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Monday 23 January 2012
Letters: information technology
Why the 'I' in IT is so important
Over the past couple of weeks a number of letters have conflated IT expertise with programming. The biggest shortfall is the understanding of the "I" in IT – information. Programming is a 20th-century solution, with a focus on using as little data as possible to avoid overwhelming machines of limited capability. Today's problems are about how to enable organisations to work together or sustain businesses, which require the understanding of how information is used rather than technology of manipulating bytes.
For example, aircraft, ships and most buildings have a design life of 40 to 70 years, but for the design software used, the software developers have a business model that sees them rewrite their offering every 10 years. If it were not bad enough that transferring design data from one version of software to another is dangerously error-prone, many software vendors lock the data away in proprietary formats so that the data owners cannot use the data without paying the vendors to develop translators. It is as if a car maker sold you a car but kept ownership of the keys, so that you couldn't sell it on without paying the maker to transfer the key.
We need people who understand information and its value, and this requires more that technical literacy in programming; it requires information literacy and this is sadly lacking in most engineering and computing graduates.
David Woods (19 January) thinks that it is more important to teach the use of Microsoft's programs than the principles of computer programming. This must be one of the few fields in which the products of a quasi-monopolist can even begin to be considered a proper subject of general education.
One of the reasons that programming is an important discipline is that it leads students naturally into the subjects of software interoperability and open standards. On these depend the internet and the worldwide web, which arguably have made a far greater contribution to the recent information revolution than any single software company.
Microsoft, by contrast, has been slow to seek interoperability. By all means introduce Word and Excel in schools, but as examples of the classes "wordprocessor" and "spreadsheet"; we don't teach people to drive Fords or Volkswagens, but cars; and we do teach them something about what goes on under the bonnet, and why.
End the subsidies for Scotland
Hamish McRae (14 January) writes: "While Scotland is poorer than London and the South East, it is richer than the whole of the north of England and much richer than Wales." So taxpayers, including those in Wales and the north of England, are subsidising the higher education of not just Scottish students but of all those in the EU who are accepted to study in Scottish universities, while we ourselves are denied this unless we pay £9,000pa in fees (and Scottish degrees take four years).
We are entitled to ask why we have to subsidise the whole of the EU – let alone the Scots? Does the Government understand why the majority of the English want Scotland to leave the union as soon as possible? The Scottish Parliament is throwing away our tax revenues, money that has been worked hard for in Wales and in the north as well as in the wealthier south-east of England. It must be held to account.
Jonathan Wallace inquires (Letters, 18 January) whether the current arrangements concerning English students attending Scottish universities would prevail post-independence. If Scotland remained within the EU, English students would be on a par with other European countries.
However, if we are to believe the scaremongering by the Unionist parties and Scotland is required to reapply for EU membership, the country might decide to have a relationship with the EU similar to that of Norway. The effect of this might be that the Scottish government would fund Scottish students only and to a greater extent.
The Scottish people and government value students who gain a university education. The task for Jonathan is to persuade his government to do the same.
James W McCurry
Governmental independence for Scotland does not necessarily mean a rejection of a joint monarchy. The Royal Arms and their supporters are the personal badge of the monarch and, as long as the Queen also remains Queen of Scotland, there is no need to redesign them, irrespective of the realities of government (Letters, 18 January).
The previous inclusion of the Red Dragon as one of the supporters of the Tudor Royal Arms was in recognition of Henry VII's Welsh ancestry and birth, not a result of the so-called Acts of Union between England and Wales (Laws of Wales Acts) passed some 50 years later during the reign of Henry VIII.
I agree that Wales is long overdue representation on the British flag, but Y Ddraig Goch does not fit easily into a redesign of the Union flag. If Scotland gains independence, I would suggest that St David's flag replaces that of St Andrew in the composite design, so that the blue background becomes black and the white outline of St George's cross becomes yellow.
