Monday, 12 December 2011

The BBC reports that:-
The outlook for jobs has worsened with a survey of 2,100 employers finding that four out of five had no plans to hire workers in the next three months.
The survey by Manpower found that hiring expectations were at their lowest level for three years.
But the Reed job index for November reports:-
November figures: Job opportunities rise to 23 month high
Figures released for November show a steep rise in employer demand for new UK workers, with the Reed Job Index reaching a new record of 133.
New job opportunities rose to their highest level for nearly two years in November, with a four point rise across the UK compared to October.
Overall, demand has risen 33 per cent since December 2009, when the Reed Job Index baseline was set at 100.
So, what is it?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Stocks, shares, morals and ethics

I have given some thought to my own morality and how this corresponds with how I would buy stocks and shares, I shall try to share these thoughts with you, but its around 4am when I'm writing this, so it could be a bit woo.

I used to have morals and stuff, or I thought I did, within my own smartie tube. Moral justification for my actions even when I was being a bit of cunt. But some time around 2003 it all got a bit blurry and I didn't give much thought to such things. But now I'm grasping around for some moral framework. Kropotkin and his mutual aid seems to be a bit unjudgemental, too evolutionary to be a moral framework. I feel more at home with Epictetus and his stoicism, "Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them”, by not giving a shit, a shit is not given, or something.

Right now I'm reading Kant, his categorial imperitive sounds cool "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.".

I'm not sure how it corresponds but I'm quite ambivalent about tax avoidance, its legal but certain quarters frown on it. Tax evasion is illegal, down with that sort of thing. One of UKUncut's things about tax avoidance is that whilst its okay for individuals to have ISA to avoid paying personal taxes, when multi-national corporations do it for hundreds of millions of pounds, then its not okay. The categorical imperitive dictates that this is invalid, tax avoidance is either univerally okay or universally not okay. Maybe its a continuum fallacy, I dunno, I don't care either.

So just to err on the side of caution, I'm going to give the tax avoiding benefits of ISAs a miss and pay full tax on any savings, and be damned. Its the sort of thing that The Man Who Hates Fun would do.

However, that still leaves me trying find something to do with the great piles of wealth I have accumulating around me. So on to stocks and shares.

After reading some Guardian artical on ethical investing, I don't think I trust other people's judgement on what's an ethical investment or not. Is investing in guns and nuclear power bad, but investing in tax avoiding companies good? Is investing in human trafficing bad, but in RyanAir good? I'm not sure.

However, whilst I'm uncertain about investing ethically, I'm absolutely certain that in terms of spending my ethics are the greatest, I know how to spend my money better than anyone else, the more money I have to spend, the better the world will be, on my terms, by my own morals whatever they be. Other people could disagree with that, but then, that's just them saying their morality is superior to mine.

Anyhoo, given that ethically the more money I have to spend, the better, then the return on investment of my investments is more important than the morality of the companies I invest in.

For example, if I buy shares in British American Tobacco, who've been steadily delivering 25% year on year for the past ten years then that is a morally good investment. BATS make their money from willing customers willingly buying their tobacco products, they don't make money out of me buying their shares, I make money out of them. Other people could own their shares, but then other people would be getting that 25% year on year and then possibly spending it in ways that aren't as ethical as me.

On the other hand, shares in QinetiQ, the global defence company, who make weapons that kill people, have given a relatively crap return on investment over the past five years, in fact their price is 40% down over five years. Regardless of whether they sell weapons, they are a morally bad investment.

Of course, all of this is hopelessly naive. I know little about morals, or the difference between morals and ethics. And also, I'm not too good at stocks and shares.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Film idea: That that brings them together

I've had a great idea for a low budget Brit-flick film thing:-

A group of strangers find themselves together in some kind of situation, I dunno, shipwrecked on a desert island, or stuck in a lift, or kidnapped by a genius psychopath, and after trying to figure out why they are there, they come to the conclusion that the thing that connects them is some shadowy person from their past, a mutual acquaintance, someone used to live with them, sold them a car, went to school with them, picked them up hitchhiking, whatever, this one person that they all know.

Then it turns out that he's got nothing to do with their predicament, and its just coincidence, like six degrees of separation, and after pinning all their hopes that its cos of this guy, they end up dead. Whatever mechanism or person that brought them together and killed them is just a little puzzled by their unexpected connection, but doesn't let it interfere with the sick but otherwise quite banal plan.

Later the shadowy bloke from their past reads about their deaths in the newspaper, gets a little freaked out that these disparate people who he knew all died together, but then otherwise just carries on with his day.

Life goes on.

Monday, 28 November 2011 and that woman being racist on the tram

Earlier today there was a tweet by Old Holborn on that twitter about the latest viral video, a woman having a racist rant on a crowded tram somewhere near Croydon. As is the norm these days the YouTube video became a news story and at around 6pm the BBC were reporting that the woman had been arrested. Some on twitter were calling for her kids to be taken away.

Anyhoo, as I am a completely normal user of the internet, well versed with porn websites, I've had this ace idea, a video website like RedTube, YouPorn, PornHub et al, but with youtube videos of people committing crimes. Viewers can submit ones they've found on YouTube, and people can watch and rate them. Then at around 6pm every day, the police can arrest the subjects of the top five most 'popular'.

It would be the greatest website since Hot Or Not. Everyone loves watching miscreants and rapscallions, remember the spectacle of the London Riots, now imagine a whole website of that sort of compelling footage. We may never again need the BBC or ITN for our crime porn.

Sure there'd be tawdry stuff, like burglary and assault, but cos its all ranked by views and ratings, the important stuff, like cat-trapping and racist rants, would float to the top.
Luckily the url is still available, but I can't do it, I've got no idea about websites, but anyhoo, I claim this website idea first, just like in that xkcd strip.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Looking down, so down

The other day I was putting together a dataset looking at how the wealth of the super rich, to investigate just how accurate the phrase "the rich are getting richer" really is. Incidentally my conclusion is that for the top 50 richest people in the world their wealth only increases by roughly 15% year on year.

However, this lead to a discussion about how I focus too much on the wrong things when I should be focussing on the poor and the needy, over-population and the scarcity of land. Again, this lead on to a discussion about whether I look down on poor people. After a bit of introspection, I don't think I do. I don't consider someone's wealth if I look down on them, I think I'd probably consider whether they are uncouth and uncivilised, the intolerant and the bigotted. I could be wrong, but I consider these traits as better reasons to look down on someone than the state of their balance sheet.

That said, I don't think I look down on people much at all.

There was a story on the BBC news website about how dirty looks are putting off mothers in deprived areas from playgroups

The study was based on the experiences of 30 parents - 29 mothers and one father - in a deprived area of Bristol, who between them had experience of 97 different groups for families with young children.

The research found that one in four had been once to a group - and had been so uncomfortable that they had never gone again.

The most typical reason had been because of a sense of social unease - either because other parents were "too stuck up" or "too rough".

There were fears of being excluded by established "cliques", or facing unpleasant comments.

