September 2nd, 2003


More on work

Stolen from missedith01:

A new report from Save the Children:

"... found children whose parents yo-yo between work and unemployment often live in worse conditions than those whose parents are constantly out of work.

Parents in short-term work could find themselves worse off because they suffered a dramatic fall in income - and a delay in benefits - once that job ended.

In a small number of cases families would actually have been less impoverished had the parents not tried to find jobs, the figures suggest."

Well, that's certainly my experience. Also, Sue Middleton, the report's author, said:

"... if the UK wanted to have a flexible labour market, then it also needed a flexible benefits system."

Good Luck!

Oi! Adam! Good Luck with your exams!

Let's face it, you're smart enough and I need you over here in 6 months, so you'd better bloody well pass them...

cool pics

You can see a buncha scantily clad woman and some cool costume photos here. All from Dragon*Con, which sounds like it was a cool place to be.

My new userpic is a shrunken version of one of them

More on benefits

Further to the stolen story below on the problems with parents working on the breadline, here's a BBC story:

Parents who find work and come off welfare are more likely to be worse off.

A major study by the Save The Children of 4,000 of the UK's poorest children has found they live in worse conditions than those whose parents are constantly out of work.

Parents in short-term work suffered a dramatic fall in income - and a delay in benefits - once that job ended.

The report also found that the constant job switching affected children's confidence, they were more likely to be bullied, miss out on activities others took for granted, and may go without basics such as warm winter coats and shoes and proper meals.

This is followed by a numerous comments such as:

I am actually now worse off on the new tax credits than I was on the working family's tax credit. Since I have returned to work after having a child and after paying out over £300 a nursery fees (which I don't get any help with through the so called improved tax credits). It works out that I am only £50 a month better off between myself and my partner. I ask myself is it worth missing out on my child growing up just for £50 a month?
Kate Dunn, Wales

The only way to remove the poverty trap created by various benefits is to have a citizen's income. Whatever that figure maybe it must be enough to live off. Then if people choose to work (which they will) they will be better off regardless of what hourly rate they earn. Minimum wage, housing benefit, council tax benefit, free school meals, free bus passes, old age pension, income support etc can then all be scrapped removing the humiliation of having to claim benefits. No families and children would then be caught in poverty.
Roy, London

My two children and I were on Income Support for four years. During that time they always had well-fitting shoes and a winter coat and three meals a day. This involved personal sacrifices and organisation from me, such as not going out much; I never smoked and rarely drank. I bought most of my clothes in second-hand shops and was glad to accept friends hand-me-downs for the kids. Even on this level of income they went on every school trip - even the ones I had to pay for.
Child poverty, as defined in your article, is not always related to income, but to how the parents choose to spend it. Later, I met children without a winter coat and loaned them the ones my children had grown out of - the parents earned more than I do now. I must agree with the report that the loans for essentials system that then reclaims out of already stretched benefits is daft. However no questions are asked when the loans are given such as 'What happened to your last fridge (or whatever)?' I have known of this fund being used just to acquire new furniture etc.
Lyn, UK

As well as the fall in real income that seems to be a result of moving from benefits to low-paid work, what about childcare costs? In the UK good day-care for children is scarce and expensive even for middle class professionals, so what hope do parents in low-paid jobs have?
Here in Belgium we pay much higher taxes and social security than in the UK (I've worked in both countries), but childcare provision is good, affordable and (for children below 3) tax deductible. In the state run crèches in Belgium, low-income families get priority and are charged according to income. Most primary schools also have after school childcare facilities that are not very expensive. It's not commonly said in Belgium that the cost/availability of childcare prevents parents from working.
Rebecca, Belgium

Why does it take so long for agencies to realise the obvious? I was telling my Benefits Office that I couldn't afford to get a job for exactly the reasons described 14 years ago, in 1989. I didn't work for over three years, until our children were old enough to allow my wife to work to make up the difference between my wages and our ex-benefits. Even then we had to move into a smaller rented house, because we could no longer afford to stay where we were. I tried hard to work with the JobCentre to sort out a way that I could get a job, but I couldn't find a permanent position that paid enough, and taking one week of temporary work meant a nightmare of forms, and then weeks without benefits (i.e. food, lighting, heating etc.) While it is so difficult and painful to switch from benefits to working it is easy to understand why people don't bother.
Paul, UK

A small, basic income for everyone (such as that proposed by the Greens) would close this silly loophole. Parents could work flexibly to earn extra money, knowing exactly the impact on their children, rather than being forced into rigid full-time work that might actually reduce their overall income.
Sian, UK

