Tuesday, 10 December 2013

I made a game...

...That sadly doesn't have zombies in it. I announced on here a few months ago that I had left my gainful employment in order to pursue a career in development. The result of my first such attempt is called Save the Village and is out now on Google play. This is the link.

If you have an android device, please download it. It's free!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Some thoughts on national economics

I've been thinking recently about how to design an economic system that might actually work for both a nation and it's citizens. It's too early/late to do this with any real form or structure, but some of the ideas have been floating around in my head whilst I was trying to sleep so I thought I may as well get them down.

The problems are apparently legion in the UK. Our productive base is too low, our skill set is limited and the government coffers are bare so it is impossible to drive investment (or so the thinking goes) from a national level. Now the last is a particular issue for me as I personally believe in relatively high amount of nationalised industry and infrastructure being essential if a nation is to work for all of its citizens. As such a lot of my thinking is around taxation, and how to raise this (and all government income) to provide for the level of service I think would be desirable.

With that said, the first thing I would do would be to introduce a tax cut for some of the highest paid. Don't worry, I've not just suddenly turned into a conservative. The elimination of the personal allowance strikes me as unfair and hides a large marginal tax rate, so I would get rid of that in the aim of simplifying the tax code. This would be followed by a reinstatement of the 50% threshold at £150k. I've not run the numbers on this, but expect it would be largely neutral in terms of revenue. I believe there would be scope to increase the high earnings threshold further than this (there have been some studies recently that suggest the peak of the Laffer curve is anywhere between 55% and over 80% depending on if the additional salary drawn is a form of rent-seeking) and would point out to those against such an argument to the link between the UK's economic performance in the last three years and FTSE executive pay.

Land is a fixed commodity in the UK, and any use or ownership of it should be (in my opinion) taxed. While this concept may cause a lot of people to flinch, it is something that already happens via council tax and business rates. One issue with those though is that the rates are localised and (in the domestic case) the scale is effectively regressive accounting for a higher proportion of the living costs of those of limited means compared to those earning more. An LVT based on the land's rental value will aid this. There would probably have to be some safeguards in place for the elderly who now lived in houses where the tax was unaffordable. This could come (for example) in the government paying for the tax via an inflation linked loan, repayable when the house was sold or the occupant died.

There would be a system of penalty for idle ownership of multiple homes, or of land that was viable for development that remained undeveloped. In the former case, things like private rental would have to be accounted for as a protection. A suggestion would be to have to prove that the property was occupied via private rent for at least 180 days via rental invoices or contracts. Where this condition wasn't met the rate of tax on that property would be doubled, or at least increased by a percentage. There (for me) is no room for the government to force land-owners to develop, but the tax system is not just there as a means of raising income, but also for providing incentives for behaviour (bear this in mind as I continue). Thus, the longer idle undeveloped land is held the rate of tax would increase on a sliding scale.

Also on property, I would get rid of stamp duty for property sales and instead charge capital gains tax on the profits made from the sale of every property. This would function as a counter-cyclical brake on the housing market. If prices were rising too fast, the disincentive of CGT would cool it slightly. In a slow market there would be no tax levied on house sales which should stop the market drying up entirely.

Now to corporations, companies and employment. There are a lot of conflicting arguments about this, and they are often all couched in terms of absolutes. The problem is that the economy is made up of lots of companies of varying sizes who would be affected in very different ways by the same arrangement. But as the range is continuous, it would be impossible to tailor a two tier system without harshly punishing people close to the divide. For example, an argument against the minimum wage (and one I have some sympathy with) is that a small cafe in the North-East may become nonviable if they have to pay all staff a calculated living wage based on national averages. However not having a reasonable minimum wage enables those that provide capital to exploit those that provide labour where there is a labour surplus.

It's a difficult square to circle. How to allow smaller businesses to stay afloat in tough times, while ensuring those that can exploit weaknesses and loopholes in the economy pay a far share of tax. Instead of looking at an raising an absolute minimum wage, perhaps it would be better to leave that as it is, and instead look at enforcing payment ratios onto large companies. This would mean that if the ratio between the annual salary (after bonuses perks and the like) of the highest paid executive was more than a certain multiple of the lowest paid in the company, that company would be penalised through the tax system.

You may well be asking how this is possible, given that the complicated tax arrangements of the largest corporations means they pay as little as a tenth of a percent of earnings in tax. Dealing with that is also essential, but probably beyond the scope of this post. Instead I would propose a 'fine' of a tenth of a percent of UK turnover (defined, for example, as a transaction where at least one of the parties was domiciled in the UK) for every multiple above the limit. The highest paid in this scenario would be the highest paid in the company full stop. For this exercise we would only be looking at the lowest paid in this country. So if the multiple limit was 100x (for the sake of argument) and the true multiple was 110x, then the company would be 'fined' 1% of it's UK turnover, regardless of their P&L figures.

