Tuesday, 27 July 2010

AV campaign poster

Over at Lib Dem voice there is currently a competition running to source a poster to promote the Alternative Vote campaign, for next years referendum. 

Here is my offering:

If you came here via the comments page on LDV, please take your time, have a look around the blog, and if you are feeling really adventurous, maybe leave a comment or two. Cheers.

looking for work

I'm not sure any semi-regular experience comes close in the horrible stakes to job-hunting. It's so ridiculously soul destroying and demoralising that it leaves you unconvinced as to your ability to do any job at all. And I say this as someone who has only received one rejection letter to date.

Let me start from the top:
I found out last week that the company I work for is in severe dire straits. This was confirmed for me on Wednesday when it was suggested that instead of my usual work, it may be best to prepare a CV.
This was duly completed and the job hunt began, if not hastily, earnestly. The problem was (and indeed remains) that not only am I not particularly clear what I want to do, but my career to date has not really been targeted enough to give me a proper fall back.
The obvious contender for a holding role is to do some design work, admittedly that's far from obvious looking at this blog, but it has been the key thread through my career to date. Thing is, these days everyone wants to see a portfolio. I'm not organised enough to keep a portfolio. I had trouble enough remembering where the my work was on the server. Finding work I did 3 or more years and 2 computers ago is like looking for a needle in a haystack. When someone forgot to provide the needle.

I can do other things of course. I mean I can write, or at least I hope I can. If you've made it this far then at least I can write a bit anyway. But once again employers want to see a strong portfolio of work. That tends not to mean a hideously untargetted blog and the occasional note on rwdmag.com. Besides, the few jobs I have seen that do exist have balls and all to do with what i know.
'Do you have a passion for luxury hubcaps?' Does anyone?

To save repeating myself down the list of skills that I have in some measure, it's essentially the same story. I can do the job but either don't have a portfolio handy, or haven't been doing it professionally for anything like long enough.

Luckily I do have a way of amusing myself even in these irritating times. On seeing one job that I considered I had a chance for, I replied, 'are you looking for the ultimate all-rounder? Well look no further!'

Yes I know what you're thinking, that's either breathtakingly arrogant, mind numbingly stupid, or both. Frankly I'm not sure I care, after another day in our rotting corpse of an office, I needed some entertainment, I was tired of typing up the same empty platitudes and maybe, just maybe someone arrogant and stupid is just what they were looking for.

Friday, 16 July 2010

More re-hashing: Raoul Moat and Facebook

Posted on a forum of which I am a member, about the RIP Moat facebook pages. In reply to a call for them to be banned.

As far as I can tell the page that was removed was done so because it breached the T&Cs of facebook (I believe there were comments inciting violence). The problem with banning this sort of group as you seem to suggest, is that you won't actually be stopping people from thinking these things. You just won't be able to search for them. I actually think it's quite a good thing these pages exist, because then you know who the nutters are!
The far more pertinent question is surely what drives people to want to join this sort of group? If you take the group away, those people that are publically sympathising with Moat will instead do so in private. What makes tham sympathise? A few of the crazies that joined his group may be dangerous, they will continue to be so regardless of whether they can announce it on facebook.
I still blame it on the media. I think the prolonged coverage made him an obvious 'anti-hero'. People want to be famous, and if they can't sing / act / kick a ball then suddenly this new route to stardom has emerged. Terrifying really.
While I don't agree with the banning of internet pages of this ilk, I have no problem with what Cameron seems to have said (not heard his words directly). This is a case of someone with influence offering an opinion, I'd rather the PM (of any party, except the obvious) use this influence than the papers that try and do it on a daily basis*.

*This bit refers to something that the PM said in PMQ's expressing his distaste for the facebook groups.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Guitar hero: On tour review

It has (once again) been quite a while since I blogged. So to remind myself what it's like to use the blogger software and to help achieve my goal aiding potential employers by having all of my writings in one place; here is a review I wrote for the TVUSU magazine about 2 years ago. Enjoy.

 You know something is awry with guitar hero – on tour almost as soon as you first switch on the power. A rather colourful warning is displayed espousing the necessity of regular rests, followed by a further warning suggesting how best to hold your DS while playing. If you hadn’t already worked it out, Activision are letting you know that for all that the guitar hero franchise is, one thing it isn’t is ergonomic!

To put it in plain text, the ingenious attachment that Red Octane have devised for use with their portable incarnation of a multi million selling game is supremely uncomfortable. This isn’t out of bad design either, the strap around your hand has to sit so tightly so save you smashing £100 worth of DS lite all over the train platform and the buttons sit almost as well as could be expected (though to make the angle between the buttons and the users fingers a little less than right would have been pleasant). The problem is quite simply that the format does not transfer as well to a handheld format as one might expect.

Of course, the tardy and dedicated reviewer that I am, I persevered on through the RSI (which in the days of the Wii is little more than an occupational hazard anyway) to find out how valid an addition to the series ‘on tour’ is.
Due to the limited amount of space on a DS cartridge, the career song list is limited to 5 venues which between them house 25 songs spread over the 4 difficulties now familiar to guitar hero veterans. This in itself is no bad thing and completely excusable. What however (to me at least) was completely inexcusable was recycling songs from guitar hero 3, especially as (despite the missing button) the charts for the songs felt so similar. This would all be well and good if only newcomers to the series were expected to play, the problem with this approach is that isolates those fans of the series that don’t want to be playing the same songs again.

