Opinions, Knowledge & Understanding

I have always been a great believer in the ideology that everyone is entitled to their opinion. It is something you are taught as a child that you never forget. Opinions are great things, they give you an insight into people, their thoughts, other ways of thinking, things you missed or have never thought about before. Being able to have and present opinions is a powerful tool of the human species, ultimately having opinions allows us to make decisions.

My issue with opinions is when people are misinformed. One of my biggest hates is people who push opinions upon you when they themselves don’t fully understand what they are talking about. And let’s be clear, being misinformed and presenting an opinion doesn’t make you wrong, you could be right or wrong or neutral or “I don’t really care” but people should be aware that presenting an opinion is ultimately the beginning of a social interaction in which your point of view might be challenged, and that is where things tend to go sour. It wouldn’t be unknown of me to challenge an opinion in conversation I agree with, simply because how people justify an opinion is often more interesting and telling than the opinion itself.

Real opinions should come from knowledge of the subject, as data processing engines (brains) we should form opinions based upon interpretation of facts, knowledge and understanding. So please, for my sake and for others, do some research and try not to judge or exercise opinions about things before you understand them. I know it is difficult, and it’s a rule that everyone including myself has broken countless times. We are programmed to gather facts, process for patterns and make a decision quickly, breaking that process is a challenge. Also remember rule 9: Everybody Lies. This includes the Internet which is 85% spam, 10% lies and 5% useful things.

Next time you read something online, ask yourself this question: “Who wrote this?” And using that thought, think about how even though it may be factual, that person probably has an opinion/view on what they are writing about. There are exceptions of course, but often the interesting things are what you can read between the lines.

This is of course my opinion on opinions, feel free to disagree!

Why I think National Grid have got Anglesey right.

It was reported in the news yesterday the Welsh Government can’t intervene to stop National Grid building pylons across Anglesey to connect the new Wylfa nuclear power plant to the mainland grid at Bangor. It’s a story I have been following closely since it came to my attention a few years back. This news comes after feedback from the residents that they are still unhappy with the proposed plans, even though National Grid have now agreed they will bury the cables sub-sea in the Menai Straits which was one of the key areas outlined in their original report. Ultimately, as an Engineering student I feel that this is the correct decision overall (and I haven’t seen a lot of positive comments anywhere), even though it will be disappointing news for many, let me explain why.

National Grid is a business which exists to provide the connected energy grid for the United Kingdom. They maintain a large and complex network, which is under change due to energy sources and demands, the complexity of the task they perform goes beyond what many people imagine. They have a responsibility to provide a network, which is not only cost-effective, but reliable.

We all rely on energy, which means they ultimately touch everyone’s lives in some way (unless you live in a cave or something). As a business, they have social responsibility too, they must act in a way that is sustainable and take into account the areas in which they are present. However, in a world dominated by money, cost effectiveness will always outweigh other responsibilities as long as legal requirements are met. This is exactly the reason why in my opinion, asking them to build a HVDC link from Anglesey to Deeside is nothing more than a mad dream by someone who sees the world as nothing other than perfect, it will just never happen as for National Grid, the risks far outweigh the potential benefits, in fact for them there are ultimately no benefits in doing so if they have secured permission to build pylons. Such a link not only massively complicates the distribution network, but also adds millions in costs not only to build the link but maintain/repair it in the event of a failure. Ask your inner business person what would you do? I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be.

I will come out and say now that I agree whole heartedly with people, pylons are ugly, they scar the landscape just like roads however being someone who has grown up in a world where we take stable energy for granted, I maybe don’t notice them as much. In my eyes, they are a necessary evil. I don’t want to look at them, I don’t think anyone does, but when I get home from a long day I want to flip the switch and my kettle to work, you can’t have one without the other which is a realisation which I have come to accept.