One in five were "phobic" about encounters with groups of other parents. These parents tended to be the poorest, with the least qualifications and the lowest self-esteem.

A single "dirty look" could be enough to deter them from any return to use childcare services.

Dr Jones says that one mother did not even make it past the front door, but had turned round and gone home when she was put off by the perceived attitude of another parent.


Those making the most use of such mother and toddler groups tended to be those who already had the social skills, confidence and support networks.

After I read this, I empathised. I remembered the times I've had low self-esteem and low confidence, the first time I went to cub scouts when I was eight, the first time I went into the girl's common room in the 6th form, the first time I went to National Pop League club night in Glasgow. I don't have those fears of dirty looks now because after years of being in the cubs, or louching round the common room, and becoming a fixture in the Glasgow indie scene, I noticed the sheer lack of dirty looks from the regulars when new people came in. The only dirty-lookage would between people who'd had unwise but very intimate experiences with each other, not complete strangers.

I believe its probably the same deal at everywhere, newbies think that they're getting dirty looks, but they are mistaken, the regulars are not giving dirty looks at all, no opinion has been formed. In things like playgroups, cub scouts, 6th form common rooms and premier Glasgow indie clubnights, it takes time for the regulars to form an opinion of newbies.

Its all in the eye of the beholder, the newbies need to just oull themselves together, get over it and remember the way it is for next time. And there hangs my privileged upbringing, for these mothers from deprived areas probably never went to cub scouts, the girls 6th form common room at Bolton School or any of the many indie club nights in Glasgow which made me the ultra-confident sex tyranosaurus I am today.

But if the newbies are going to interpret whatever looks they recieve as dirty, that what are the regulars to do?

Luckily the BBC article had the some sugestions

Sure Start centres were seen to attract a wider range of social groups than voluntary organisations, says Dr Jones. This could be because they had paid staff and were less likely to be dominated by one group of parents.

They also sometimes had a designated "welcomer" to give new arrivals more confidence.
Another way of preventing cliques, she says, has been to run playgroup sessions in limited blocks of time, six or eight weeks, so that parents would not develop into networks that would be off-putting to newcomers.

"My study has found that going to a group can be a daunting experience, especially if a mother doesn't know anyone there," says Dr Jones.

"The mother and group need to 'fit' together. Mothers need to feel that others in the group are her social equals, with similar values and attitudes to child-rearing.

"Mothers need to feel their age, social class, and their or their child's ethnic identity will not isolate them in a group."

Those last two paragraphs are worrying and somewhat contradictory, unless they are suggesting that some people should not join specific groups if they don't fit. I'm more into amorphously tolerating and embracing people with different values, atitudes, ages and social classes, rather than rejecting people who don't fit.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Food wastage and three tonnes of carrots

My head has been befuddled for the past three days since I listened to a piece on Radio 4 the other morning about food wastage and some charity who were using 'waste' food.

There's a piece on the BBC news website here and it makes my head even more befuddled. Personally I enjoyed being hectored at by the BBC and well meaning charities, I like to humour people with differing opinions than my own, it relieves me of responsibility for my actions.

I don't know what they want me to do.

The piece on the radio had an interview with a chap from the charity and a factoid that British households throw away 25% of the food they buy, when the interviewer questioned whether that was things like peelings and eggshells, they charity chap admitted that if you included those things it would be closer to 38% of food is thrown away by households.

In my household we throw away no food. Personally I'm a manufacturing engineer following the just in time strategy for inventory, so I only buy food for meals on the day I'm consuming it. Peelings and stuff go in the compost heap in the back garden. Those 25% and 38% figures are talking about other people, not me. I don't buy food that I'm not going to eat. I'm not quite sure why anyone would.

Anyhoo, the piece on the radio went on to cover what the charity does, it has a food warehouse in south London where food that supermarket's don't want it is stored and sorted by volunteers. On Saturday they were doing a thing in Trafalgar Square where they were making up 5,000 meals with this unwanted food.

On of the factoids covered in the piece was that there were three tonnes of carrots in the warehouse, unwanted by supermarkets.


They did point out that in the past three years supermarkets have started using more and more wonky vegetables in their ready meals and value ranges, although I suspect this is more due to a change in EU directives which has made it possible rather than some anti-waste agenda by the shops.

For the last three days that three tonnes of carrots has rested heavily in my mind.

I don't understand what they want the public to do.

The public have already bought sufficient carrots, all that they want to eat, the three tonnes is surplus. Should we have bought more carrots? Should we have bought more food than we wanted?

The supermarkets didn't want the carrots, knowing that they wouldn't be sold and they would be wasted. No one else in the chain were willing to pay for the carrots, so they ended up being given away for free to the charity.

Is it the bastard farmer's fault for growing three tonnes too many carrots? Well, no, it was probably just good weather that fucked up his quantities.

So just what is the problem? Its just a surplus, not waste. The alternative is a shortage of carrots, or somehow magically growing exactly the right quantity.

Should we have bought more carrots?

I don't even like carrots. Should I have bought the damned things and eaten them even if they taste like carrots which I don't like, just so they wouldn't be wasted?

In the piece on the BBC website there are these two consecutive paragraphs
"Over the last four decades food prices have come down and food has become more disposable," he said.
"But there are a billion hungry people in the world and demand for more food in the West is contributing to that by pushing up prices elsewhere but then we're throwing a third of it away.

Are food prices coming down or going up? Yes, its possible that both cases can happen simultaneously in two different places. But it makes no sense.

Surely if there is a surplus then the problem is just in transporting it to where its wanted, rather than by trying to get people to don't want to eat three tonnes of fucking carrots to eat the damned things.

No, making them into carrot cake is not going to make me want to eat the fucking things.

Animal feed, why can't they just feed them to animals?

Do dogs eat carrot cake?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Nationalisation of Low-Paid Jobs

This story about "Young jobseekers told to work without pay or lose unemployment benefits" has been quite a popular thing on the internet today. My thoughts on it amount to three points:-
  • The state is able to withdraw unemployment benefit for those who refuse to do 'unpaid' work
  • Employers being unable/unwilling to employ people who's work is worth less than the minimum wage
  • This amounts to nationalisation of low-paid jobs.
Please allow be to address these points further.

Its not been that long since I was made unemployed and applied for job seekers allowance, about three years. When I lost my job I waited a few months before applying for any benefits because I'm of the mind that to do so would be to succome to being a scrouger. It was only after I was reminded that I'd been paying National Insurance for many years that I felt obliged to claim benefits.

Its an insurance thing, like my car insurance, I pay them monthly in case of an unexpected occurance. I'd expect the money due in full, not on condition that I ride a bike for a few months. That's not what I signed up for.

However, with this in mind, I'm also fully aware that you are beholden to the state, you have to jump through whatever hoops they put in your way, you have to fill in forms, attend interviews and sign off regularly in order to receive your payment equivalent to working for about £1.75 per hour. If you fail to do what the state demands of you, then you don't get your payment. Sometimes you don't get your payment anyway because someone somewhere cocks up, or they change the rules. That's what happens when you are beholden to the state.