The game play itself should be very familiar fare, even to many who don’t themselves own a video games console. Notes move along the screen in time with the music and as the notes reach a marker, the player ‘strums’ (using a special plectrum shaped stylus) while holding the button whose colour corresponds with that of the note.
    Guitar Hero-On Tour offers three single player modes; I will spend little time discussing the obligatory career and quick play settings, as they are fairly simple and indeed quite self explanatory. What does deserve some column inches though, is the new battle mode. Not quite a new thing in itself (Guitar Hero 3 had three ‘boss’ battles against guitar legends and… Satan) what is different here is the fact that you can play any unlocked song against a CPU controlled adversary. In this you can gain the upper hand by launching power-ups at your opponent to temporarily disadvantage them. Unfortunately, like every other good idea in this game, it just doesn’t work well enough. To activate the power ups, or in some cases to recover from those that your enemy has hindered you with, you need to perform actions on the touch screen, while the song continues running on the other side! This makes using or recovering from power-ups nigh on impossible. While disappointing, it’s hard to see exactly what Red Octane could have done better.

So, to conclude, I wouldn’t really recommend this game to fans of the series, as it’s just not in depth enough to really offer value for money. That said I wouldn’t recommend it do newcomers either. The awkward design of the controller may well put you off learning and the track-list just isn’t inspiring enough to draw you through the game. A shame as nothing has really been done badly, it just probably would have been better off not being done at all.


Thursday, 13 May 2010

The ConDem pact

We have a new government. It's not what many people wanted, but the vagaries of First past the post mean that is not irregular. I for one am cautiously optimistic. Yes we effectively have a tory government, and I can't say I trust them as far as I can throw Mount Everest, but that's beside the point. This coalition deal was one of only two realistic options on the table, the progressive 'rainbow alliance' was never an option. I'll explain more on that in a minute, first I'm going to pick out one or two things from the text fleshed out during the 5 days of negotiations. In doing so I hope I can explain my tentative positivity.

Political Reform
It isn't the first item on the list, but for many people that voted Lib Dem this election it is their number one priority. The coalition agreement is generous on Reform, with Fixed term parliaments coming into power immediately (A no-confidence dissolution vote will now require 55% of the house to vote in favour). Also in the mix is a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system for Parliamentary elections, and a proposal to see a proportionally elected upper house.

This was one of the cornerstones of the Lib Dem campaign, and it is surprising how closely the coalition document matches their manifesto. The personal allowance will increase in real terms each year, with an aim to reaching the £10k target by the end of this parliamentary term. This will become the priority tax cut, moving ahead of the inheritance tax cut in the cue. A rise in non-business capital gains tax will help pay for it.

Civil liberties
Based on the Lib Dem freedom pledge in their manifesto a 'great repeal bill' has been touted.  Henry Porter makes the case for this far more eloquently than me. Also of note (though included in the immigration section) is the ending of detention of children for immigration purposes.

Those are my highlights. The full outline is available to view here.

So yes, the government is going to be tory lead. There is also a glaring problem with the deficit that makes spending cuts likely. Unfortunately Cameron's party is likely to do this with more relish, but at least with The Lib Dems looking over their shoulder hopefully thier priorities will more echo my own.

So for my mind this was probably the best result that could have occurred from a really dodgy situation. As a Lib Dem voter I'm aware that the party could be associated with a very unpopular government which could lead to their eventual downfall. So why the acceptance? It's probably best to look at the alternatves.

1) Confidence and supply -
There was the option for the Lib Dems to enter into a confidence and supply agreement with the the Conservatives. I explored this option in a previous post. However in hindsight, this would not have provided a government that lasted very long. Further, though they would have the power to veto elements of Conservative policy, they would have far less chance of getting their own policies enacted. The benefits listed above would have been vanishingly unlikely.

2) Progressive coalition
Well this was the holy grail to many a left-leaning voter, lock out those bastard Tories and get some good done. All wonderful in principle, however the Lib-Dems and Labour together did not hold enough seats to form a majority. That meant that other parties would have needed to jump on board, mainly the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists.
Fair play to them for effort, but the SNP and Plaid Cymru were campaigning on the back of spending increases for their respective countries. This would have been very hard to accept during budgets in which public spending had to be cut. Agreements on budgets were unlikely. Also, when negotiations began between the Lib Dems and Labour, Labour MPs made public their opposition to a coalition. When considering such a slender majority in parliament, any dissent would make the government untenable. For all our hopes and dreams, Labour and the Lib Dems combined just didn't get enough seats.

So there we go, agree? disagree? Let me know below the line.

Monday, 10 May 2010

No Women? Unfair or representative?

So today @hannahnicklin @davecoveny and others have been discussing the lack of female representation during the coalition negotiations. My argument in short was that if the Parties in question had no strong female negotiators, why should there be Women involved?

Let me make something very clear, I am not in anyway suggesting that women cannot be good negotiators or that female negotiators do not exist, I am saying very specifically that there may have been no women suitable for the role in the parties questioned. I am talking about the benefits of a meritocracy versus tokenism here. I firmly believe that in any situation people should be hired/selected/advanced on the basis of their ability alone. That means that Men, Women and so called ethnic minorities (I fucking hate that term by the way*) should all be judged on their talent in a scenario, not just flung in to make up the numbers. It's surely not fair on those people that may have been able to do a better job.