It’s funny, people oppose almost everything to do with energy, they object to wind farms, pylons, tidal lagoons, new power stations and who am I to tell them they are wrong, but to me, they are fighting for the view of a perfect world, and that world will never exist. If history has taught us anything, it will always be a little sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good, and in this case the greater good needs those pylons, it is the only sensible way.

Happy New Year!

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It might be stating the obvious, but as the clock struck midnight last night a year was completed and a brand new one started. Many people see the new year as a new beginning, me not so much, beginning of a new journal book yes, but huge personal changes no. I mentioned in a previous blog post that 2015 is bringing big changes for me, and that is true but those are more related to my career path and finishing university. I am however very excited to see what this years future holds for me and the people closest to me!

Upon reflection, 2014 was a really great year for me, I’ve met so many new people, strengthened friendships with my good friends and learned a huge amount. As long as things can continue into 2015 I will be a very happy man.

With that, I want to wish anyone reading a happy new year. I hope 2015 can be everything you want it to be.

20 facts about me (from ages ago!)

I just happened to find this list while looking for some photos to go in my New Years post (still a work in progress). Part of an Instagram trend a while back I never thought to share, until now.

1) My name is Peter Doggart
2) I have a non-identical twin called Ryan
3) I am from Belfast (Northern Ireland), however I’ve spent the last few years at University in Bangor (Wales) and I work in Jaguar Land Rover in Coventry (England) over summer – has given me a rather strange accent! #wellsosaysmumanyways
4) Whilst on the topic of university, I’m now a 4th year MEng Computer Systems Engineering student. University has been made great by my friends.
5) I live by my own set of 40 rules (and yes they are written down!), rarely shared, always followed.
6) I love music, and through Spotify have met so many amazing people and discovered new music.
7) I really appreciate good design, but I try not to have “brand loyalty” for the sake of it. If there is a better tool, use it instead.
8) I have an utter hatred for the M6 Motorway around Birmingham
9) I find it hard to relax, especially when at home – I like to be constantly busy.
10) I suffer from major “I miss the sea” syndrome when living in the West Midlands having always lived close to it at home and at university.
11) I have represented my country (NI) in international Karate.
12) I have a huge array of names that I will respond to after years of training by my friends: Peter, Pedro, Pepe, Pepandra, Potato, Migit, Small Fry…. The list goes on.
13) I have wonderful international friends too.
14) I very much enjoy driving late at night when the roads are quiet and you have time to enjoy driving a bit.
15) I am generally happy.
16) Despite what my friends say, I really enjoy coffee not just for the caffeine. (And I have given it up for lent to prove it is not an addiction)
17) I find it almost impossible to answer questions like “What is your favourite film?” because those sorts of questions are always subjective to my mood. I do however tend to watch both Taken films back to back if feeling sad. #everyonedieshappyending
18) Some of my university work is published in the Journal of Applied Physics. #excitingtimes
19) I have massively flat feet (which I should probably do more to look after) which sometimes causes me huge knee pain when running.
20) I’m not a huge fan of watching sport, the one exception is F1 which I have followed religiously for the last few years.

“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”

“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” is a quote from Benjamin Disraeli, a man who served twice as British Prime Minister during the 1800’s. It may be an old quote (one I always remember), but he was onto something. Change is a process of nature, it is something that happens all of the time and can’t be put on hold. Without change, where would we be?

All of the above is true, but that doesn’t mean change, or even being able to accept change is easy, in fact it is something I sometimes struggle with; and I’m not afraid to admit that. Lately, I’ve had some time to think about the future holds for me, and there is a lot of change on the horizon. I’m excited, proud, happy, anxious and a little scared all at the same time.

So 2015, a new chapter in my life journal titled “The Year of Change”.

The end of the university lifestyle I have come to know and love is rapidly approaching. Final semester is lined up to be a good one though, the final plans for teaching presentation skills to first year students are in the works, which I guess is my opportunity to give something back to the University that has given me so much over the past 4 years not only in terms of education but support, awards, financial help and friendships. I definitely will not hesitate to tell anyone that asks how great my experience at Bangor University has been.