That isn't exactly the problem solved in it's entirety, but it is as far as I'm willing to write tonight. A further night of insomnia in the future may lead be to add to this via another post.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The long hard stretch to the finish

As I noted last week, I am currently developing a game for Android. The concept for the game (Save the Village) is a relatively simple one, catch the fireballs as they descend the screen lest the village below burst into flames. While the graphics are, shall we be polite and say simplistic, the gameplay is actually fairly compelling. This isn't me saying so myself per se, but friends and family who have given the development code a go are often compelled to have another go or two before handing it back.

One problem though in doing all this for the first time is that it can be insanely easy to underestimate the amount of time left in development. I have a to-do list stored via the quite impressive Wunderlist, which I use to keep track of my progress. What I don't see though is the number of dependencies that the little tasks I'm setting are creating in turn. It can occasionally feel a little demoralising, I've felt like I'm a fortnight away from finishing for the last three weeks! Hopefully this stretch is actually the last stretch. I'll post something over the weekend about the game itself (rather than my travails) for anyone that wants to see it.

Friday, 13 September 2013

2 Lines

I posted a couple of days back about how I'm trying to become a games developer. At the time I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Well, as it goes I'm still feeling pretty good about the whole thing, but I have been bashing my head against a brick wall with an issue for the last couple of days.
So the game works, it does everything it needs to in terms of playability. OK the difficulty needs balancing, but I'm happy to say that's coded in such a way that they take only seconds to write (play testing is the awkward thing). So all of my screen transitions up to the game work, the main menu, the pause menu (placeholder graphics, but meh) all good. All I need is a local high score screen and I'm pretty much good to go.

So as ever I think about the components needed to do it correctly:
  • SavedPreference object for holding the score? Check.
  • Sorting function to determine which high score has been achieved? Check
  • Text box for the player to type their name? ...
Ah. Adding text itself isn't an issue* but adding text that an end user can interact with is. So days, literally (not the new meaning *glowers*) spent trying to work out how I could get an editable text box to pop up in front of the user so they can enter their name. Repeated goes at typing very very similar lines of code in slightly different files led me to understanding less and less of what I was reading. My desperation for a resolution sent my commenting and back-up policies out the window.

And then, this morning, a breakthrough! A new view up on screen (floating, as it were, on top of the main screen) from which it will be simple to add one of the Android widgets. Except, well it wasn't. Again. And now the errors that were being thrown were miles out of my comfort zone, null pointer exceptions are fine, but these errors felt like dissertations on multi-threading.

Back to the internet, to the Android documentation, to stackoverflow.com. After a little while trying to find similar issues, I new I needed to add a looper and a handler. But how do they talk? What exactly do I need to do?

Finally out of desperation I took the first part of the code and just stuck it in the one thread I know I have running:

//Some other stuff
 And it worked!

I'm still not entirely sure how the handling is being done, or if I'm just being hideously obtuse. For now though I'm just going to take it as a win, and leave the thinking for when I'm more likely to cope with it.

*For those interested in this sort of thing, the game framework is based on Mario Zechner's book 'beginning android games' which I discovered through the tutorials at kilobolt.com. The framework uses a surface view to render all the goings on to a single bitmap, which is then scaled and drawn to the resolution of the device.
This works brilliantly but adding additional 'View' components isn't the simplest thing in the world, at least to a novice like me.

Thursday, 12 September 2013


I guess I'm what you'd traditionally term a 'bit of a geek'. I enjoy physics, video games, statistics, understand how to read weather charts, and until recently spent a lot of my spare time learning how to program. 'Until recently' as I now spend most of my time doing that.

For all that though, I do break with the exaggerated American high school stereotype in that I'm quite a sports fan, most of all football. It's actually quite a weird one to explain when someone points out the dichotomy of finding the pacing of most TV dramas to be so slow as to be unwatchable (and TV in the main to be a fools errand) yet enjoying watching 22 blokes run after a bit of leather for 90 minutes, while very little happens.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Into the unknown

So today I wanted to spill my mind about the last 6 weeks or so. I was going to do that yesterday, but my brain was crazy melted by the wonder of Sharknado so I wrote about that instead (seriously if you haven't seen it get some mates round and give it a whirl).
So anyway before I get hit by another wave of B C D-movie delirium...

Anyone that knows me reasonably well in person will know that I started this summer as an advancing data-quality BA at a quite well known investment bank. The money was good, I'd been promoted in the winter and had been managing a team of three since the year before. Those of you who know me from my online persona only may be a little surprised to hear this, as I am quite an outspoken 'lefty'.  Still bills gotta be paid and all that, I got a call just after getting married (with the previous company I worked for having gone broke) that there was an opening and I would be a good fit. Here we are three years later.

That was how I started the summer. I am now 'unemployed' and am in the comfort of my own home during the traditional 9-5. So what happened? Well first and foremost, this isn't some 'woe is me tale', I resigned and left in late July . But why?

Sharknado: the drinking game

I was planning to write something moderately self absorbed on here this evening, tracking the last couple of months of my life, plans for the future, all that jazz. That's going to have to take a back seat though, for today I arrived (late, as ever) to the party they call Sharknado.