If I remember my numbers correctly there are 7 female Lib Dem MPs and 52 female Conservative MPs. The obvious question to ask at this juncture is why the ratios are so low? There are 362 MPs between these two parties but only 16% of women. Is that not unrepresentative given that roughly 50% of the UK population is female?

That all depends. As with the world of work, a better measure of what would be representative surely needs to look at the level of applicants for a role. When the ratio between number of applicants and number of successful applicants across all groups is balanced, then you can call the successful applicants representative. It would be easy to argue that there are talented women that are put off of entering politics for various reasons. For that reason I commend documents like this, which highlight those reasons, and try to help us break down the barriers.

What I don't like to see though is any bias built into a system, that may penalise a man via so called 'positive action' as much as I dislike to see unconscious bias (or even directed bias), rule out talented 'minorities' because they come from the wrong backgrounds. My answer as always in cases like this is that equality of opportunity is vital but selection must be fair. If that were to mean that 90% of MP's were women, I for one wouldn't complain.

*and I apparently am one.

The markets are jittery!

Don't under any circumstances expect this to be coherent or sensible, I just wanted to get something committed to 'paper' about the uncertainty of the markets, whether that be stream of consciousness or not.

I don't remember us electing a bunch of suited everything-phobes to run the country*. Why is it we are being held to ransom by the markets? The thinking behind this seems to be something like:
  1. A couple of people think 'ooh-er, not sure I like that government, I might just pull out some of my investment there.'
  2. Other people go 'Shit! look at that! some people are pulling out their investment! I might just go and try and make money out of this by taking up short positions against UK holdings'
  3. Further people go 'Oh, look at all those short positions in the UK! Market must be about to tank... Should probably reduce my exposure there'
  4. UK stock market tanks. 
You may have noticed that most of the work there was done by strategically shaved monkeys reacting to other monkeys going 'Oh shit!' How is that a guide to the formation of a government, and furthermore economic policy?

There is a running school of argument, that we are only in this position due to the level of debt we hold. That makes no sense to me. Even if we followed that argument to its (market driven) conclusion surely the cost of the debt should rise? Why would the state of the government effect the well being of the top private companies in the UK? 3 days after an election?

I could go on, so I will.

Only one trading day has passed between the election and now. Is that really too long to be making a decision? If I was a party leader, I probably would have slept the whole weekend anyway, what with all that campaigning. The impatience bugs me something chronic.

And what is with the news trying to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy? The BBC spent all morning, telling us how the markets were jittery. If I worked in the stock market, that would make ME jittery. Apparently the FTSE opened 100 points up this morning. Then started to descend, apparently in response to all the news stations saying that it should.

Or in short, this shit pisses me off.

*then again the Daily Express quoting Conservatives did get the highest share of the vote.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Hung parliament

So, I've been quiet for a fair old while. I didn't have much time to blog during the election campaign, and with my limited amount of followers I thought it unlikely that I would do much of an influential job here, deciding instead to go and campaign on behalf of my local Lib Dems.

So here we are, the votes are in and we are in hung parliament territory with one of the trending topics on twiiter for the last two days being #dontdoitnick. The don't do it, referring to potential deal with the tories to allow them to govern, either as part of a coalition or as a minority government.

I hold a lot of distaste for the tories, but cannot agree with this approach. Nick Clegg said prior to the election that the party with the most votes and the most seats would have first right to seek to govern if no party got an overall majority. The Conservatives are the party that are in that situation, so surely he should stick to his word.

There is a definitely a case for electoral reform, in fact it is probably the one issue that I deem most important. However, while Lib Dem supporters may consider themselves 'progressives' and therefore closer aligned with Labour than the Conservatives, it would surely been seen as a stitch up, if Clegg brokered any sort of deal that let Gordon Brown remain as prime minister, when only 29% of people voted for his party!

So what would I do? There is one issue of electoral reform on which the Tories and LibDems appear to agree, and that is the need for fixed term parliaments. If a deal could be offered on that basis, with an agreement to abstain from the Queens speech vote, the Conservatives would be forced to run into a 4 year minority government, with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power on a case by case basis.

There would then be a chance for the Lib Dems to put through a private members bill backing a referendum on our voting system. This would clearly be voted down by the conservatives, but if it was voted down by Labour also then it could be held up as proof that they weren't sincere about it's importance. If it was passed by labour then surely it would also have minority party backing, particularly from the Welsh and Scottish nationalists and therefore become law.

I voted Lib Dem, but I am a democrat first. Shouting 'don't do it Nick' because you don't like the Tories, isn't democratic, and if you want them to jump into bed with Labour, well you should remember how illiberal they have been these last 13 years.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Something about Mephedrone

In the run up to the much-anticipated-but-ultimately-not-very-groundbreaking budget we got to witness what may be the last Prime Ministers Questions session before the election. During it I saw a striking illustration of the ignorance and hysteria that plagues our parlimentarians regarding drugs. Labour MP for Ayr, Sandra Osbourne stood up and said the following...
"...will the prime minister give his assurance that when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs reports on the 29th of March, that he will act immediately to ban such legal highs"
Ms. Osbourne was driven to ask her question after the death of Jordan Kiltie of Ayrshire. However this report by The Press and Journal and this one from the Scotsman website both suggest that the 19 year old 'may have taken a number of substances.' Of course the outrage must continue unabated despite such uncertainty, and while it is almost certain the late Mr Kiltie had consumed mephedrone on the night he died, the toxicology report that would highlight what other substances may have contributed to Mr Kiltie's death is incomplete.