Derek Easey (Letters, 20 January) trots out all the stock arguments re oil, Barnett etc. If the boot was on the other foot it might be that the Scots would say the same about England – however in reality both would be wrong. Ordinary folk like Derek and me will never know the true facts.
But what is without doubt is that Scotland is changing. That is why the referendum vote should only relate to people living in Scotland. Ordinary folk in Worthing, going about their daily working lives, will not be affected one iota by Scotland becoming a sovereign state again – and more important, I doubt it would affect my daily life either.
Shameful attack on doctors' pensions
It should not be surprising that doctors are so concerned about the attack on the NHS pension scheme. Many would face working in extremely physically and mentally demanding roles until they are almost 70. ("Doctors threaten first strike in 40 years – over £48,000 pensions", 19 January).
The NHS pension scheme was completely overhauled just four years ago to make it sustainable for the future. It is currently delivering £2bn a year to the Treasury. The new changes – which would leave some doctors paying twice as much into the scheme – come on top of cuts to NHS services, unnecessary top-down reforms and what will soon be four years of pay freezes. For many doctors, the attack on their pensions is the final straw.
It has been 37 years since doctors last took industrial action. The Government must take this indication of the strength of feeling seriously and respond constructively.
Dr Hamish Meldrum
Chairman of Council
British Medical Association
Marriage isn't for everyone
Your leading article in support of same-sex marriage (18 January) unfortunately promotes the misconception that this will provide equal treatment for heterosexual and gay couples. Regrettably this is not so. Civil partnerships will still be denied to heterosexual couples who want to register their commitment to each other but who do not want to marry.
The question always posed is why, for some of us, civil marriage differs from civil partnership when most people nowadays approach marriage on the basis of partnership. The answer lies in the differing nature of the basic contract. The marriage contract is a union, the primary definition of which is "to join together or become one". A partner "shares or takes part with another", but is not "one" with another.
The concept of a union in which there is a merging of identity, both in law and socially, is one that some heterosexual people simply don't want. So we live together, unmarried but committed, without any recognition in law, though usually recognised socially.
There are significant disadvantages which marriage would remove, and indeed many people marry late in life after decades of commitment for that reason only. For instance, we have no automatic rights of inheritance to our jointly owned home; we can't be recognised as next of kin unless we make a formal declaration to that effect, and we're liable to pay inheritance tax on the estate of a deceased partner when there is a will in our favour.
If it is accepted that marriage implies for some gay people a subtle but important difference from civil partnership, equal treatment must deliver the same options to both gay and heterosexual couples.
The skyrocketing price of air
The oil companies are doing their best to keep up with the bankers. Visiting my local BP petrol station, I decided to check my tyre pressure. I was horrified to discover that the charge for this service had increased from 20p to 50p (150 per cent), and received scarce consolation from the till attendant who informed me that I would now receive far more air for my payment (sufficient presumably to inflate a zeppelin) and that all other companies had imposed a similar increase.
Tell Gyles Cooper (Letters, 20 January) that a leather bikini worn by a female athlete was found in the mud of the Thames not too long ago; it can be seen in the Roman gallery of the Museum of London. So no, it isn't a new thing and it probably felt and looked good on a beautiful young woman. Let the women boxers wear what they like.
Listen to unions
So The Independent has decided that the unions are the enemy: "Labour must stand up to the unions" (leading article, 18 January). For working people, it is only the unions that care about their living standards, their pensions, their health and safety. The Labour Party was founded by the unions precisely to give them a voice. It's about time someone did listen to them. We might then have a better world.
If the Queen wants a wretched yacht, why can't she buy it herself? She has, after all, a massive personal fortune, much of it historically swiped from the people of this country and other countries around the world, and British taxpayers keep her and her family in luxury.
And if Lord Ashcroft has £5m to spare, why can't he donate it to something worthwhile, like an environmental charity, or one trying to combat poverty?
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
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Ramji R Abinashi
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