So, if the state says you must do 30 hours of unpaid work or have your benefits withdrawn, well then, its not unpaid work, its work that you get £65 for if you do it and nothing if you don't and that just convinces me even more so that unemployment benefit is working a very poorly paid job rather than a genuine insurance process.

On my second point, I believe that one of the side effects of the minimum wage in the UK is that the young and inexperienced are priced out of the job market. Employers are forbidden from legally employing someone at a rate of less than £3.68 an hour for 16-17 year olds and £6.08 per hour for the over 20s.

Employees are broadly paid in relation to their productivity.

Take for example strawberry picking. Customers are only willing to pay for example £2 for a punnet of strawberries. Workers at the strawberry farm would have to be able to pick three punnets of strawberrys every hour to make minimum wage or their employer would be making a loss. Given the choice between employing an experienced strawberry picker with a proven level of productivity on minimum wage or an unexperienced one with lower or unproven productivity, there's nothing in it, the youngster has no chance.

Without the minimum wage, the employer could take on the inexperienced chap and pay him at a rate commensurate to his productivity, how fast he can pick those strawberries, be it one punnet an hour or two punnets, and through time and experience that chap would one day be more productive and able to pick three or four punnets an hour and make more money. But on starting out, because he's not worth the £6.08 an hour, he's not worth employing.

Thats not to say that there aren't employers out there who don't pay wage below what is commensurate to the productivity of the employee, I'm just taking employers generally on good faith. We've got one of the EU's most flexible labour markets in the UK, if people think they can get paid more doing the same job at the level of productivity for more money with another employer, they are more free to take their labour elsewhere, than in other EU countries. This generally helps to keep pay levels appropriate.
Whilst some commentators believe that removing the minimum wage laws will lead to a 'race to the bottom' in terms of pay levels, I'm more optimistic and believe it would lead to more balanced pay levels, jobs done well would get paid more than jobs done poorly.

Anyhoo, with these first two points the state has created a distorted labour market where if your labour is worth more than £1.75, but less than the minimum wage, you are unemployable.

Which brings me to my third point, elsewhere on the internet, I am part of the Occupy movement, I may not have a tent outside St Pauls, but never the less I actively contribute to the movement's google.moderator thing and their Your Priorities website, frequently trying to raise the profile of their intelligent ideas and batting down their more mental ones.

Recently there was a suggestion that the state creates a new bank that is 'fair' or something. I pointed out that the state already runs five or six of the UK's banks, (RBS, Lloyds TSB, HBOS, Northern Rock, Post Office banking etc) and I had this epiphany of what nationalisation looks like in the 21st century under the current government. Its not things like British Airways, British Leyland, British Telecom, its more like private sector things that are now owned by the state.

And so, low paid jobs, jobs that are worth less than the minimum wage, because of the youth and inexperience of the people doing them, these job are now owned by the state, they are what nationalisation looks like, and the workers employed in them will be paid by the state.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Oxfam and UK aid to Kenya

I had a phonecall today from Oxfam asking for me to donate to their East Africa Disaster Fund. In the past I've had a direct debit thing to Oxfam, but I cancelled it when I became seriously in debt.

Anyhoo, I think its terrible that the worst famine in living memory has hit East Africa, countries like Kenya, and if I could give money I would.

At the end of the call the nice lady who'd phoned on behalf of Oxfam let me know she actually worked for a marketing firm who were paid £40,000 to make these phone calls in the hope of getting £120,000 of donations over the next five years.

Now the thing about aid to Africa is an awkward thing, I've read successful Africans suggesting "trade, not aid" would be more helpful to the continent. Also, Kenya is one of the continent's success stories, after decades of misrule, they've had a bit of stability for the past fifteen years or so. Their GDP growth makes the UK's look like a third world country, and they're one of the relatively less corrupt African nations.

Anyhoo, the UK government gives Kenya tens of millions in aid each year, the Department for International Development kind of ambiguously says £64.2 million or £128 million per year. I'm wondering how come they're not a bit more resilient to famine? Haven't they spend any money on things like food stores and that sort of thing? What have they spent all the money on?

And furthermore, how can a country, any country, not be financially self-sufficient? How can Kenya be a money pit that needs £128 million from the UK alone every year?

Even the UK, is running up an ever increasing budget deficit, but £128 million of that is on behalf of Kenya.

Are both the UK and Kenya spending money on the wrong things?

Sure this current famine is a disaster, but Kenya gets that aid money whether there's a disaster or not.

Elsewhere on the internet, on Occupy London's manifesto thing and their other social media thing, there seems to be an undercurrent of the assumption that a government's role is to extract as much money as possible from the population, and if there is more money there unextracted, it should be prised from the rich, and then spent.

This makes me feel uncomfortable. The government are crap, all governments to greater and lesser degrees are crap, they're never as good at spending my money wisely than I am, and I think that applies to everyone. Individually we can spend our money more wisely than the government, based on what we individually judge is wise.

Then again, I'm a frothing at the mouth centre-left libertarian.

Monday, 17 October 2011

I am the 25 percent

I was pleased to read that the UK Occupy... have released a statement (elsewhere described as a list of demands). Some commentators have complained that its not really a list of demands, is somewhat contradictory and doesn't really make sense.

So I'm putting together my own statement, list of demands and resolutions, which I feel is more appropriate to me and my peers in the top 25%.

1. The current system is as it is. The future system could be better, could be worse, probably be both at the same time. It should be different.
2. Other occupations around the world seem a bit vague and remind me of that Father Ted episode. They're probably just as valid as any other, I guess.
3. I resolve to use banks as little as possible, to minimise the amount of money they can make from me.
4. I resolve to only vote for low tax and small government political parties. And only use the goods and services of large corporations when they provide the best deal for me. I will fund my pension myself by putting away a little of what I earn every month until I retire, and will not depend on the state to provide.
5. I want regulators to be demonstrably more competent than the industries that they regulate
6. I do not support strike action and where it occurs I will hold it to be representative of sector in which is occurs. I resolve to use public services as little as possible.
7. The world's resources must go to those who can use them most effectively
8. I stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and I call for people to think carefully about the governments they elect who have caused this oppression.
9. This is what I think democracy looks like.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

What if... The Stone Roses

So, the other night I read that The Stone Roses are set to reform and play a series of shows next summer. Being from the appropriate era, I felt the urge to listen to their songs, and cued them up on my knackered iPod, and spent my entire nine hour night-shift listening to four songs, Waterfall, This is the One, I Am the Resurrection and Love Spreads.

My mind started boggling a wee bit with ideas.

How about a campaign to get The Foz to be Xmas Number One? It's this discordant secret track at the end of their Second Coming album, just them messing about in the studio, never released a single, but it would be so perfect compared to the currently mooted campaign to get Smells Like Teen Spirit re-issued.

Anyhoo, so I was listening to those four tracked that I happened to have on my iPod, on repeat cos the pod's broken, and I had a thought about what the reunion tour would be like.

Would they be playing just their twenty year old hits and an obligatory new song? Would Brown and Squire be playing any of their respective solo tracks? Would The Stone Roses start writing new songs and have a new album?