There is an implicit instruction in the question that goes beyond the call to ban the drug that Brown himself went on to call 'evil'. The right honourable member for Ayr is effectively asking for the Prime Minister to take an action regardless on what the ACMD reports! As the sacking of Professor David Nutt* in October last year showed, Parliament tends not to hold balanced scientific advice from it's advisors in high regard. It does make you wonder what the point of going through the charade of making a report actually is.

*By the way there is a great interview with Prof. Nutt in today's Evening Standard. It cheers you to hear someone being sensible

Monday, 22 March 2010

Before the business of the day can start...

So, I actually came on here to write a nice informative piece about the deficit, what it means, how it effects us, what it means for the budget and so on. I thought it would be a nice informative and traffic inducing (well ok, getting my hopes up I know) post.
In connecting to the interwebs I innocently signed on to twitter, eager to see what the news of the moment was. Any further info on the Labour lobby lovers? Cash gordon linking to more porn? No such luck, instead @Charltonbrooker posts this link. A link that has finally turned me into one of them. Yes those slimy cunts with nothing better to do than write letters of complaint to TV stations complaining about their hideous content. Look at the link, then read my response below (which has been e-mailed to them).

To sir/madam,
I today viewed with surprise and distaste a segment of ITV's Alan Titchmarsh show focussing on the potential harms of videogames.
While the need for care and concern for the potentail effects of all media is understandable, what wasn't was the setting up of a single knowledgeable panellist as a pantomime villian against an ill informed debating panel and an unnecessarily hostile audience.
Mr Titchmarsh had clearly not been briefed regarding the existance of strict age certification in the retail selling of video games that is identical to that of DVD's. The segment also included an uncorroborated assertion that video games were in some part responsible in the hideous and tragic case of James Bulger.
The videogames industry in the UK is a highly successful one, with a large percentage of the available games being suitable for child or family use. An acknowledgement of these facts would have gone a small way to rectifying the issues with this segment. However it would have been far better to have properly briefed both your host and guests against repeating unfortunate and unsupportable arguments  that went out of fashion nearly a decade ago.
I hope this this message is considered with others should you consider holding such an unbalanced debate on any topic in the future.
I watched the clip nearly half an hour ago and I still haven't quite calmed down. The link above also contains a link to the ITV complaints and comments area. Maybe you can turn into 'one of them' as well.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

In the world of the mail, this shit matters

The top story on the Daily Mail website right now?

This is the Mail taking offence at the fact that on measuring young 5 year old Cian's Body mass index, they sent a letter stating that he was defined as obese on the index and the dangers this could cause.

This seems reasonable no? I mean, are we not running headlong into an obesity epidemic, that could cost the country billions and it's citizens a less fulfilled and shorter life? Not according to the mail, and in particular Cian's mother Kriss.
‘It’s getting ridiculous what they are telling children at such a young age - it is damaging to them. I don't want my children to grow up to be anorexic'
Well yes body image is also a concern in this media driven age. So quick mental exercise for you all. Which do you think would endorse a poorer body image in a young child?

Option A) Having a letter addressed to your mother (which you are unlikely to read or know anything about unless she tells you about it) calmly point out the risks that being overweight can pose, while offering advice and help on how to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Option B) Having your picture posted on a national news website, along site a letter from the NHS stating that you are overweight, with your not particularly healthy looking mother glaring on in the background.

I certainly know which is more likely to lead to you getting picked on at school.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Voting reform 3: Single Transferrable Vote (STV)

Ok so it took a while, but here comes the third and final part of the Hippo voting reform series.

If you missed parts one and two look here for a discussion on FPTP, it's faults and the reason that we should never use the term 'winner' in an election.
Once you are done with that, have a look here for a gander at the rules regarding an AV election, the system that we may get a referendum on as part of the Voting Reform Bill.

Those following the goings-on in parliament will have seen that the Liberal Democrats tried to pass an amendment to the Voting Reform Bill, to get STV included on the referendum form. This motion got voted down, so you may wonder why I'm bothering to mention it at all.

Well in my opinion STV is the best way of selecting representatives for a given constituency, indeed instead of a single 'victorious' representative being chosen, a number of representatives are selected based on the spread of political opinion in that constituency. Of course whether or not this is an improvement on the current state of affairs is a matter of opinion. Before we look into the positives and negatives let's first observe how it works.

In each constituency there will be a greater number of parliamentary seats up for grabs. This will mean that each constituency is larger, so rather than a single election determining the representative of apporximately 70,000 people, an STV election would simutaneously produce four representatives for a ward containing 280,000 members.

The ballot paper for an election in this system will look the same as one in an AV election (see image) where each voter, instead of putting a single 'x' in a single box, expresses their order of preference for the candidates. A '1' will indicate the candidate that the voter most prefers, followed by a '2' for the second most favoured all the way down to the last candidate that the voter can stomach.

