Voting time

I was hoping to write something insightful for the election. Time (well, laziness) has meant I shall spew some random thoughts instead… After the election has happened.

Things that are important to me:

  • Civil Liberties, privacy, and certain fundamentals of justice not being messed with on a whim.
  • Reforming politics and government, in a slow and discussed manner (not Blair-boy’s ‘hey I’m so bored of a Lord Chancellor, lets scrape it…. who’s turn is it on the Playstation?’). I’m actually not convinced that an elected upper house is the answer, but if it is, it needs to avoid the mistakes of whips, parties, and short term thinking. PR must surely be a better system than first past the post.
  • This includes a discussion on where we want discussions to be made, nationally or locally, etc. But this requires a public which understands that ‘local decisions by local people’ and ‘post code lottery’ are one and the same (which is used depends if the newspaper agrees with it or not).
  • A Strong economy, which encourages small businesses (but with fair rules to protect and give employees rights… they are not all ‘pointless red tape’)
  • A strong economy includes a strong financial sector. But carefully regulated to protect citizens from their mistakes and excess.
  • A strong safety net for those (and there are many) who need it, whether it be age, ill health, disability, hard times or bad luck.
  • Review of copyright and libel so they are fit for the 21st century.
  • Strong planning laws to ensure we have a quality built-environment. but with progressive and new ideas (such as shared space streets, like the excellent New Street in Brighton). Quality public buildings and spaces (such as St Pancras Station and Wembley Stadium) are important.
  • Education. I don’t have any answers but it needs to get better. Teachers need to be given space to teach, but in return they need to be good (not all are fit for the job). Endless government schemes don’t help, but nor do unions which seem to be simply against change.
  • Ideas along the lines of ‘some people misuse X, therefore lets stop – and stigmatise X’ are generally a bad idea. Examples of X are ‘benefits’ and ‘not being married (and have kids)’.
  • High speed trains are needed, to discourage air/car use, and to let people travel with ease, and to help move away from a economy focused around London.While Air/Road use should not be promoted, and in the long run other ways of living/working should be nurtured to avoid the need for travel, there is a need for some road improvements and probably (I regret) an extra runway in the South East England in the decade or so.
  • We need an enlightened immigration policy. Though we all acknowledge open borders are not suitable for this small country (I am genuinely at a loss why people manage to illegally enter the Schengen Zone – in say Italy or Eastern Europe – and then rather head for prosperous Germany or beautiful France risk their lives on the bottom of a train trying to get in to the grey UK!), we do not want to be a place where others can not come to work, or escape from prosecution. Students and educated workers bring so much benefit to this country.
  • ‘Heath and Safety gone mad’ is the refrain from the right of politics, and those who dislike the state interfering with their lives. This is easy to dismiss as the usual vile of a Daily Mail reader. Though there is argument that some things need to be rolled back. If people do really stupid things then that is their fault (obvious exceptions for children and those with learning difficulties). Vicarious responsibility can be a problem. Of course much Health and Safety law and practice is there for good reason but there are areas that need to be reviewed.
  • Working together with other European countries makes sense, we have a lot in common, shared values, and common standards benefit us all. But there are areas of the EU which seem wasteful, undemocratic, unaccountable, etc. And these need to be addressed. There needs to be clear lines of what and where the EU can legislate on.
  • Universities can be great for bringing in high tech companies, knowledge workers, and driving a SciTech, Medical, Creative industries economy. I’m not saying the tax payer should foot 100% of their bill, but cut backs have long term negative effects on a country.

This is not a full list, but just some of the ideas that came to mind. Feel free to comment.

Nick Clegg’s Fault. Beware the REAL Nasty.

Tonight is the second party leaders debate. As most in the UK know, Nick Clegg came out of the last one well, using a underhand tactic of using intelligence and good sense to answer the questions. #iagreewithnick immediately became a twitter trending topic.