There's this story about when Oasis played Knebworth, Noel Gallagher got John Squire up cos he wanted to show him what The Stone Roses could have had if they hadn't imploded.

Undoubtedly the reformed Stone Roses could draw a crowd like that now, but how about if they just played it as though The Stone Roses hadn't split in 1996? If the band in the studio just carried on where they left off, Squire's Seahorses songs remixed, rewritten, respun as the Stone Roses, with Ian Brown, Reni and Mani, doing vocals, drums and bass. What if Ian Brown's FEAR, Corpses in their Mouths and My Star were respun with the rest of the Stone Roses playing.

Sure, we accept that The Seahorses and Ian Brown's Solo stuff was successful in its own right, but what could it have been, Could it now become?

And then, once the sins of the past have been atoned for, The Stone Roses could carry on forward with their fourth album, and so on becoming Rolling Stones-like institution that never ends.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Library in a Phone Box #27 Brynberian, Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire-61Via the joy that is twitter, another phonebox library has appeared on my radar. A flickr user by the name of Katchoo found a llyfrgell cyfnewid in Brynberian, Pembrokeshire, on the road to Pentre Ifan, the largest dolmen on the British mainland. Katchoo has some fine photos there, and without much difficulty I was able to locate it on google maps too.

Its a good solid five shelf affair, about eighty books, with no sign of kids books as is usual for these things, but a couple of copies of Garden Answers magazine are a nice alternative.Pembrokeshire-56

But in Katchoo's accompanying blogpost, a comment has been left by a chap called John Kirriemuir:-
It’s good if there was nothing in the community for book lending before. Not a library in all but the narrowest of definitions though; it’s just a bunch of books that people can borrow.

It’s not so good if the local library has been closed, or taken over as a big society sham “community volunteer-run library” – much more in a post am writing on this. As it means (a) skilled information professional has been made unemployed and (b) the community has lost most or all of these”
This is easy to look into. According to Pembrokeshire council the nearest council-run libraries to Brynberian are Crymych Library which is 7 miles to the east and Newport Library which is 5.1 miles to the north. Also Pembrokeshire has three Mobile Libraries that visit villages and rural areas once every three weeks. So as there are clearly other things in the community for book lending, the phone box swop library is not "good".

I had a check on google and it appears there's no library closures being mooted in Pembrokeshire, there are no news stories about library closures, there are no council documents, there's no easily findable evidence that this phone box library has come about because of library closures. As no local libraries have been closed in Pembrokeshire and no skilled information professionals have been made unemployed, its not "not so good".

Its not a zero sum game, there has never previously been a public library in Brynberian, but there is one now.

This has however pointed me in a new direction in documenting these phone box swop libraries, I can find out how far away the nearest council run libraries are and the proximity of library closures, and then see statistically if there is any correlation.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The future silver age of public libraries and their arch enemy Moore's Law

Earlier today a librarian activist who I follow on twitter was being dismissive of the phone box library phenomenon. I have a soft spot for them.

Several months ago, I don't recall whether it was before of after I started blogging regularly about new phone box libraries, but I was having some kind of online exchange with the librarian activist. She was lamenting the growing number of library closures, and I asked if ever there was a golden age of new libraries being built. I don't recall the answer, but the number of libraries in the UK has been in decline for decades.

I'm hopeful that its not going to decline for ever.

Right now, our elected officials and professionals employed for the purpose of providing libraries are failing, libraries are closing. The total number of libraries will bottom out and then begin to rise again. But at some point between now and the flying car and rocket pack future, there will be a new silver age of libraries being built and opened.

Trying to visualise what these libraries of the future is a difficult task, I don't know what they'll look like, it may be fleets of mobile library buses, or plastic dome-shaped prefab units, with moulded desks and shelves, staffed by a catbot terminal like Emma, or a ubiquitous chain of high street shop/libraries run commercially and owned by the state like the Tote betting shops.

But one thing I'm pretty sure of is that they won't be computery technology centres. I've got a theory:-

Moore's Law is the Enemy of the Public Library!!!

Let me remind you, Moore's Law is that one about computing power doubling every eighteen months/two years. For £100 of computer memory now, in two years you'll be able to buy twice as much, a £1000 computer this year is twice as powerful/fast as a £1000 computer from two years ago.

Its not just cutting edge computers, its independent of price point. Bastard Bob's budget computer's are affected too, a £200 net book from two years back is about half as good as a brand new one.

Look at mobile phones, Amazon Kindle, its the same unstoppable progression of technology. And its exponential.

The other week there was a quotation on the internet about how a three-term prime minister will leave office with a mobile phone 64 times more powerful than the one they came into office with. And "it isn't possible with current technology" is no longer an excuse for not doing something, you just have to wait for a few years.

In the Amazon fire launch the other day there was a slide about how the Amazon original homepage from 1994 was about 40Kb of memory, and now its about 800Kb. A ten year old computer would struggle to run modern HTML5 webpages, a twenty year old computer probably wouldn't load them at all.

At some point the diminishing power of old computers gets dangerous. For example in 1984, the BBC, Acorn computers and the European Comission created the BBC Domesday Project, a survey of Britain in computer form, stored on laser disk that ran on special software on BBC Acorn computers and a specially made laser disk player. They were installed in libraries and schools.

Within three years the laser disks were scratched and wouldn't work well, the guy who knew how to use it would have moved to another job. Twenty years later it took another BBC project to un-encrypt all the locked down data in archaic data formats.

Another example is Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6. Still widely in use, governments across the world have issued warning about security vulnerablities in it and urged everyone to upgrade or use alternative web browsers.

If someone's working on a thing on a computer in a library, and wants to carry the data home with them, what format should the computer be kitted with? Floppy disk, 5.25", 3.5", 3", Zip drive, burn to CD, DVD, memory card, usb drive, save to their own 'library hard disk folder', bluetooth it to a smartphone, google drive, or send it into the cloud? What do you do, accept the short-comings or spend whatever the start up cost was every five years to replace the portable storage media?

So in this future silver age of new public libraries being built, would investors in libraries build computery ones, knowing their cutting edge technology will need replacing every five to ten years?

I doubt it.

Whatever the initial investment is, they're going to have to constantly re-invest to keep the library great, and they can't ever stop.

Only fast buck fly-by-night charlatans would invest in things like that.

In the old village library of my youth, there was a wonderful book on origami, long out of print and forgotten by most library users. It was about thirty years old, but contained some of the most elegant and ingenious works of origami in it's pages. Libraries are great for old books.

Take classics such as War and Peace, Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice. A decent hard back copy could last for decades. Sure the cover will need reattaching every few years and maybe book rebound if pages start falling out, but with a bit of care, the books will last for lifetimes.

Anyhoo, back to phone box libraries. I don't know if they are the future silver age of new libraries. What I do know is that whilst brick and mortar public libraries are being closes and centralised, the phone box libraries are springing up in tiny villages across England at an increasing rate.