So far, so familiar. But of course this time we need to select (for the sake of our argument) four representatives, how to do that with the information gathered from voters?

In the current case where we are selecting four representatives, we look for the four candidates who recieve one vote more than 20%* once we have taken into account all the preferences. That is any candidate who recieves 28001 votes in our 280,000 constituent ward gains a seat in parliament (assuming a 100% turnout in the kind of ward described above).

The first thing that we do is look at the first choice votes cast. If any candidate gets the required number of votes, they are elected. If more than one candidate gets the required number of votes, all of those candidates are elected. As it takes a set number of votes to pass the threshold, second choice votes are transeferred proportionally to other candiates. How this is done is a little hard to explain so please bear with me for the next passage.

Leaving our example for a second, imagine that a candidate that requires 10,000 votes to be elected actually gains 20,000 votes. this means that the candidate has an excess of 10,000 votes (and is good for my on-the-fly arithmetic). Now for each of the 20,000 votes cast the second choice is considered and counted up. Once totalled, half of those votes are then transferred to the respective candidate. We only transfer half the votes, because half of the votes needed to be used to elect the first choice, but we counted all the papers because we need to discover the second choice votes of all voters in question.

When the second choice votes are considered for all of the candidates that have reached the required number of votes** we then check to see if any of the other candidates have now reached that mark. If not, the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated, and their votes are completely redistributed to the next preference candidate on that paper.

If a Candidate qualifies at this point, then any surplus is again redistributed in the way outlined above and the process is repeated until all places are filled. If this was a little hard to follow, check out the STV page on wikipedia which offers a simple scenario involving treats.

Hopefully now with a (sketchy maybe) grasp of how STV works, we can look at the pros and cons of introducing such a system. Writing on the AV post from this series an anonymous poster said.
"Each party can put up as many candidates as they like without fear of splitting the vote. And independents who broadly support a party (and party rebels) can also choose to stand without needing to worry about taking votes away from a more viable candidate and letting a less preferable opponent in."
This is of course true of AV systems, but with only one seat available in the house where is the incentive to field more than one candidate? At the end of the day political parties care only that the candidate from their party gets voted in. Not that the constituents are happy. If they feel that the mood in a constituency is such that their party will get the votes (safe-seats)  there is no need to field other potential representatives if you know there will be someone voting with your whip once the votes are in!

With STV there is an incentive to field at least enough candidates to fill all the available seats. That then gives the voters a choice to vote for a party but to exclude a candidate that they do not approve of. Just think of the chance for labour voters to oust Hazel Blears or Jacqui Smith!

There is another regularly raised issue with STV, is that with larger, multi-represented constsiuencies, there will no longer be an obvious link between MP's and their constituency. While this may be undoubtedly true if taken flat, the information on the ballot papers could be used to assign candidates to constituencies once the election is complete. Alternatively, maybe having more than one representative would be a good thing anyway. If voters had more than one person to field an issue to, they would be more likely to vote again for the one that responded most positively, even if it meant using one of their preferences for a candidate that is not part of the party they would choose for government. The best performing MP's in this system would be returned to sit again, while the weakest would only manage to serve a single term. What we'd end up with is basically market forces aiding in the survival and ousting of MP's!

That's about it. This was quite tough to explain properly, so if you can suggest any clarifications I'd love to hear from you via the box below. Also, if you agree disagree or have anything to add, join in below. I look forward to hearing from you.

*The reason for this choice of number is actually a logical follow on from what constitutes a working majority (ie 50% of votes +1) In a typical (FPTP) election, gaining one more than 50% of the votes guarantees that no other candidate can have more votes. In this case, only 4 candidates can possibly have more than a 20% share of the vote so we use 20% of the votes cast + 1vote. This system for working out how many votes are required to be elected is known as the 'Droop quota'

**Of course if more than one candidate has already been selected, we may need to look at the third choice or lower preference candidate on any paper. In all cases we just look for the highest useable preference.

Friday, 12 March 2010


Okay so I guess it took me long enough, but I've finally found xkcd

It takes a while to find it's form, but when it does it becomes staggeringly brilliant. Those that know me will know why I love this one in particular

Go check it out, but don't worry too much if the science and maths stuff stumps you a little. It does me from time to time, and I actually care about that sort of shit.

(by the way, I discovered xkcd through this post at liberal conspiracy which is also well worth your time)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The tourture of BBC science shows

So over the last two days I have spent two hours of my life watching science documentaries on the BBC iPlayer.
The first 'Wonders of the solar system: The sun' aired initially on Sunday night, the second 'Horizon: Is everything we know about the universe wrong?' was on last night at 9pm.

Now I really like the BBC, I'm happy to pay the hundred odd pound annual subscription and I watch almost all of my television through the iPlayer. This isn't me joining the (often pathetic) throngs that can't see the public service provided.

What it is though, is a request to stop wasting my bloody time by claiming that a show would inform me, or answer my questions when it quite simply doesn't. The few snippets of useful information in both those shows combined could have made a ten minute short. 15 if you wanted to get all arty.