The upshot of this is that the Lib Dems now have the slight chance that they will come a respectable third in the forthcoming election, instead of just a distant third. Obviously this is a matter of national emergency.

Luckily we have the great British press here to give an impartial view from the side. Especially so close to a general election. They speak the voice of the people. And act as the fourth pillar of democracy.

So on this important day, as the leaders take to the TV studio once again, with the sure knowledge the leaders of the two main parties are well primed in to stop this ‘Nick thing’, the papers are taking a reflective approach…

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We start with the Express. They tackle the emergency by having the lead story, and the two main News stories dedicated to the serious issue at hand.

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The Sun too decides the Nick of Doom is worth the lead story. They also manage to fit in the time of the debate, a welcome bit of advertising for which ever TV channel is doing it tonight (some company called Sky maybe, they’ll love the free advertising from these editorially independent chaps!).

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The Telegraph goes for a modest ‘only the lead story’ approach. No. hang on, what’s that on the bottom right there, I see Andrew Gilligan, everyone’s favourite Liberal-left columnist does some important research. And who could have foreseen the timing!

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Finally we have the Mail. Actually it looks quite tame for them. Just four articles, well, actually the FIRST four articles on their site, 222 comments and some video. They avoided any sort of emotionally charged piece by bringing up the Nazis and Hitler (but remember he wasn’t all bad).

But then I found a few more, in a novel idea of having more articles further down the page (who’d thought).

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1267921/GENERAL-ELECTION-2010-Nick-Clegg-Nazi-slur-Britain.html

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1267912/General-Election-2010-Liberal-Democrats-dirty-tricks-real-nasty-party.html

Lib Dems were the evil ones all along. Who Knew????

It’s like the fairground manager from Scooby-Doo all over again.

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1267873/GENERAL-ELECTION-2010-Nick-Clegg-received-donations-directly-bank-account.html

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1267835/General-Election-2010-Lib-Dem-MPs-told-milk-expenses-leaks-reveal.html

That man on the right looks dodgy (and by dodgy I mean Working Class, obviously). God, can you imagine if the whole of parliament was fiddling their expenses.

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http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2010/04/how-to-hang-a-parliament.html

In fairness (members of the press, click here to help sort out your confusion), this is just about a Hung Parliament rather than how evil Nick is.

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1267839/How-Nick-Clegg-prepared-TV-debate-Sky-presenter-tells-talk-public-like-year-olds.html

No wonder the public like him. He talks to them like they are idiots. Which of course they are!

So that’s six articles from the Mail, all published today, 22nd (except the blog post, posted yesterday).

It’s not just the press who are alerted to his evils. Twitter too has done its bit: http://www.twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/nickcleggsfault

Finally. Serious bit… If you want decent news about the UK (or, for you crazy liberals, the rest of the world). Subscribe to The Economist, and also read the New York Times Europe section. Maybe we could have papers like that.

Mystery Solved

We recently (well, last summer) launched Aquabrowser as our main library catalogue. We provided a feedback link for people to comment on the new interface, as we were keen to pick up on functionality it lacked or issues we may not have thought off. You can see the feedback link on the green bar on the right, it asks the user to login, and then provides a feedback form to leave a message. Continue reading →

Twitter clients

From about an hour after signing up to Twitter until very recently I used Twirl on both PC and Mac as my Twitter client. I was happy with it, and still am, but had noticed people using other clients and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

I round up my findings here:

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Three twitter clients

Continue reading →

Apple Automator

Automator on OS X is one of those things I use about once a year, but it always impresses.

Many attempts to use drap and drop to replace programming lead to confusing design. Examples are yahoo pipes, Business Objects, and most of all MS Access.

What’s impressive with Automator is that it always seems it was designed with the very problem you want to solve in mind.

My Problem (apart from the drink)

I use command+shift+4 to get screen grabs a lot. For twitter, for blogs (in fact for this very post), for documents, etc. However I end up with lots of images on my desktop called Picture 1, Picture 2, etc.

