Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Fly and the Cow

As I roam around in my chaotic world my thoughts cascade and whilst they are current they seem quite important and consequential.  But moments later something else seems just as important.  As time goes by all these thoughts seem like junk in an attic.  On the one hand they are a pile of clutter and on the other hand they are all unique, possibly useful, and they certainly don't want chucking away.

What thoughts?  Well the funny thing is that most of the time I can't remember.  It is like one of those dreams that you know you've had but you can't quite recall.

However I am confident that they all have their place in my life and there is significance in them even if I can't see it myself.  Like all that stuff in the attic.

"So when exactly are you going to take personal responsibility for the actions you take on behalf of someone else?"

Like that.  It was with respect to an imagined pharmacist's response to my claim that the Tax Credit people had screwed up and not sent the replacement prescription exemption card.  I imagined that they would say that they couldn't give me the prescription without charge if I didn't have the card.  So do I get needlessly ill because someone else has screwed up?  The concept extends to numerous people in positions of making decisions on behalf of organisations like bank clerks and policemen.

But then there are the less easy to grasp notions like when I ponder how a human might imagine what a cow seems like to a fly.  I heard once of a native American idea that one should try to imagine what it is like being various animals.  I think the idea was that by imagining what it is like to be a snake one can master the art of patience and stealth in stalking one's prey.  We are intuitively empathetic - some more than others - and it is quite natural to try to imagine what it feels like being something else.  In fact we do not generally think highly of people who can't even imagine what it is like to be another person.  But another layer to this idea is to imagine what it is like being another animal, like a fly, imagining what it is like to be another animal, like a cow.  But to start with one has to get an idea of what a cow seems like to a fly.

It reminds me of what is called indirection in software.  It is like an index to an index.  So you have a list where the seventh item points to an index.  That index currently contains the reference to the ninth item in a list.  But this second index might be altered by some other criteria and the 9 might be replaced by 22.  Now the seventh item in the original index points to the twenty second item in a list and not the ninth as before.  This indirection can be very deep and complex.  I guess one could try to imagine what it is like being a fly imagining what it is like being a cow imagining what it is like to be a human.

There is a purpose to all of this and it is not to discover what a fly thinks.  The purpose is to become familiar with the practice of considering various complex points of view.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Tax Credit Security

Three months since the last blog entry.  What happened?  Life is convoluted and full of paradox and pain.  Maybe I will write a book to explain but then no one really wants to know.  So here is a complaint that I failed to send to the Tax Credit people about two years ago.

Complaints Manager                  7th June 2010
Directors Office
Complaints Team
Trinity Bridge House
5th Floor
Chapel Wharf
2 Dearmans Place
M3 5DU

Dear Sir/Madam

I am a sentient carbon based life form currently residing on planet Earth.  I had cause to phone the Tax Credit help line on 0845 300 3900 earlier today.  I waited for what felt like half an hour which was difficult in my current condition.  However, I coped.  Then a very polite gentleman who's name I cannot recall answered the phone.  He was exceptionally patient and helpful in spite of the difficulties I experienced and which have caused me to write this letter to you.

First of all he said something about asking me questions for security purposes and mentioned a company called Experian.  I immediately asked why they were involved.  He said it was a new security measure and you have been using them for several months now.  It worried me no end.  I have had cause to deal with these people in the past and I really don't like the idea that government agencies such as yourself are sharing data with a private company with its own interests, agendas and morals.  Your man assured me that the data was one way only and that Experian were simply providing security questions.  I hope this is true and if so it still seems worrying to me because now you are in possession of information which Experian have about me which may or may not be correct.  This is all very worrying.

Finally your man asked me two questions which he explained were to save me having to go through all these iffy questions from Experian the next time I am talking to you.  He asked me where I was born and what my first job was.  The place of birth I could manage but what does "my first job" actually mean?  Was it the first time I washed my father's car?  Was it a paper round?  Was it casual work picking strawberries?  Was it working on a ship or was it perhaps the first salaried job I had after qualifying with a Master's Degree in computing?  Or perhaps it was the industrial placement that I did as part of my education.  On presenting this conundrum to your man on the help line he pointed out that the answer didn't matter I could pick any job it was just a case of a security question.  So I am expected to invent a rationalisation for picking a particular activity and then have to remember that some arbitrary time in the future if I am speaking to the "Tax Credit" people.  That strikes me as not only ridiculous but verging on dangerous.

It seems also a little arrogant on your part.  Much as the Tax Credit system may be the most important thing in your life unfortunately I have a lot of other issues that either have to be dealt with or that I want to be deal with.  Many of them are doing similar thing too.  There are passwords coming out of my ears and security questions and reminder questions coming out of any available orifice.  In fact the attempt to increase security because of the communication age is having the reverse affect and it is becoming a rather silly game.  The more "secret" answers and codes and nuggets of information that float around the more need there is to keep them on computers and the more vulnerable they become to automated retrieval systems.  So the illusion that we are "more secure" is in fact an illusion and will probably lead to more clandestine and undetectable subtle security breaches.

It did strike me that you might as well tattoo a unique identifier on my arm and that way you really could be sure I am who you want to think I am.  In fact, since my life is being destroyed by red tape, procedures, security issues, identity problems, form filling, data capturing, it crossed my mind that it might be useful to just pop me in a camp and then you'll know exactly who I am, where I am, what I did today, if I've evacuated my bowels and you can even read the tattoo on my arm just to make sure I'm not lying.

Or did someone try this before.  I suffer mild amnesia and I can't remember now.  And what was it that I decided to "name" as my first job?  Could you let me know so that I can get it right next time you ask.  But then you ought to know you are giving it to the right person so I should tell you first.  Now where did I put that particular piece of information?

I'm sorry if I have wasted some of your allotted time on planet Earth to convey this message to you.  Life is unique and valuable.  I would hate to waste your life.  But at least you are getting paid for it.  Unfortunately I had to spend money to have my time wasted by your system.

Seriously I think this issue is getting very dangerous.  You should be in charge of knowing who I am in whatever manner is relevant to our relationship.

Yours faithfully