Their take up has been propelled by BT's adopt a kiosk scheme, where local communities can buy a red K6 phone box for £1 and use it however they like.

They are a low cost, low maintenance, easily maintainable unit, and as the case of the Coed-y-Paen box confirms, strangely resilient to crime. Within a fortnight of all the books being looted by thieves, the community had restocked it and it was back in use. Their size is entirely appropriate for the tiny villages and hamlets which have employed them to date. They don't require specially bred midget librarians, in fact the villages seem to manage quite with them run by locals without the need for specially trained librarians at all.

Most likely such a model wouldn't work for larger towns and cities with greater densities of library users. But, like the Boris Bike scheme in London, a vast distributed book swap scheme with clusters of local units isn't too much of a stretch of the imagination.

Elsewhere I have documented twenty four of these phone boxes, finding new ones now at a rate of three a month. The phone box library sector is one part of the public library sector which is growing.  BT have sold around 1,500 phone boxes since the scheme started two years ago, and I'm certain that far more than twenty four have been turned into libraries, its just a matter of finding them.

Library in a Phone Box #24 Arkesden, Essex

The Saffron Walden News reports on the opening of a new phone box library in the Village of Arkesden near Saffron Walden in Essex:-
Telephone box walk-in libraries are becoming all the rage as another one pops up in our region.
The unusual High Street accessory was featured last week at Henhan and now villagers in Arkesden are enjoying their newly-acquired collection of books.

BT asked for a donation of £1 to purchase decommissioned phone boxes, which Arkesden Parish Council took them up on earlier this year.

The council then invited residents to decide on a new use for the iconic red box.
Suggestions included a shower, parcel collection box, local information point, history archive, tea stop (with kettle and provisions), art gallery and an honesty grocery shop.

But it was Arkesden resident and mum-of-three, Jemma Macfadyen’s winning library idea that was voted the most popular and usable.

She has since moved temporarily abroad with her family, but thanks to her idea, villagers can now borrow books anytime, day or night and replenish the library with unwanted books from home.
Cllr Jane Chetcuti, from Arkesden Parish Council, said: “Unfortunately, the traditional red phone box has become redundant in modern Britain.

“BT’s great idea for councils to adopt local kiosks not only saves the iconic red box from extinction but also enhances communities.

“Jemma Macfadyen’s book exchange idea provides a lovely focal point where people can meet and swap books they have enjoyed.”

Children's books are also available and a notebook is provided to encourage book reviews and comments.

Beti Newton, ex-postmistress in Arkesden, who has lived next to the phone box for 37 years said: “I used to be paid 50p to clean it every week!

“The library is such a lovely idea and very well-used. I borrowed a book, recommended to me by a friend, just this weekend.”
Looks like a fine example of a four shelf phone box library, although the shelves are less full than other examples with no stacking on top.

After discussing matters with a few acquaintances, I feel I should point out that I have never bought a red phone box from BT, given it a fresh lick of paint, installed shelves, filled it with books and painted on a sign that says "Phone box Library".

However dozens of other people across the UK have done for various reasons, and I'm not such a self-righteous, pompous and condescending prick to tell them that they are wrong, these things are not "libraries", and how dare they use that word for a glorified book-swap, take it down at once, return those books to their private homes and leave public access book exchange facilities to trained professionals and elected officials who clearly and demonstrably know better than village-dwelling little people.

If the patrons of the phone box libraries wish to refer to them as phone box libraries, then that is fine with me.

Forsooth, there have never been public libraries in the villages Thruxton, Cowlinge, Haybridge
and Little Shelford. But now there is at least one structure that bears the word "library".

The existence red phone box libraries, swear down, are not and have never been a reason to close public libraries, or to justify their closure, or excuse their closure, or mitigate their closure, they are merely a serendipitous parochial reaction to the availability of redundant red phone boxes.

Perhaps I'm wrong, The Saffron Walden News, The South Wales Argus, The Warrington Guardian and the BBC too, perhaps we should not be reporting on such trivial matters.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Library in a Phone Box #9 Staplehay, Somerset

Its not often I find myself driving round the 'west country', so whenever I am there, I try to take advantage of the situation and visit as many phone box libraries as I can.

I was on the A5, heading north, and put Staplehay into my sat nav thing. It took us off at junction 26, then on a bit of an adventure through windy country roads when I could have just headed to Taunton and the town of Trull. Anyhoo, we emerged into Staplehay, pulled up at The Crown Inn, and before me stood the mighty Staplehay Book and Info Exchange.

There's four shelves packed with books, and more stacked on top, children's books in a box on the floor with a selection of larger books. Around 150 books in total I reckon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Library in a Phone Box #23 Haybridge, Wells

Found this one on the way to Wookey Hole, Haybridge is the village just before you get there. Its little more than a street with a few houses and some kind of works depot on the other side, anyhoo, when I spotted a phonebox I hadn't seen before I had to stop and get my camera out.

Its a dusty looking phonebox, still awaiting a fresh lick of paint, but it had a rather fine collection of books, four shelves of a custom-made bookcase, bolted on where the phone used to be. Around a hundred books, with children well-catered for.

Haybridge is about three villages east of Westbury-sub-Mendip, which let me remind you, was the first documented phonebox library. Although when I drove through Westbury, I could see no phone box.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Library in a Phone Box #22 Coed-y-Paen, Gwent

Disaster for the library in a phonebox movement as the South Wale Argus brings us news that thieves have robbed the Coed-y-Paen phonebox of almost its entire stock:-
THIEVES stole 100 books from an old fashioned red phone box which Gwent villagers had converted into their own honesty library.

Coed-y-Paen community council paid BT £1 for the box, installed shelves and filled it with around 100 books donated by villagers as they do not have a library or a bus service to get to one.

But thieves cleaned out the phone box in the middle of the night, stealing all the books - except one, Alan Titchmarsh's autobiography Trowel and Error.

Hilary Jones, 47, a member of Coed-y-Paen's residents' association, said: "Why would anybody need to do that? There's no point to it."


But thieves struck last weekend and cleaned the phone box out - a church warden walked past the phone box at around 11.15pm on August 26 and saw the books were still there, but they had been taken by 8.15am on August 27.

Mrs Jones said: "We were really pleased it was getting used, it's always nice to do something that everybody thinks is a good idea. I think the whole village has been saddened by this theft but we are restocking our shelves at the moment, we won't be put off by this."

The villagers are currently refilling the shelves and have around 25 books so far.

It doesn't make sense, thieves stealing secondhand books?

Friday, 2 September 2011

Library in a Phone Box #21 Box, Gloucestershire

Crikey, pimped on the front page of the BBC news website the other day was a story about a phone box library in the village of Box in Gloucestershire, near Stroud. This marks the BBC news's website's tenth phone box library story, and the twenty-first I've clocked in the UK.

Apparently it was inspired by a story on The Archers, I must have missed that one. Anyhoo, it seems to be have been driven by the villagers rather than forced on them by the council. There's a nice quote too from Carolyn Dolan, the villager who's idea it was.
Like all these things the novelty might wear off but at the moment it is being used.
Going by the photo on the BBC website it contains a small three-shelf unit (small Ikea Billy model) and a potted plant, the article reports that the library has around 40 books, which is a bit small compared to the other phone box libraries covered previously on this site.

