analog organisation?

so, palm have released some new handhelds (the T|X which is a black, wifi enabled full-featured top of the range model, and the Z22, an ipod white style entry lrvrl unit. i actually own the Zire 72s, which my family bought me for my thirtieth birthday (best. present. ever.) anyway, while reading about these, i noticed a comment in a review talking about pocketmod. this is a paper based organiser, which is easily made by printing the design on a sheet of A4 and folding/cutting as indicated. the site allows a whole range of pages to be chosen for your organiser, and they will form a nice, compact 8-page booklet.

for some reason this origami organiser appeals to me, maybe just the alliteration?

i actually use the moleskine notebooks, which are excellent, with cool features like a set of perforated pages that cab be torn out easily, and a little pocket at the back, as well as a ribbon bookmark and an elastic band to keep the notebook shut. i just happen to like writing with a pen and paper, i guess, and it lasts longer than a laptop, since the batteries never run down... as soon as a lightweight laptop with the perfect handwriting interface comes out (newton, where are you now?) i'd buy that, until then, compromise.


whose money is it, anyway?


you would suppose, in this country, that the money you deposit into your bank account is yours, for you to withdraw and spend as you please, whenever you want? certainly, if you went into a branch of your bank, you would want to have the ability to withdraw cash for whatever purpose you saw fit? well, let me tell you about what happened today, in the high street kensington branch of the royal bank of scotland...

i asked to withdraw a (largish) sum of money from my account, over GBP 1000.00 basically. naturally, the cashier wanted identification. i produced my bank card, and my current, valid, british passport. these were accepted, along with a cheque, written out right there, from a complete cheque book, for the amount, payable to 'CASH' and signed, again in front of the cashier. there followed a lengthy (~10 minutes) phone conversation, which i couldn't hear, presumably with my branch. this resulted in 4 (four) pages of faxed copies of a photocopy of my passport and bank card and signature, made at my branch in edinburgh when the account was opened (i was actually a member of staff at the time, so identity checks were even more rigorous). once my identity had been confirmed here in london satisfactorily, the cashier began to fill in a 'large withdrawal pro-forma' document. this went along fine, with me supplying my full name and the amount of my money i wished to withdraw, until i was asked 'can you tell me why you want this cash?' this struck me as an unnecessary and pointless question, so i answered 'no!' apparently, this is beyond the scope of a 'large withdrawl pro-forma' and appeared to be unacceptable. i offered other suggestions, such as 'customer did not say' and 'none' and similar, however the cashier insisted that these could not be entered into the (paper) form. being a curious sort, i asked why, and was told the magic words 'fraud' and 'security' . i can't even begin to imagine what kind of fraud is prevented by asking an (authenticated) customer why they want to withdraw their money. anyway, an impasse appeared to have been reached here, and the only solution proffered was for the chief cashier to be summoned. i was warned that this may take some time (i had been trying to complete the transaction for 15-20 minutes by then, and the cashier was obviously in an office about ten meters away) however i graciously agreed to wait, and sat down to read the copy of terror inc - tracing the money behind global terrorism that i had just bought. (sadly, nobody noticed. i don't know why i bother, sometimes...)

the result of all this is that i was unable to withdraw my money from my bank account in a branch of my bank. i believe i may have said some inappropriate words to the cashier, chief cashier and other assorted bank staff who had gathered to watch the proceedings. my incredulity at being unable to complete what i assumed was an everyday banking requirement seemed to baffle and confuse them. i even ventured outside to the atm and withdrew a (smaller than i needed) sum to show that i was indeed allowed to obtain and use my own money. since it was too late for me to do anything useful, even if they had relented and done the right thing, i simply shouted and stormed out. after a calming cigarette or four, i decided to phone the head office. there i spoke to a nice young lady who gave the same reason - it is part of anti money-laundering safeguards put in place to stop fraud and terrorism and the like. however, once i pointed out that, supposing i was minded to take my money and do something illegal with it, i didn't think that the prospect of having to lie and tell a cashier that i needed the money for a second-hand car purchase, rather than say, buying raw opium from afghanistan which i intended to exchange for plastic explosives in libya, would really bother me. strangely, she immediately accepted this, as did her supervisor, and they apologised, admitting that it seemed like the wrong kind of security question to have asked. i still don't have the money i need, though, so i'm going to have to try again tomorrow. this time, though, i will go there a lot earlier, just in case...