I want to keep these, for future use, but want a clutter free desktop.

The problem is, if I try and drag these in to a folder, there will already be a Picture 1, Picture 2 from previous occasions. Leading to annoyingly having to rename every file, or create a sub-directory for each time it runs.

Now I have a simple Automator script.

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Each time I run it, it moves everything in to a folder, with the create date in front of the name. It was easy to search for ‘actions’ (‘move’, ‘rename’) and browse (‘Files’ -> ‘Find Files’).

People power : twitter is highlighting & affecting important issues.

A few weeks a go (why, the 12th Oct in fact) I was sitting at my laptop during the evening, doing this and that with Twitter ticking away on the right. I glanced at the newest tweets to pop in and noticed one from secretlondon.

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Curious, I read the Guardian article it linked to. A gagging order to stop a paper report the proceedings of parliament. This is not very good. I muttered and got back on with the this and that. A few minutes later another tweet from secretlondon came in:

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Now we have seeds of information! To Hansard, To Wikipedia, To Google. Who were Trafigura, who were Carter-Ruck?

Soon other tweets were coming along about this, and I was adding my two pence too, re-tweeting the news and adding my own little links to what I was finding.

Hansard provided the details the Guardian couldn’t report, and it quickly became clear what they were trying to hide.

By now twitter was alight. Hashtags came in to usage. Following these produced more information, once someone found something, they didn’t just share with their followers, but with everyone now following those tags. Previous Guardian articles (amongst others) were brought to our collective attention.

Before this I had not heard of Trafigura or Carter-Ruck. I suspect many were the same, yet now we were angry about what we read about their questionable activities (one apparently dumps nasty stuff in Africa, the other boasts about suppressing the press, regardless of truth). A storm was brewing and I felt it had yet to peek. But it was late and sleep beckoned.

The next morning I was curious if there had been any developments over night.

First thing I came across was a Spectator online article (a publication on the other side of the political spectrum to the Guardian). It quoted the Guardian article heavily, but then went on to quote the part of Hansard that contained the question (and company name) that the Guardian could not and provided links. I tip my hat to them. #Trafigura was now trending, celebrity twitterers (including our Lord Steven Fry) were highlighting it and more.

It felt like it was everywhere, on the news, and over in coffee room colleagues were talking about it. The Streisand effect had truly kicked in. Before noon on the 13th the case had been dropped. The Guardian was no longer prevented on reporting on the story.

Five Days later

Five days later a Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote a homophobic piece (since edited) about the very recent death of singer Stephen Gately. A similar thing happens. A storm brews up. Not organised. But distributed little efforts or raising attention, mainly through twitter, which leads to coverage in main stream media and changes to the article and headline.

Black Out and Breaking News

And back in February there was a ‘black out’ campaign because of a proposed repressive internet law in New Zealand. Again, partly due to the coverage on sites like twitter, the section in question was scrapped.

It’s not just campaigns and activism. Breaking news is spread rapidly via twitter, such as the plane crash in New York (Twitter broke the story, and first images of the plane in the water came from Twitter), and Michael Jackson’s death.

But twitter doesn’t always have it’s own way. There was a Green avatar campaign for democracy in Iran, which sadly never saw success.

We’re seeing two things here…

1 – That information is now able to spread much faster than it ever has before. This has always been the case with the Internet, and has increased each year with new technologies (blogs, social networking), but especially with twitter.

2 – That people spreading this information leads to the main stream press reporting on it, and those under pressure back tracking. (I wonder how essential that middle step is?)

Twitter is such a good tool for the first point. It is instantaneous, not just the web, but on computer twitter clients and phones, and messages are public by default (unlike many other social networking sites where they are restricted to a specific groups or trusted circle of friends). Having an Open technical platform (which allows any other website or application to access tweets) also helps.

So…

My instant reaction is that this must be a good thing. When something bad is happening in the world (sorry, that sounds very simplistic) twitter, and other websites, can spread the information quickly and widely, even to those who don’t follow the news each day. This can lead to positive change.