In other big news for 2015, I have accepted a graduate role at Jaguar Land Rover in September which I am super excited about. I’ve really enjoyed spending my summers working for a world leading company and I have no doubt moving to a permanent role will be even better. Being based in the West Midlands, it suddenly dawned on me as I signed my contracts that this means a serious change, ultimately moving to a new place away even further away from my family and possibly away from my friends. The friends I have made at university mean a lot to me, my house mates especially and if I’m honest I don’t want to leave them – at the end of the day they never fail to make me smile!

Also been thinking a bit about holidays, my last proper abroad summer break at more than 5 years ago (I did have a sneaky trip to Colorado last Easter), and as much as I love holidaying in the UK, I quite fancy doing some worldwide exploring somewhere warm. Researching destinations is definitely something on my Christmas holiday to-do:whilst-not-revising list.

With all of these changes going on, and just generally being more busy it makes me very sad knowing my time as one of the top members of the Spotify Community is coming to an end (although I definitely won’t be completely quitting!). Since I joined the team in 2012 it has grown into something so much more than a support forum, but a real community of music and technology lovers. Take my word for it when I say with experience of seeing Spotify’s offices and meeting their staff as an outsider that the people are some of the finest I have ever met, and that same quality of people exist on the Spotify Community too. A prime example of how great people can change an entire industry and I am proud to have played a role in that, even if it is a small one!

You know, if someone had of asked me a few years ago what I wanted to do with my life, I would have been so very happy to work for a software company like Spotify, after all that is a huge part of what I enjoy and I am sure I would enjoy it. However, I don’t think I would ever be truly happy in myself now, I moved into Engineering because I wanted to change things, push myself, I want to be able to make a difference, I want to be able to do something big – but what that is I don’t know yet!

“The future is what you make it.” is one of my 40 lifetime rules, and I plan to make it how I want it. The fear of change is exactly that, and I am sure I will find happiness on the other side.

When people say ridiculous things.

Taylor Swift recently pulled her content from Spotify as has been widely reported. Yesterday, she finally spoke out about her actions to Yahoo Music. I just wanted to pass comment on a few things she said in her interview regarding music streaming.

If I had streamed the new album, it’s impossible to try to speculate what would have happened. But all I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment.

Ok, maybe she has a point on this one streaming is a bit of an experiment but is it a necessary one? I think it is, before streaming became mainstream (and it is still happening) as a general trend record sales are falling and the music industry as a whole generates less income. Streaming services have made a lot of people who previously would have simply pirated content a cost effective way of paying for content, and that is extra money that would not have been passed back to the record labels, song writers and artists previously. Let’s be clear, the music industry was ruined way before streaming was invented, so streaming I believe is part of the solution not the problem.

And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

I’m interested to know does she hold the same morals for everything. Lets think of free to view TV channels which are advert supported just like the Free Spotify tier. Are they “fair” on the people who make the shows?

I felt like I was saying to my fans, “If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.”

This is the worst sentence of the interview. Let’s go with the painting idea and draw comparisons to how music streaming works. So I make a painting, I have two options to make money from it, I either sell it to someone (ownership) or I display it somewhere and make money from people viewing it (licensing). For purpose of argument, I have an infinite amount of identical paintings to sell to people just like with music downloads. Ownership is the easy option, I sell my painting to someone and get a lump sum (one-off) payment from them. They then keep my painting and I never see them again. If I decide to license my painting, lets say to a museum that acts like a music streaming site, I give them the painting and they display it for me. I then get paid every time someone views my painting, so ultimately I get money slower but for much longer (in fact as long as they display the painting for). The analogy given in the quote above is ridiculous, at no point does anyone on a streaming service own anything, they can’t simply run away with a part of it. If you tried to rip a corner of any painting in a music I am pretty sure you would get arrested and have a huge bill to pay for. The fact of the matter is they do have to pay for it, streaming services cost money (or they generate money through advertising), it’s just not money in the same way as it has been historically made in the music industry.