Elsewhere on the internet, in my old stamping ground of Bolton there's are bit of furore, the council are proposing that to soften the blow of closing a third the local libraries, they're to have ‘Neighbourhood Book Collections’, 300 or so books at local locations.

Ian McHugh, a spokesman from the Save Bolton Libraries campaign says:-
Local people need a proper library service, not a small pile of books in the corner of a community centre.
I think this is an interesting counterpoint to the phonebox library phenomenom, councils can't afford to run full-scale libraries with books, internet access and quiet areas, and librarians are dismissive of some of the alternatives, in the mean time civilians are putting together their own solutions.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

London Bloggers Meetup: Summer Spectacular

It was that time of the month again when I rouse myself to go to the London Bloggers Meetup, it gets me out of the house and meet new people.

This month's theme was travel, the event was sponsored by Europcar and BMIBaby and featured a talk by a travel blogger called Heather. It was a very informative talk for travel bloggers and people interested in starting a travel blog, also there were a few important points that apply to bloggers with broader subject matter, like how is you want your friends and family to read the blog you write about yourself, what you did on holiday, that sort of thing, but if you want to appeal to a larger audience you have to write about things that anyone can do.

It was interesting stuff, I saw lots of people taking notes.

BMIBaby and Europcar had provide prizes for a competition, once again I didn't win, but this time it was cos I didn't enter. Instead it was won by a fellow called Bernie.

Gor, its been years and years I've been going to these meetups, and I think in that time I've run about ten different blogs. Most of them I've given up on, and right now, its kind of awkward when people ask me about my blog, cos I have three that are currently updated:-

  • This one which is quite safe for work and has the most un-snappy url ever - Mostly I blog about plants in my back garden and BT phoneboxes that have been converted into libraries
  • My secret blog full of posts that people can argue with over on posterous - like rioters in London and leftwing and rightwing newspapers
  • And my anti-PR company blog - where I mostly complain about things, like people pooping in the doorways of Sainsburys
Anyhoo, I think I racked a good spread of bloggers and meetup attendees I chatted to this month:-

  • Murphy - has a website thats something to do with publishing books on Kindle, sounds kind of neat, straightforward and easy, although I admit I'm struggling to locate it online
  • Kate(?) Swedish travel Blogger - she quickly retreated to find a place at the bar where service was a bit quicker
  • Anthony Fresh Plastic - Blogs about gadgets, twitter and internet stuff, not industrial plastic extruders which I feel is a subject lacking in the London blogging scene
  • Joseph Real Monstrosities - I love the expression on people's faces when he tells them he has an animal blog. I like the idea of animal blogs, that its a perfectly valid niche blog, as valid as travel-blogging, and whilst this evening's talk is about travel blogging, it could just as likely be about animal blogging. How to make money from your animal blog, what works and what doesn't. The meetup could be sponsored by London Zoo and the National Geographic
  • Mehrdad - Blogs about art and interesting photographs
  • Heather - was rather concerned about the Virginia earthquake
  • Selena - Well, I was briefly introduced but we didn't chat or anything like.
  • Steve social media for Europcar or something - Pointed out that a lady stood nearby was the boss of Europcar
  • Tamara from Europcar - My car hire anecdote, the other week I was on holiday in the highlands of Scotland, Scotland is great for driving in compared to London, no traffic, no motorways, just long easy drives, me and my ladyfriend had hired a car, not sure who it was from, and we had a great time. We'd picked the car up from a representative at Inverness train station and were to drop it off at Inverness airport. I've never been to Inverness Airport before, and although we'd arrived a bit early to catch our flight, there was a bit of anxiety, we wanted to be at the departure gate on time, not faffing about in the carpark, and it wasn't clear where to leave the car. There's about three car parks, one of them had clearly marked bays for Hertz and Avis rental cars, but nothing clear for the car we'd hired. So, after frantically driving round the car parks a few times we phoned up the customer careline, who answered very quickly, and was a little bit helpful, explaining where to drop off the car, where to put the keys and where to put the car park ticket. But that bit of anxiety could have neatly been avoided if in the car hire document pack there was just a little business card sized set of instructions, maybe with a little map, just something with a bit of certainty. Even now I fear that some unpaid parking ticket from Inverness airport will arrive in the post.
  • Shash the entrepreneurial consultant - We had an in-depth discussion about how high-end audio equipment can improve sound quality, by not degrading the recorded audio information as much as low-end audio equipment
  • Tom Flashboy - Media type person/journalist/timelord, occasional hat-wearer
  • Radiokate - Knows about space shuttles and Walthamstow respite centre
  • Inspector Winter - Police chap who tweets during the riots and got a lot of newspaper coverage, seemed like an okay chap
Also, people who I saw who I've like chatted to before, or vaguely recognise off of the internet, nodded at but didn't necessarily make eye-contact with

Me, I love graphs and stuff, so here's a little chart of how many people I speak to and see at all the London Bloggers Meetups I've been to over the past couple of years and the total number of people at each one.

So this one was one of the larger meetups, with about 85 people there. I did okay talking to 13 people, not quite the heady heights of the seventeen folk I met in November 2009, but not too shabby, still percentage-wise it was a bit poor, this one time I knew almost 30% of the folk in the room, but now barely 20%, must try harder. Who are the people on the other side of the room?

Is it some kind of observer's bias that when I look on Tweeter at the #LBM hashtag I barely recognise anyone, or am I just downplaying the folk I do recognise?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Privatisation for better or worse

There was a letter in the Guardian on Saturday, some anti-cuts group pleading to stop the government privatising public services. I read it when I was in the pub, drunk on my own on a Saturday afternoon and a particular line stuck in my head.
If the plans go ahead, companies will be able to make a profit from services previously run by the state and local authorities, while taxpayers subsidise them. This approach has not worked well for passengers on our railways or for many sickness benefit claimants assessed by the private company Atos.
Cos of course everyone knows that the railways have gotten worse since they were privatised.

I recently went to a music festival called Indietracks, at a railway museum in the Midlands, I go every year, its great, you get to play with steam trains and see the same familiar faces every year.

One of my favourite acts is The Sweet Nothings, a four-piece lead by Pete Green, they have songs about indiepop, football, politics and one special song about the railways called Hey Dr Beeching.

At Indietracks I was a bit miffed atHey Dr Beeching and Pete Green, cos the final verse is about how Pete Green dreams about going back in time and killing people who he disagrees with, like the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, former British prime minister Maggie Thatcher and from the song Dr Beeching. I was a bit miffed cos in Norway a few weeks before, some gentleman had similarly taken upon himself to try to execute an entire generation of politicians he disagreed with.
It just seemed a bit distasteful.

Anyhoo, in the preamble to the song Pete Green described how the evil Tory government of the 1960s had employed Dr Beeching to downsize the UK rail network, and close down more than 4000 miles of railway line.

