a small area with closer economic convergence that Earth.

Libra. Just say no, if only to keep Mark Zuckerberg out of your payment history. He knows far too much about you as it is! One of the most scary bits in the Grauniad article is the kicker at the end.

Facebook claims financial transactions will remain siloed from social media activity and that user ad profiles will not be based on Libra habits

Yeah, right. And I am the King of Spain.

Brexit – not in my name, thanks

It’s a day after last night’s drubbing for the tosspots who thought it was a clever idea to hold the 2016 EU referendum in the first place. So what is the conclusion they came to?

Election results, courtesy Jacob Rees-Mogg in the torygraph. Apparently it’s a blessing in disguise. Dunno what he’s smoking, but I bet it isn’t legal if it’s that strong

Take it away, Jacob Rees-Mogg. What did you learn?

Most obviously, Brexit needs to happen in a true form. The vassal state that apparently the Government and the Opposition have agreed, including a Customs Union and high alignment, is not the answer. This will simply ossify the failure that has just been punished in the local elections.

The Tory party needs to be the Brexit party and to win back all those who are planning to support Nigel Farage and my sister, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, at the European elections. To do so will show the path to a clean Brexit. This is not to deny that the current House of Commons has set its face against leaving the European Union properly and wants to remain at least semi-attached, but Parliament against the people cannot work for long. Voters will not tolerate such a state of affairs.

Hmm, that sounds like a challenge, Jake. It’s perfectly possible Britain is so enamoured with pure “kill em all” Brexit that Annunziata will romp home with the bacon at the end of this month. We shall see, eh? In the meantime, do you have a good explanation for the lib dem and green shift in your pic, Jake, seeing as they aren’t fans of any sort of Brexit? Jake wasn’t the only fellow to make this category error.

election results show voters want both main parties to ‘deliver Brexit’

Eh? How the hell do you interpret massive gains for the Liberals who are unashamedly pro-remain, and the Greens, who are functionally pro-remain, as a massive support for Brexit? Why is UKIP down more than half? WTAF is with the tin ear and blinkers?

It may not signify a massive push for Remain, after all, these elections are meant to be about local issues, which Brexit most certainly isn’t, but if you were to read anything about Brexit into it, less rather than more Brexit would seem to be the obvious inference to draw.

And anyway, Treeza, you took on this job so it’s your problem to deliver it. Verhofstedt was right that the Brexit was a catfight in the Tory party that got out of hand, so if it destroys your lot then perhaps that’s the price you pay for not kicking out the nut-jobs early on. This voter doesn’t want anybody to deliver Brexit. Not in my name, thanks. I was lucky enough to be on the winning side this time.

In a delightful twist today I got a welcome invitation to vote for the EU parliament elections.

Well I never, an EU Parliament poll card, against May’s apple blossom. That’s the month of May, not Theresa, whose nemesis JRM quoth “Never glad confident morning again”

The People’s front of Brexit and the Brexit people’s front

can go and stick it as far as I am concerned. I wasn’t for it in the first place, I thought May’s deal matched roughly the result of that 2016 vote but it appears that wasn’t good enough for the nut-jobs. FFS it wasn’t good enough for the nut-jobs supposedly on her side, they wanted a pure ‘and we curse you and the horse you rode in on’ version of trading with our nearest neighbours. I will try and understand the d’Hondt proportional representation system of the EU elections to maximise the pro-EU form of my vote. Brexit was wrong then in my view but it was doable and fair enough in 2016. It’s gotten even more wrong as time passed by, an amped up all or nothing caricature which doesn’t justify the slim margin. If you want that sort of extremism, then put it to another bloody vote, and this time, Brexit lovers, say what you are FOR rather than against. Give the People’s front of Brexit form.

Here’s how it’s done.

I have not been represented in UK elections the last time

and I’m getting sick of it. Everybody seems to be yelling about the will of the people as in the 52% who voted leave, and ever since 2016 anybody of the 48% gould go swing in the wind. The result of that damned referendum was only slightly over 50%, it wasn’t overwhelming. Due to the nature of the voting system in the UK1, there are basically two choices in with any chance, and both of them promised to promote the goddamned Will of the fricking People as sampled in 2016. But the Will of the People is a moving target. We’ve had a general election since then. It would have been nice to have had a chance of voting for an unashamedly pro-Remain party, that had a chance of winning if there were enough Remainers to carry it. But there was nowhere to go for the for a Remain vote. I voted for one that didn’t have a chance of winning rather than vote for either of the two main parties who were in fear of the Referendum. This was a general election that happened after the bloody Referendum. the whole point of an election is that the answer can be different from what it was last time. Else what’s the point?