Evolution has taught us adapt or die out, I have a feeling the same thing is coming in the music industry too.

 

We all love our phones.

We all love our mobile phones, for the younger generation (including myself), internet access and communication on the move are something we have grown up to expect. Anyone who has broken a phone and doesn’t have a spare knows how difficult it can be to get through a day without being able to quickly send that hilarious tweet that just came to mind or instagram a picture of the food you are about to eat. By the end of that awful day, you are curled up on a sofa, depressed and disconnected from the world.

Living in North Wales, mobile phone coverage is actually a common discussion which is something big city people really won’t be used to. There are many dead zones here for mobile phone networks, areas where you get little or no signal at all – 3G outside of a town? You can forget that right now. Signal in every room in your house? Definitely not.

So wade in the mighty UK Government who this week announced that they are to step in and shake up the mobile networks. However in typical fashion, they have gone about it the wrong way. After the mobile networks failed to reach an agreement on their own (after Culture Secretary Sajid Javid asked them very nicely), the UK Government is now looking into legal changes that would force/allow network operators to provide better coverage.

First things first, lets make it absolutely clear, Javid’s vision of eliminating the “notspot” is purely idealistic and will never happen in the real world. Mobile telecommunications and the technology it is built on top of is incredibly complex and has its drawbacks like everything else. Mobile phone masts can only cover a finite area of land with their signal (mainly due to the curvature of the earth), so unless people are prepared to see such masts everywhere (and as a general rule, people HATE them) the ideal of blanket coverage is an insane one. With that being said, let’s dig into the Governments suggestions and see if any of them will improve things.

 

1. National Roaming

This is the main solution being reported in the media. The idea that mobile devices in the UK could roam between all of the mobile networks (free of charge unlike abroad) using whichever has the strongest signal at that time. This on the surface sounds like a great plan, better coverage for customers and less infrastructure investment for networks.

However, lets think of what other effects that would have. Firstly, from the network operators point of view, it removes a huge amount of competition and also makes the distribution of infrastructure and operating costs unfair. EE demonstrated at the start of 2014 that being first to the 4G party can really drive growth and increase customer numbers after they launched their 4G network months in advanced of any other network. I know the current plans only include 2G services but it does bring up an interesting point. If I’m O2 and EE already blanket cover a huge area with 2/3/4G – why would we bother building out own 2/34G network in the city when we can just use EE’s for free? That in itself causes another problem, networking congestion. Essentially if all customers in one area are using the same network, there is bound to be a slowdown of the service on that network, just like it you have too many people connected to WiFi in your home.

Then lets think about customers, so you live in an area where you actually have no coverage at all. No network will be willing to pay for the network infrastructure in your area as essentially they have no guaranteed income from it since they could build it then you actually pay a different network. Then there is battery life, anyone who lives in an area with limited service will be aware that your phone constantly searching for a usable network drains battery. If your phone is always scanning for the best network to use, that is bound to have an effect on your phones performance.

2. Infrastructure Sharing

This on the surface of it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Mobile phone operators share their masts, allowing other operators to place their equipment on the same mast. Sounds like a win-win, cheaper deployment of services and less masts that we have to look at. This plan however favours the smaller networks much more than the big and would essentially allow the networks to all cheaply offer “the same” service in the same areas. Will the operators be happy with this, probably not. The process of putting up masts is incredibly complex as each one requires various forms of planning permission, which of course costs money. If other networks can place their equipment on your expensive mast for free, that makes building new masts less appealing to networks as in doing so they essentially help their rivals. Lets not forget, having coverage where others don’t, especially in the small town scenario is a powerful business and advertising tool.