is it just me, or are these pointless invasions of privacy really, really, annoying? i can see absolutely no basis in law for the question, and as i pointed out, a criminal will just make something up! so there is no security gained or fraud prevented. actually, it's not just me - see bruce schneier's weblog, passim, for plenty of similar examples, and weep.


the guardian responds!

cool. the guardian reader's editor, ian mayes got back to me. he says that: there does seem to be a conflict [between the desire to eradicate bad science reporting and the health/wellbeing article contents] and he will pass my email to the editor of the [weekend] magazine, and also to the editor of the guardian. so there. writing to newspapers can be fun and useful. so hopefully if enough people decide its a good thing, there will be better researched science and medicine articles and less junk and 'alternative' therapies being promoted by journalists who should know better...

for those who haven't heard of him, ian mayes is the 'reader's editor' of the guardian, in charge of the daily corrections and clarifications column, also a weekly column discussing some of the content and contextual issues of that week's reporting. he's also put together a collection of these columns in a couple of books, which i highly recommend. the guardian was the first paper to have an editorial position like this, and i think it reflects well in their content - they listen to their readers a lot more than any other paper i know of.


dear "the guardian" ...

today i wrote a letter to the guardian - a first for me. my paper experience is usually the standard one-way variety. however, the thing that moved me to put pen to gmail account was the bad science column by ben goldacre. i really enjoy his column, which exposes a lot of the misguided or sometimes just plain fraudulent writing that goes on in journalism, press releases and marketing/advertising. there was a good explanation of his motives and experiences printed when the guardian moved to it's new berliner format. anyway, he is currently bashing the BBC for a wrong-headed online article about the therapeutic effects of spiraling water implosion electric fields something-or-other alternative rubbish. now, today on pages 78-79 of the weekend magazine, there is a list of ways that you can limit the damage done by cigarettes. one of these is 'too many computers' - apparently those pesky PCs leak EMF radiation, which could KILL you, and your CHILDREN if you're not careful. but, help is at hand. unplugging your computer, rather than just switching it off will (somehow?) make a difference. quite what that would be, i don't know, since a switched off computer uses no power, and unplugging will just mean it uses the same amount of no power. i don't have the complicated medical and scientific background that the author of the holistic therapy file has (available for GBP 14.99 the article helpfully informs me!) i suppose, so who am i to say that the 'evidence' that 'certain plants can help soak up EMFs' is faulty?

it just disappoints me that after all the good work that 'bad science' has done, and the excellent reputation the guardian has for reporting, and good science journalism, they missed this. i don't know whether doctor goldacre is responsible for overall editing or vetting of science content, but if he isn't someone else should be. i think it's all part of our society's tendency to think that scientific ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather something to be proud of. i remember a short article in the paper lamenting the fact that astronomical objects such as planets were defined by 'arrogant scientists' - the nerve! people really need to understand the world around them, and how it works, and science is the tool that we use for that. but these days, it's far trendier to claim an interest in 'alternative' therapies and solutions, as some kind of childish rebellion against authority. the problem is, the authorities are right - that's the definition of the word - scientists are authoritative on matters of, well, science!

you can contact him at bad.science@guardian.co.uk with stories of bad science reporting and other misinformation, or go to his website at http://www.badscience.net/.

update: i got a reply from dr goldacre (speedy, only an hour after emailing him) he says - "what can i do, they wont print a word i say about them" which i'm not sure what to make of? does he mean that he's not allowed to bad-mouth the paper that feeds him, and must leave it's hand unbitten?

update ii: he now suggests i take it up with the reader's editor, which i have done. more to follow...