I won't waste too much of my time talking about 'Wonders' as it's already stolen an hour of my life, but it basically amounted to Professor Brian Cox travelling the world, pointing a camera at the sky and going 'wow'. 'Wow!' he said looking at a solar eclipse. 'Incredible!' he exclaimed, sailing down the Amazon. 'Magnificent!' he gawped, at the northern lights. Maybe that was the point of the entire show, to make people gawp. I find it much better to gawp at facts that you wouldn't otherwise believe, rather than pretty pictures.

Now horizon was marginally better. It could have thrown a dog turd at me through my monitor and I would have thought the same (think of the technical achievement!). It remains though, that all of the actual information provided could be explained, in quite easy to understand language, during a cigarette break. I know, I tried it. It goes a little something like this...

The standard model of physics explains how the universe came into being. There was a big bang, then the universe grew consisting firstly of energy, then after a while matter formed. This matter settled down into stars, which clustered into galaxies, which gave us the universe we inhabit.
Some observations don't quite fit with the standard model. The first of these is the relatively uniform temperature of the universe (found out by looking at the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, a view of the universe 13bn light years away or 13bn light years ago), which is inconsistent with a universe still growing from an explosion. To get round this, a principle called 'inflation' was dreamed up where the universe grew from the explosion, then stopped for a bit. Then when the temperature was roughly even, it grew again. We aren't sure why.
This still doesn't quite explain our observations though. There isn't enough observed mass in galaxies to explain the stars rotate around the centre. Rather than the rate of rotation slowing the further from the centre of a galaxy you go, it remains constant. To account for the extra mass, we use something called dark matter which should be everywhere, and actually outnumbers actual matter by a ratio of 5:1. There is a guy in a lab underground looking for it, he has to be underground so that more common particles don't interfere with his detectors. We aren't completely sure what it is, but it might be something to do with supersymmetry.
Even this doesn't explain it completely, the universe is expanding faster than we expect it do. We aren't quite sure why, but we have come up with an idea of 'dark energy' which exists in vacuums. Effectively the energy of nothing. When we factor this in to our standard model, along with the dark matter and the inflationary principle, we get a working model of the universe...
Almost. Now, after studying the CMB for a bit longer another scientist has found that some galaxies are rushing together in groups. This doesn't work as part of our inflationary model. The concept has been called 'dark flow'.  It may be something to do with a multi-verse, that is, our universe is just one of many.
In order to get that information, that took me about 15 minutes to write (and as mentioned a cigarette break to explain). I had to sit through a balloon being blown up (pneumatically thankfully) about 15 times, what appeared to be a close up of a match about 40 times, and the phrase 'it started with a bang' about 7 million times (ok I exaggerate, but only on the last one).

I understand that most viewers don't want in depth science coverage, but that was a full hour of airtime! Why not just condense the sort of stuff written above into half an hour, and then put a half hour follow on show on BBC4 or something, for those that want to actually learn something?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Credit where credit is due

Much of the blogosphere which I frequent is filled with bile and disgust aimed at the fourth estate. Newspapers in particular (along with their internet bretheren) are often lambasted for being biased, bigoted, ignorant and downright stupid. That is because in general they are.

As the title of this post suggests though, this is not always the case. So here I am to offer plaudits to the London Evening Standard for the week long feature they are running on 'the dispossesed'. The feature aims to highlight the disparity between London's richest and poorest, and offers a call to arms to all Londoners to try and fight poverty across the city.

Yesterday's issue was deliberately shocking, and the Leader rightly admitted as much. It was intended to galvanise the poplace and judging by the reaction in todays issue it seems to have gone some way to doing that already. Today's feature is more optimistic, showing that a life that begins in poverty doesn't have to continue that way.

I can't add much more to what is turning into a fantastic piece of journalism. Please check it out, those Londoners that ignore the papers on your daily commute might (finally) find something worth reading.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Why tragic things like this may happen...

I wonder if you'll agree with me on where I find a problem with this introduction.

The story is most certainly one that should be told, a poor girl got trapped addicted to heroin. In a brief moment of clarity she wrote a letter declaring herself clean, but sadly died from an overdose a mere 3 weeks later. Read the full article here.

The reporting itself is usual metro quality, so too badly written to be particularly offensive. What I really take issue with is the linking between ecstasy and heroin in this regard. Don't get me wrong, I would agree that there is probably a causal link, but those that take ecstasy to not immediately (or indeed ever in most cases) become heroin addicts.

See this link I think is actually completely counter productive. Ecstasy and variant drugs are relatively easy to come by, so some people will find themselves in a position where they can experiment. After experimenting and finding the whole experience to be quite different, but no more severe, to being drunk, they will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

Now imagine that someone who has taken ecstasy, and has seen ecstasy and heroin conflated in this way, now finds themselves in a position where they can experiment with heroin.
'well ecstasy wasn't so bad,' the thought process may go 'so maybe the media are exaggerating with this too.'
Except they're not. Heroin is horrible (I've not tried it, but I've seen the results), it's incredibly good at making your problems go away, and it's highly physically addictive. A perfect storm for stealing the life of a young person with problems.

Add to this the insane classification system that considers just about any drug more potent than cannabis (with the exception of the taxed drugs) a class A, and what genuine messages are we giving out about the relative dangers of heroin compared to other drugs? None. Including ecstasy use so prominently in a story like this, only serves to exacerbate the problems.

