Author Archives: Paul

Hiding the complexity

Flanders News reports that the new tax form has 885 different field boxes, “but most people can do it in 5 minutes”. This is one of those headlines for which I knew what the story would say before I clicked on it:

Those working with Tax-on-Web, will automatically see a tax form which has been almost fully completed by the computer. This virtual knowledge applies to as many as 320 different boxes.

In other words, when using the online tax return it’s largely a question of just checking that the pre-filled numbers are correct and then clicking send.

That said, to use the online version you need an electronic ID card. When we first moved to Belgium, we didn’t have one. The paper tax form is so complex that we had to ask the bank to help us complete it.

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Wikitribune, Google and the fake news bandwagon

The Guardian reports that Jimmy Wales is launching an online publication that will fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors.

Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles.

Describing Wikitribune as “news by the people and for the people,” Wales said: “This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop, and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.”

I’m skeptical.

I’m not convinced that that the model, as described, will actually work financially and, even if it does, it looks geared towards encouraging niche and specialist interests. As such, it will probably do little to address either the echo-chamber effect or the over-reliance of much of the mainstream media on advertising and the clickbait type articles which that encourages.

In other news, Google has announced its first attempt to combat the circulation misleading or offensive content being surfaced by its search engine.

The technology company said it would allow people to complain about misleading, inaccurate or hateful content in its autocomplete function, which pops up to suggest searches based on the first few characters typed.

Quite frankly, this looks more like a PR move on Google’s part than anything else. It’s all well and good letting people report bad or misleading search results, but I don’t see any indication of what Google intends to do about these reports.

Fake news is a problem, but gimmicks like these don’t really address the problem. For that, we need to encourage greater media literacy and stronger critical thinking skills.

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Liberal egalitarian

Because I can’t resist a quiz, I had a go at the 8values political quiz. This attempts to rate your views on four axes — economic, diplomatic, state and society.

I have no idea how accurate this is, and some of the questions struck me as being a bit loosely worded, but here’s my result:

“Social Libertarianism” sounds like an oxymoron to me. Hence the title of this post.

Via Pharyngula

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Quote of the day: The unbearable lightness of Mélenchon

How lovely it must be to be able to care more about ideological purity than the genuine threat of actual fascism. How delicious it must be to burrow down luxuriantly in one’s own rigid moral certainties because you will not suffer the real effects of the worst-case scenario. You can instead self-indulgently focus on details instead of staring fearfully at the bigger picture.

Hadley Freeman

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Magically simple

David Pescovitz at BoingBoing has discovered the Magic Roundabout in Swindon:

While it’s frequently criticized as one of the scariest junctions in the region, the Magic Roundabout is apparently a fantastically efficient design, thought I’d imagine it would take a few turns to get used to it.

I’m not sure who these frequent critics are, but I have driven on this piece of road — many times. It may look complex from above and, descriptions of the junction are often far too involved, but navigating it is easy.

You come to a roundabout, you drive around it and come off at the correct exit. You come to a roundabout, you drive around it and come off at the correct exit. Repeat.

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The votes are in and Emmanuel Macron has won the first round of the French Presidential election, pushing Le Pen into second place. This is good for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Le Pen has been pushed into second place. Hopefully, this means that far-right populism has hit its limit and it will be downhill for the FN from here on in.

Secondly, Macron is clearly the sanest choice standing. He is unambiguously pro-EU and committed to reforming it and is looking for practical and realistic reforms that would actually make a difference. This stands in stark contrast to the “make demands, throw tantrum” approach being touted by both the far right and the far left.

And, of course, being a centrist allows him to draw support from both the centre-left and the centre-right in the second round of voting on May 7th. Indeed, both François Fillon and Benoît Hamon have already urged their supporters to vote against the far right.

Of course, all of this means that Theresa May’s hard Brexit becomes both more likely and more painful.

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Wow, a saxophone. I’ve always wanted to be in showbiz

It’s 35 years ago that the legendary Pimania was released by Automata and Alan Bilton has published a nostalgia inducing history of the game, the company and the creators.

I remember being caught up in the hype back in the mid-80s. Not only did I buy and failed to complete the (Dragon 32 version) of the game, but I also bought the music cassette. And if memory serves correctly, there was also a comic strip in one of the magazines that I was reading at the time.


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