The Trafigura/Carter-Ruck case is a good example of this. Imagine if it had happened 10 years a go. People (well, only Guardian readers) would have read the Guardian front page but not had a clue what it was about. In fact The Guardian may well not have run it as a front page story (or at all) as it would have simply confused/frustrated their readership. The Guardian took a gamble by putting this on to the front page, knowing (hoping) it would then become a story in its own right. It did, probably more than they ever hoped.

Noteworthy information is a virus, once it is in the wild it is unstoppable.

But all is not rosy. It will be slippery slope. I’m reminded of the 1995 film ‘the Last Supper‘. In the film they start off killing of the worst people in society, but as time goes on, things become more complex and grey and less clear cut. The Trafigura case was clear cut. Those trying to stop the BBC putting Nick Griffin on to Question Time, less so. There’s a thin line between the people power righting wrongs and mob rule.

One final example – baby and bump

Last Christmas I came across a news story about a ‘Lapland in the New Forest’. Long story short it was a con. Promised a lot, but was little more than muddy fields and a few fun fair (pay to use) rides, two santas (queue for hours, not allowed to take photos) and the odd tree with fairly lights, with staff who were untrained and the worst possible people to be interacting with kids.

For some reason I looked up to find out more. And I came across a thread on a web based forum called baby and bump (you can guess what it’s for). The thread was the top result on Google so became one of the main exchanges on the web for those affected by this.

The thread starts off with a few excited people discussing going to the Lapland attraction and how excited the kids are, and how much they have splashed out (money they couldn’t afford to throw away). Then those who visited the first few days after opening reported back, while others are in denial that it can be that bad. Then it really starts, more report back, and others start to join the forum simply to add their experience.

Then the fact finding starts: the owners name and address, other business addresses, legal rights, who in the council to complain to, who in the press to contact, how to file a small claims, the owner is related to the leader of Brighton (my) Council!

I like this example. It isn’t the twitterati or tech-savy web2.0 types, but just families on a simple web forum. No one organised anything, but many added bits of info, supported others, or shared their experiences. I would say it very much played it’s part in the early closure of this cruel con. After returning from a horrible day, cold, upset kids, after paying quite a sum upfront, it must feel frustrating and helpless, I think even finding others who have been through the same must be of some help. The Internet can really help in such situations. But it’s not the power of the internet, it’s the power of people. The Internet just acts as a enabling tool.

So Twitter is allowing us to share information and become aware of facts/situations in a way not thinkable until now, and at a very quick speed.

Google Reader – shared stuff

I’ve been using Google Reader for a while having jumped ship from Bloglines. One of its features is to share stuff. This is potentially a good thing as it avoids me bombarding my twitter followers with endless links to stuff i find interesting.

At the moment it is useless as I don’t really follow anyone on Google Reader, and they (probably good sense, and a firm value of their own time) don’t follow me.

So, people, here is a link to my shared stuff.

http:

So feel free to add me as a contact in Google Reader, and I’ll do the same. And read interesting stuff. Because twitter, failblog, blogs and the web don’t already waste enough of my time.

University league tables combined data

Last year I collected the University League tables published from various sources and combined them in to one spreadsheet.

I’ve been updating this for this year, i.e. tables published in early/mid 2009 aimed at those starting in 2010.

You can see the UK Combined University league table data Google spreadsheet here and re-order as you please. I’ve updated the three ‘UK only’ lists, and will update the international lists in the near future.

Notes:

  • This is a bit of fun, for my own interest. Don’t take it too seriously.
  • There are plenty of good guides to UK Higher Education including The Guardian, The Times and plenty more. Use them, not this site, if you are thinking of studying in the UK!
  • A quick glance will reveal that I have never studied statistics. In particular my made up scoring system is laughable.

You’ll find last years data in a seperate sheet, accessible via a tab at the bottom of the document. Are you able to produce anything interesting with this data?