Migrationwatch watch

Have you heard of Migrationwatch? Most of you will have heard of the name, but for a lot of people it the recognition will cause a vague ringing in the back of the mind. Like when you pass someone on the street who's face looks a little familiar, and you don't want to talk to them because you can't remember their name, and then it's too late because they have already started a conversation that you can never quite get into because you just don't know where you know them from.

Well does this jog your memory? "Sir Andrew Green of the Migrationwatch pressure group said: 'This report confirms that ministers deliberately rode roughshod over public opinion in adopting a policy of mass immigration."(source - but I wouldn't click if I were you)

How about? "But Migrationwatch UK warns that initiative planned or in place by the two main parties will fail to meet that target." (from here)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

You tube faves

It's all gotten a little bit serious and educational here at Hippoblahblahwhat recently. So I thought I'd cheer myself up and lighten everyone's day with two of my favourite music based youtube vids.

Voting reform 2: The basics of Alternative Vote (AV)

I argued in my previous post that First Past The Post (FPTP) is a voting system that should be consigned to the electoral dustbin. Should the Electoral reform bill make it past the lords before parliament is dissolved in the next few months, we may get the chance to boot it out. What will take it's place though?

The alternative vote system offers the (near) guarantee that the elected representative for a constituency will have been voted in by a majority of the turnout. On election day, instead of placing one 'x' in the box of your
favoured candidate/party you number the candidates in your order of preference. To illustrate this, Below are two 'example' ballot forms. The first is a traditional FPTP ballot, the second an AV paper.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Voting Reform 1: What's wrong with FPTP?

MP's recently voted to allow a referendum on electoral reform. That is to give us the option to finally send the outdated and unrepresentative First Past The Post (FPTP) to the scrapheap.

The option on the referendum (if it gets through the House of Lords, no mean feat given that parliament will be dissolved within the next 4 months) will be a straight choice between FPTP and AV. For this, the first blog entry in this series we are going to look at why such a change might be considered necessary. In the second I'm going to ignore the curiousness of the timing of this bill and instead try and explain what you will be voting for, or against in the Alternative vote system. In the final installment I'll go over 'what we could have won' (and what we should IMO get behind) Single Transferrable Vote (STV).

Friday, 19 February 2010


Ok so who uses twitter?

You have probably heard a lot about it in recent months, and I have just recently offered my soul up to the beast to see just how much of it is engulfed. Strangely for something that is just the status bar from facebook, it's really quite compelling.

Because people are forced to sum up their thoughts in text message format, you never have reams and reams to read through, and looking at the trending topics can offer a sort of 'life highlights' with all the links that you need to find out what is going on in the world.
The one thing I still haven't quite grasped is actually tweeting. I currently have all of 1 follower, a polite 'refollow' that probably occurred all but automatically, so what s the point in me tweeting? Some may argue that it's the same point in me blogging with no readers, but I actually enjoy writing. I don't much enjoy texting (never have) and while writing skill may aid me in the real world, no sane person is ever going to hire me off the back of a few entertaining tweets.

But if I don't tweet.... Why would anyone follow me anyway? It's a paradox that I haven;'t yet resolved in my mind. Do I tweet to the masses that don't yet exist (like here) assuming that 'they will come'? or do I just go around following people and see if anyone follows an empty feed?

We shall see. One thing that I do tweet is when I have posted a blog (#blogs is a shameless promotional tool) so follow me if you wish to keep up to date on Hippomonstroblahdeblahdeblah. (wish I'd thought about that name for just a touch longer).

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

props to power

Really quite a short note to highlight some great work that is being done to try and inject some public enthusiasm into politics.
The aim is very simple, to get people to vote on what sort of reforms they would like to see in the political system. Once this procedure has been completed the aim is to lobby political parties to include those reforms in their manifestos.

There are only 5 days left to vote, so click on the link, read through the options and vote for those you like. It is worth voting, even if your selection is a clear favourite for inclusion, as the greater support exists for a proposal, the more pressure will exist on parties to include it.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

I'll write some original content soon....

But in the meantime, here's some stuff that I wrote for this issue of the Thames Valley Student mag.

As a little aside, I actually quite like the idea of collecting all my writings from other sources to go here. As well as padding out the blog for the one or two visitors that might want to read something by me, it also becomes a nice one stop shope for me to look back over in years to come.

Anyway, it's for the game portal column, so is about videogames. Download videogames... Because I'm poor.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What can I say.... I was bored....

Feeling really unmotivated today, so what else to do but type 'unmotivated' into a search engine and see what happens?


That really cheered me up :)

Monday, 8 February 2010

It's debating day!

In a further case of blatantly padding out my blog with writings done form elsewhere (see piece on tax breaks for the games industry) I decided to share a long reply to someone on a forum discussing the existance of God. Mainly because in a couple of months, that discussion will be culled from the forum, and I spent a lot of time writing it.
I have removed the user name of the person I was debating, but have left the points that I am replying to in the quote areas. The first line seems to include a typo on their part, as they themselves believe in god...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Make the pope pay!

You may or may not be aware that Pope Benedict the something or other is coming to the UK soon to place his hand (I said his hand) on children's heads. Well OK he's an intolerant old bastard, he's against equal rights, and was once a member of the Hitler youth (we all make mistakes eh?), but I'm a liberal and believe in free speech so sure. It'll make some people happy. Go for it.