3. Reforming Virtual Networks

Virtual networks such as Virgin Media, Tesco and Giff Gaff run on top of one of the other mobile operators networks. The suggestion is that these should be expanded so they can run on any network too. I suspect, although not familiar with the details, that this would in fact be an incredibly complex thing to do. Those virtual networks pay a fee to use someone else’s network, how that money would be divided between multiple networks I feel would be a nightmare to distribute fairly. That being said, if all networks are made to offer national roaming, then it would make sense that this would automatically happen since the underlying infrastructure changes would be there. Since only a small percentage of the population use virtual operators, this is a pretty small category.

4. Coverage Obligation

The final suggestion is forcing mobile operators in law to cover a certain percentage of the UK with their network, but leaving the decision of the areas they cover up to them. This won’t improve things, no mobile operator will cover any area that they feel will be unprofitable so essentially although this may force networks to cover more of the country, I think they will all choose to cover the same areas, especially if option 2 is also put into practise.

So that begs another question, is there another way? 

Well, as I started this message and I will say it again, there is no easy solution. Mobile phone operators are all big businesses, they exist purely to make money and realistically the small number of customers who come across so called “notspots” are not a financially viable user group to please. However, there are several points I feel they should consider:

1. Public Funding

Mobile phone operators won’t do anything that isn’t profitable, short and sweet. So if the Government really want them to improve service, then just like with rural broadband I feel the tax payer should pay for a proportion of it. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) set aside £530 million of public funds to speed up the fibre broadband roll out. Similar funds for mobile telecommunications could go a long way to improving coverage.

2. New Technologies

Apple demonstrated with the new iPhone 6 that LTE over WiFi with a seamless handover to the mobile network is possible. This technology could provide a huge boost to people who get little or not coverage in their own homes.

3. Merging of Mobile Networks

We have already seen the huge merger of T-Mobile and Orange to create EE and I know from experience that O2 and Vodafone already share masts in some areas to improve coverage. Thinking of other markets, are there many others that have 4 big players? Not really. Although they have failed to reach an agreement on their own, private deals made between networks about sharing resources in a way not enforced in law would be overall a better solution.

4. Reducing Spectrum Pricing

There is no denying that the mobile phone operators spent a fortune buying up the 4G spectrum, they are essentially spending money on nothing but permission to use the air. Think of how that vast quantity of money could have been better spent, on improving coverage.

5. You want it? You pay for it. 

This one maybe makes more sense for small communities rather than individuals, but if there is no coverage in an area and no network is willing to pay to build a mast in the area then it would be an interesting idea to crowdsource the funding from the people in the area and in doing so have some agreement that would force the chosen operator to cover the area.

6. A Mandatory Service Level

People who purchase phone contracts and then find their service is not up to standard should be able to walk away from a contract early without penalty (even after the current 14 day test period), this becomes especially important if you move home for example.

7. Regulated Pricing

The UK government could limit the amounts mobile operators can charge customers depending on coverage in their area. For example I pay O2 for a 4G tariff, even though there is no 4G in my area. I feel that since I am not getting the level of service I pay for, in comparison to say someone else on the same tariff in a big city I should pay less but that is not the case. This has big benefits for customers meaning cheaper bills, and it drives mobile networks to improve coverage so they can get more money.

Addressing other concerns in the media:

– It was suggested that network sharing makes it more difficult to track criminals and terrorists and whilst this may be true, with the networks working together ultimately I don’t see this being a huge issue as far as data collection is concerned.

– I heard on Radio 1 this morning someone complaining they couldn’t make an emergency call on another network if their network had no coverage. This is incorrect, dialling 999 on a mobile phone in the UK will pass the outgoing call to any available network – the only issue is when you are in a completely dead zone in terms of coverage.

– Enabling such changes will also be an issue. Swapping between networks dynamically would require software changes to the firmware on mobile devices meaning they have to be updated.

A gem of a track!

Was over on Soundcloud today looking for some new music to listen to. I sometimes hop over to Soundcloud to listen to remixes and things that aren’t available on Spotify. Came across this track, this it is possibly the most interesting track I’ve heard all year!