Never mind parents, it's the same story for all unemployed people. The gap between being on benefits and working is too wide to cross unless you can get a very good job. What is needed is benefits to be phased out as earnings increase, gently going from receiving benefits to paying tax.
Jonathan Kelk, UK

When I was on the dole, I had all of my rent and council tax paid for me and received over £200 a fortnight for other bills and food etc. Now I am in full time work, I am up to my eyeballs in debt and have a hard time scraping together enough money to buy nappies for my kids and food for the family. I was much better off on welfare and I can see why so many people stay on it rather than getting a job.
Jon, UK

I think the two biggest culprits for making people worse off are housing costs and council tax. When you are on benefits these two things are generally taken care of but when you go back to work you are stung with having to fork out several hundred pounds every month just to keep a roof over your head.
Rich, UK

Get them off of me!

At 4:00 today I happened to check the public bulletin board for the IS department, where I found an announcement that the server I (along with my whole department) use to store files on had contracted the Nimda virus. We were instructed to disconnect from the server at once and run an anti-virus tool.

I immediately started the anti-virus tool, informed a few others that something was up and turned back to save my files. At which point someone obviously decided the smart thing to do was to cut everyone off from the server without letting them save first. At which point two word documents and a program I'd been working on all vanished from in front of my eyes, as did Lotus Notes.

Having ascertained that the server wasn't going to let us back in and that I had, indeed, lost about an hours work, I decided to go home.

Hopefully, tomorrow I'll be able to get back to where I was fairly easily.
  • Current Music
    The Beatles - With A Little Help From My Fri

Mainframes and COBOL

A few days ago I was talking to Ami about our respective computing careers. He told me that he's happily coding away in Java and asked me what I used. When I told him that I worked in COBOL he recoiled in horror. This is a fairly common response, and I get a similar one when I mention that I work on mainframes, as if both should have been consigned to the dustbin of history a long time ago.

When it comes to mainframes this attitude is entirely unjustified. After all, a mainframe is just a very big computer, and large computers are always going to be in demand for dealing with masses of data. But mainframes aren't just scaled up PCs, they use architectures designed for incredible scalability and resilience. Not only can they pretend to be multiple computers at once, so that if you crash one instance the others carry on running. Not that it's easy to crash them - individual chips can have multiple pathways through them, with the results compared afterwards to make sure that physical problems aren't causing errors, error checking technologies are built in at the lowest levels and the operating systems are designed to cope with almost any eventuality. There's a story of an IBM mainframe that had it's hard drive accidentally disconnected. This wasn't any hard drive, it was the one containing the swap file. The machine happily carried on, putting any applications that wanted something stored on the disk into a Wait state until it was available. Eventually someone noticed, plugged the disk back in and everything continued running. Try doing that on your PC, if you don't want the hard drive any more (or the motherboard, for that matter). Mainframe's are perfect for applications where vast throughput, redundancy and uptime are needed, and that's going to be the case more and more as time goes on.

COBOL, on the other hand, is a little tricky to justify. It's an ancient language (1960!) designed for very different times, when programs came on punch cards and didn't need to do much more than move simple data from one place to another. Surely by now it's time to get rid of it entirely? If it wasn't for the cost that would be incurred in rewriting 2,000,000 lines of legacy code we'd have thrown it out in favour of something more recent. Well, yes, probably. Except that COBOL's advantage is that it's an ancient language that's perfect for writing simple programs that move data from one place to another. For instance, in going through 5,000,000 records on a customer database and producing the output files for their statements. When it comes to simple formatting of data and movements of information from one place to another, COBOL is incredibly efficient. Think of it as Perl, only compiled (and without lots of the overhead of Perl, because it's so simple).

However, as I discovered today, COBOL isn't necessarily going to be the future. We're currently getting an OS upgrade on the servers at work which would get Java running on them. We're going to be experimenting with Java on some upcoming projects and if it works out then we're going to start doing new development work in it. COBOL may well end up being legacy after all. Or it might turn out that for small data manipulation systems COBOL is as fast as you can get and there'll be a place for it after all.
  • Current Music
    The Beatles - She's Leaving Home

I'd give up...

Stolen from the Register:
According to a NOP survey on behalf of BT Yahoo Broadband, six in ten people would give up their favourite choccy bar, half would give up booze and four in ten would be happy to toss away their mobile phone. Oh, and one in ten Net users would even be prepared to dump a boyfriend or girlfriend to stay online


At Warren Ellis' instigation I have signed up for Popmates, a friendster look-alike that links people via their liking for various ephemera of pop culture. You can sign up as a friend of mine via this.