That happened whilst the railways were under state control, not privatised.

Wikipedia’s great, let me remind you, there have been public railways in the UK for over 180 years and for much of that they’ve been run by private companies. Although there were first calls for the nationalisation of the rail network in 1840, it wasn’t until the first world war that they were nationalised. The state controlled them from 1914 to 1921 when they were returned to private companies, that is, after seven years.

They remained in private hands for another 2 years until 1947 when they were nationalised again, and remained so until 1994 when they were privatised a second time, that’s another 47 years.

Anyhoo, this got me thinking, maybe the anti-cuts people who’d written to the Guardian were right, that privisation of the railways had adversely affected the passengers more than the nationalisation of them had, or maybe it had benefited the passengers. I dunno, I’d have to research the matter a bit more. Maybe try to dig up ticket prices and see how they’ve changed depending on ownership, that would be a cool graph to demonstrate the benefits to passengers, if not to taxpayers.

Sadly it was too much hassle to find train fare information stretching back a hundred years, without popping along to the London Transport Museum and leaf through the old timetables and fares. Although wikipedia did have a graph which is useful.
One of the clearest things one can take from this graph is the long steady decline in passenger journeys after the railways were nationalised in 1947. Sure there was a rise in numbers after the depths of 1980, but it wasn’t until after privatisation that numbers climbed back to the heady heights of the 1920s and 2010.

Clearly, passengers voted with their feet and freely chose to use trains for more journeys when they were in private hands, somewhat contradicting the anti-cuts letter in the Guardian.

Not necessarily so though, as this graph only shows passenger journeys, not passenger miles. It could be that due to privatisation longer rail journeys have been broken down into many shorter journeys to make up the numbers. But in the light of Beeching’s axing of shorter rural lines, this seems unlikely.

In closing, I would like to ask what would convince the anti-cuts letter-writers that they are wrong and privatisation has benefited rail passengers?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Man shouts in street

Last night there was a bit of shouting out in the street

Thrilling stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Not quite up to the same levels of mass civil disorder that we've come to expect in London, just shouting.

I like to think that the chap with the crutches has discovered some kind of conspiracy, possibly involving an internation crime syndicate and corruption that strikes at the very heart of Waltham Forest's civic elite, who have since conspired to bring him down and silence him.

"No one wants to know! Watch now, watch now."

Rather than just an ill and paranoid gentleman who neglected to take his medication, making his way home.

He's probably right, that no one does want to know. But I'm less sure about his warning to watch now, watch now. I watched the street for another twenty minutes or so, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Maybe he meant I have to watch over a longer time, and in the next few days there'll be something I should have watched out for.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Voices of Tottenham

I've done a blog post over on my boring blog, and I'm going to explain myself here.

There've been riots all over London and the rest of England recently. It all started a few moments after I drove home through Tottenham Hale the other Thursday. This is what I reckon happened, armed police had been following Mark Duggan who was in a minicab. They stopped the vehicle, two officers approached the car from either side, it looked like Mark went for the gun he was carrying in a sock, one of the officers shouted, the other officer fired two bullets, one killed Mark, and the other went through Mark's arm, and hit the other officer, embedding itself in his radio.

Mark Duggan, Starrish Mark as his street name, was reported in the papers the next day as being "a well-respected family man", which I'm going to assume is journalistic shorthand for "scary gangster".

"family man" = gangster
"well-respected" = scary

As happens whenever the police kill anyone their investigation stops and the Independent Police Complains Commission conduct their own investigation. The main thing to remember about the IPCC is that they are independent from the police, you may be sceptical, but that's what they're called, they are not the police, for all intents and purposes, they are the Scooby Gang, a bunch of amateur investigators who aren't good enough to be proper investigators.

It was about a week after the shooting that a 'Fatal incident' board was put up at the scene, asking for witnesses.

So on Saturday when a crowd of folk from Mark's gang turn up at Tottenham police station demanding answers, all the police can say is 'no comment', cos they're not doing the investigation, they're not even allowed to investigate.

My favourite Xbox game is The Warriors, its based of the 1979 movie of the same name, about gangs of New York, some big gang leader organises a meeting and city-wide truce, pointing out that the gangs vastly outnumber of the police, and if they wanted to, the gangs could rule the streets, fortunately for New York, the gang leader was killed before it happened. In real life we were less fortunate, and Starrish Mark's death was a fine opportunity to declare a London-wide truce.

The violence was co-ordinated a little bit, folk arranged things on blackberry messenger, but by the second night it just spiraled out of the hands of gangs.
Anyhoo, in the weeks since, thousands of people have been arrested for violent disorder and looting and stuff. I reckon most of those people arrested are dopes, who didn't run away fast enough or cover their faces, or get the message broadcast that the police were on their way.

I don't honestly believe there's any deep-rooted reason for the rioting, none of the 150 reasons expressed in the media really explain it. The reason for the breakdown of the rule of law that feels most accurate is the one given by Kevin Sampson in Comment is Free in the Guardian, and that is cos its fun, its a buzz. Its the most honest reason there is, anything else its just someone else's agenda overheard and used as an excuse. Those drunk girls on the BBC clip who said it was fun, it was a giggle, oh yeah and its cos of teh government, the conservatives or whoever.


Anyhoo, my local MP in Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, is great, she was on a Young Voters Question Time Special, arranged to help give young people a voice in the debate about the riots. The program was a disaster, everyone shouted over everyone else. The panalists were shouting over each other and shouting over the folk in the audience, the folk in the audience shouting over each other, and interupting everyone. It was terrible.

All it said to me was that young people don't know how to debate or how to express themselves.

Some young in the audience, tried to justify it "It sounds like we're angry, but we're just passionate." That's great but its no way to debate or expect people to listen to you, come back when you've read Robert's Rules of Order.

One of the things that came out of the garbled noise of the debate was that young people feel they don't have a voice.

Well, I think that's just as much bullshit and people trying to use the riots as an excuse to force through their agenda as any of the draconian measures the Conservatives are trying.

I'll explain, I feel I don't have a voice either, I can't make a difference, I'm just a victim of circumstance.

But then again, if you're reading this blog, then I do have a voice, and people are listening.

So to prove that not having a voice is a bullshit excuse for the rioters, I have this idea which I have blogged about in my boring other blog:-

Its been a bit exciting round our way these past few weeks. I saw on telly, young people complaining that their voices were not being heard, and I empathized, sometimes I feel my voice isn't heard either.

I want to change all that, I want to help the young and neglected of Tottenham to have their voices heard, their opinions counted, and I have an idea.

I would get a some kind of grant from the government or Arts Council or some charity and I would open a shop on Tottenham High Road, and it would get a fresh lick of paint, some cheap computers and a sign that said "The Voices of Tottenham".
It would be like an internet cafe, but with a purpose, one singular purpose, I would invite in the youth of Tottenham and show them how to start blogging, how to sign up to blogger, or wordpress or tumblr or posterous. How to use hyperlinks, and upload photos, how to send email posts from their Blackberries. How to put in statcounter and see who is reading their blog.