The thing that scares me most about Brexit is why it’s most ardent fans are so obscenely rich

The referendum was for leave, but not necessarily the most extreme leave. The result wouldn’t have cleared the 2/3 majority bar many countries set for constitutional change, so feelings weren’t extreme. Rich people seem to be taking us to the more extreme end, for example let’s look at the good people of the European Research Group2 Continue reading “Brexit – not in my name, thanks”

Through the Brexit looking glass

Curiouser and curiouser

This is purely a Brexit rant. I am not a fan of Brexit. If that sort of thing bores you then move along, nothing to see here.

The Ermine sits in his eyrie surveying the discombobulation that is Brexit in puzzlement. It was all supposed to be so easy in 2016. I’m reminded of that cartoon of the guy in the signalbox 1 watching train wrecks all around, muttering that’s no way to run a railroad.

Funny old crew, Brexiters. Despite the Leave conspiracy theory that it’s all Remainers wot are doing the wrecking, I think the most useful idiots in this game, from a Remainer point of view, are the misnamed European Research Group 2 . These are professional wreckers, the 21st century equivalent of Red Robbo and his crew at British Leyland. With top hats and Eton accents. I’d also remind Leavers that theirs is a broad church that contains two diametrically opposed constituencies.

One team of leavers set against the other

One of the tenets of Brexit fundamentalism is that there should be no backsliding on 2016. There was a single vote in June 2016, they got the result they wanted, that is the fundamentally determined fricking will of the people and shall stand for all time despite the bullshit said on all sides. Continue reading “Through the Brexit looking glass”

O tempora o mores

Midnight CET today is meant to have been the culmination of Theresa May’s premature invoking of Article 50 to leave the EU. She did that, without really having much idea what success looks like with Brexit, in an unforced error which seems to have played into the hands of the other side, who naturally looked after themselves and their own interests. Not sure we are any closer to knowing what a successful Brexit does look like. I am of the opinion that there’s no such thing, which explains why the search party keeps returning empty-handed.

A spaffage of headbangers, each and every one rich enough to survive a bout of disaster capitalism and profit from it

The Brexit crew seem to be channelling Thomas Edison, but they seem to lack his talent

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work

 

Thomas Edison, on the electric light bulb

Why you need Financial Independence – The Sovereign Individual

Let’s take a deeper look a Jacob Rees-Mogg, headbanger at the end on the left. Hopefully his crew are unwittingly acting more as useful idiots in weakening the No Deal ultra-case, but it ain’t done yet.

The Latin in the title is a hat tip to JRM’s tendency to break out into Latin, to confuse the bejesus of of those not drug up right in some elite British public school. Fortunately the proles have Google on their side

Where did he get his twisted ideas from? Maybe his Dad, who wrote The Sovereign Individual, basically Thomas Hobbes updated for the 21st century. Let’s hear it from JRM’s Dad

Nation-states will experience a sharp drop in revenue…but retain the unfunded liabilities and inflated expectations and social spending inherited from the industrial era…tax consumers will be the losers.”

The Sovereign Individual

To summarise, it’s a libertarian manifesto, Ayn Rand updated. Look after yourself and your own, and may the devil take the hindmost.

The Sovereign Individual was written in the last years of the last century, but its predictions do track some of what has come to pass in the ensuing twenty years

Rhys on Medium has a good summary. The SI looks at the metamorphoses of society through the intustrial revolution to now through the lens of capital, the capacity to impose your will on others through capital and violence on the one hand, and information and myth on the other. Daddy Rees-Mogg’s analysis bears witness on today’s world.

the arrow of time runs left to right, the form of the means of production and mastery or slavery vertically

You need financial independence to be less enslaved to those with more. Violence isn’t a fist-fight in the street, it is the ability of the church, nation-state, or sovereign individuals like Jacob Rees-Mogg to make you do their bidding. The Church used the Inquisition, the Nation-State police forces and armed forces (in connection with other nations states) and Jacob Rees-Mogg and his libertarian ilk will use their superior capital assets.

Continue reading “O tempora o mores”