One thing I'm not happy about though, is that this visit is expected to cost the UK taxpayer £20million. That's quite a lot of money, like the annual budget for a couple of schools. So the National Secular Society have started a petition asking the catholic church to stump up the cash.

If you, like me find having a country billions of pounds in debt paying for a man with more bling than Dr Dre to visit a little unfair. Go and sign it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Newswipe returns!

A heads up to everyone that Newswipe (with Charlie Brooker) is back on the oft ignored BBC4. Its regular slot is 10:30pm on a Tuesday, but of course the iplayer should enable you to ignore such things as schedules. Move quick for the first episode though, as it falls off the iplayer's database sometime on Friday.

So what is Newswipe, and why am I bothering to tell you about it?

Basically the show is just Charlie Brooker bitching about how poor news coverage is these days. The first episode dealt with the constant bubble of fear that news coverage seems to provide. The most recent episode covers filler... What on earth to do on a slow news day?

The format is pretty straightforward too, most of the show is Charlie talking, interspersed with clips from news stations that prove his point. There is a guest poet in Tim Key, an 'american correspondant' (whos name eludes me) who sips whiskey and offers polemic that is often right on the money and a guest speaker who deals with the topic of the day in a far more serious light.

So, watch it, it's simultaneously shocking, thought-provoking and hilarious, even when it goes a little post-modern. Oh and come back and thank me if you enjoyed it :)

Monday, 25 January 2010

Tottenham Hotspur vs Leeds United

In a format rather heavily inspired (read ripped off) by football365* I thought I'd provide a few thoughts that came out of the weekend's FA cup fixture. I am an armchair spurs fan (too poor and not determined enough to fight for a ticket to games) but am trying to look at the game as neutrally as possible (mostly).

  • For the first 20 minutes it seemed that the Leeds goal was haunted by the ghost of Boaz Myhill. Leeds keeper Casper Ankergren repelled shot after shot including a decidedly tame Jermain Defoe penalty. Despite this Leeds could hardly be called a one man team on the day.

  • If anyone in a Leeds shirt did deserve that accolade, it was neither Ankergren nor the much lauded Jermaine Beckford, but Robert Snodgrass. He was as involved in combatting the Spurs midfield as he was in setting up many of Leeds attacks. Simon Grayson's allowing of Snodgrass to roam paid massive dividends for Leeds and set up classic 70 minutes of football.

  • As alluded to earlier, Defoe's penalty in the early stages of the game was incredibly, pitifully tame. Beckford's spot-kick taken in the dying seconds of a fraught game, with the weight of Yorkshire on his shoulders, was an absolute masterclass.

  • What exactly is the point of Jermaine Jenas? I read with amusement that Inter Milan are interested in his signature. After a dreadful display against Liverpool and a toothless and aimless 90 minutes against a league one side, Spurs fans may be having a whip-round to help Mourinho with the transfer fee.

  • Of course the 'league one' statement in the point above is far more of a stick to beat Jenas with than Leeds. The Yorkshiremen looked at times like a top flight outfit, with an industry that has been severly lacking from other visitors to the Lane. Think Wigan for example.

  • Saturday's game could have been a coming of age game for Gareth Bale. He was mostly dependable at the back, caused real trouble going forward and looked much like the stand-out player that joined Spurs during that diabolical spell at the start of last season. Of course one swallow does not a summer make, but there were hints of a far more mature and able Gareth Bale than has yet been seen in a Spurs shirt.

  • You have to feel sorry for Roman Pavlyuchenko. It may be that he isn't working hard enough in training, it may that London life just isn't for him but his goal showed exactly what he is capable of. This is a player that has performed admirably on the sizable stage that is Euro 2008. Before completely running out of steam after what was effectively two back-to-back seasons, the Russian looked like he could be good for us. We may never know, and could regret it.

  • How much to Tottenham miss Aaron Lennon? Without him the team lacks the width to really stretch defenses. Also missed was Tom Huddlestone who has been class all season, his intellegence on the ball and running from deep could see him maturing into a Frank Lampard style figure. Without him we are left playing Jenas, which means we may as well be playing with ten men.

  • The real winners yesterday were the neutrals. As much as it is a cliche, Saturday's game showed all of the magic of the FA cup. On Wednesday February 3rd, there will be a replay at Elland Road and while neither manager may welcome the extra game, the fans are certain to be up for it, and the atmosphere is likely to be electric. Hopefully the match will be another classic.

*I won't provide a direct link as it's a Murdoch thing, consider it a *very* guilty pleasure. You can find the url easily enough if you think about it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A ramble and a soundbite

So, I've kind of neglected this space of mine so far this year, but am determined to not give up. I like writing, but the problem is that I'm not the fastest at constructing my thoughts so need quite a lot of time to provide the sort of post I feel is sufficient.
As a result there may be a few more stream of consciousness posts on here in the near future as I try and train myself to take the time to document some of the things that are going through my mind. I'm sure my two followers have felt really let down by the lack of output!

Anyway there is a thought that has been flashing through my mind of late that I've managed to boil down to a handy phrase.
"Politics is the art of making a country look worse than it is, in order to gain a highly paid job. Or it's the art of making it look better than it is, in order to keep one"

You can quote me on that :)