I would be a mentor, a father figure, I would suggest things to write about, how to respond to comments, how to attract more visitors to their sites to get their voices heard far and wide.

What are your dreams, what are your aspirations, what do you want?

Been stopped and searched by the feds again, write about it, put up your side of the story first, get the badge number of the officer who stopped you. Graphs and tables.

What's on your mind? What did you do today? What are you going to do tomorrow?
Do something, write about it.

Nah, not setting up workshops in a library, or opening some kind of job center, connexions things. No, just presenting a tool, showing those with no voice how to get one, and then the whole world opens out.
It would give those disaffected the same voice that I have, the same means to express themselves, the same way to create and debate and engage.

I'm willing to give it a try, but I don't think it would work.

Sure we'd get free internet access from Haringay council, and a load of donated crap last decade computers, and the leccy bill and rent would be covered by some charitable grant, but I reckon within a month the computers would be nicked, the window smashed and the blogs and voices barely a murmur.

Dreams: The Voices of Tottenham

Its been a bit exciting round our way these past few weeks. I saw on telly, young people complaining that their voices were not being heard, and I empathized, sometimes I feel my voice isn't heard either.

I want to change all that, I want to help the young and neglected of Tottenham to have their voices heard, their opinions counted, and I have an idea.

I would get a some kind of grant from the government or Arts Council or some charity and I would open a shop on Tottenham High Road, and it would get a fresh lick of paint, some cheap computers and a sign that said "The Voices of Tottenham".

It would be like an internet cafe, but with a purpose, one singular purpose, I would invite in the youth of Tottenham and show them how to start blogging, how to sign up to blogger, or wordpress or tumblr or posterous. How to use hyperlinks, and upload photos, how to send email posts from their Blackberries. How to put in statcounter and see who is reading their blog.

I would be a mentor, a father figure, I would suggest things to write about, how to respond to comments, how to attract more visitors to their sites to get their voices heard far and wide.

What are your dreams, what are your aspirations, what do you want?

Been stopped and searched by the feds again, write about it, put up your side of the story first, get the badge number of the officer who stopped you. Graphs and tables.

What's on your mind? What did you do today? What are you going to do tomorrow?

Do something, write about it.

Nah, not setting up workshops in a library, or opening some kind of job center, connexions things. No, just presenting a tool, showing those with no voice how to get one, and then the whole world opens out.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Demographics of the rioters

The other day, during the riots of London, I created a Venn diagram to promote my theory that the folk rioting were doing so for a whole load of different reasons and were from a whole load of demographic groups. I used pretty colours.
Then yesterday and today, the courts started processing people who'd been caught by the police and the demographics started to get fleshed out, some were in their 30s, some were teachers and some were middle class. So I opened me a spreadsheet and started logging, ages and occupations.
Cos I like visualising data, I thought I'd put together a distribution chart of the ages of people who'd been charged.
Currently the average age of a rioter charged is 23.4 and the median age is 20, that is to say that half the rioters are over twenty and half are under.
Anyhoo, this kind of demographic analysis is really important.

What's the point of re-opening youthclubs closed by government cuts, if it turns out that most of the folk charged are too old to go to youth clubs. Similarly, what's the point of changing laws to withhold state benefits from rioters, if it transpires that a large chunk of them are middle class folk who don't claim benefits. These councils and MPs pledging to evict rioters from social housing, what if it transpires that a great chunk don't live in social housing.

The government, parliament and councils can't really do anything useful to affect rioter's lives without knowing more about them.

Anything else if just pushing forward their own agenda's and biases.

Not to say there's owt wrong with the government taking the opportunity to push forward their own agenda, that's what they were elected to do in the first place any way.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Indietracks 2011 in video

It is the weekend after the Indietracks music festival in Derbyshire and I have finished editing my videos. I've made three videos, one is 14 minutes, one is 5 minutes and one is 3 minutes. Please watch whichever one you feel is most appropriate to your time.

More about Indietracks here
Their blog here
The Indietracks flickr photopool here

For those with an interest in the history of my videos of Indietracks, here are some of the videos I made in 2008 and 2009
Indietracks 2009 in 7 minutes
Indietracks 2009 in 3 minutes
Indietracks 2009 in 1.5 minutes

Indietracks 2008 in 7 minutes
Indietracks 2008 in 3 minutes
Indietracks 2008 in 1.5 minutes

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The political spectrum in UK newspapers

The other day I was wondering about which newspapers in the UK were left wing, right wing and which occupy the centre ground. This blogpost attempts to definitively investigate and plot which papers occupy which areas of the political spectrum.

It was last week when Tom Watson off of twitter was saying that the News of the World phone hacking scandal had reached a new low, with Sara Payne's phone being hacked. Sure it was a new low, but it wasn't much lower than the previous lowest low, I asked on twitter whether it was some kind of competition, @flashboy replied that it more like a plateau of shit. Phone hacking was a low for right wing newspapers, and for left wing newspapers their low was the Johann Hari plagarism scandal. But then if The Mirror is getting embroiled in phonehacking too, then that'll be a new low for left wing papers.

But which newspapers are left, and which are right?

I started with a quick look on the internet. Yahoo Answers had something a rather comprehensive list as the top answer, but the second answer caught my eye for it's wrong-cockedness:-
Left wing - The Guardian, The Mirror (sort of)
Middle - The Independent
Right Wing - The Sun, News Of the World, The Times, The Telegraph, The Star
Extreme Right Wing - Daily Mail, Daily Express

edit: Sheetwow and Rikstir [other yahoo answerers] - there are no extreme right wing papers in this country? In recent months, the Daily Mail has alleged links between Ed Miliband and Stalin and claimed that "liberalism" is caused by a faulty gene. Meanwhile, the Daily Express has run a poll asking its readers if they think our schools are being ruined by foreign children. In what way do you regard these things as "centre" anything?
How can there be extreme right wing papers without corresponding extreme left wing papers? Besides, The Independent is quite left wing, so I guess everything else does seem right to the left. Its all about perspective.

So I thought some original research would be necessary. For this I used the AllOurIdeas survey/suggestions website, I fed in a list of the top ten best selling national newspapers according to wikipedia's page on circulation (and The Metro), asked the question "which of these two newspapersis more right wing?", then pinged the link round twitter and Google+.

After about ten respondants the newspapers had been sorted into the following sequence, from left to right
The Guardian
The Independent
The Mirror
The Metro
Financial Times
The Times
Daily Telegraph
The Sun
Daily Mail
Daily Star
Daily Express

They're broadly in the order I expected, except for anomaly of The Metro, which of course is a free newspaper, so folk don't have to make an economic choice to buy it so shouldn't be in the list, however, it is published by Associated Newspapers, part of the Daily Mail and General Trust, I expected them to have a similar editorial line to The Daily Mail, but it seems it is perceived as being far more left wing than its brethren.

Anyhoo, based on just this sequence, The Times is a centre ground newspaper, The Daily Express is a far right paper and The Guardian is a far left paper.
Still that's not an appropriate resolution of the issue. Instead of the centre being the median point where half the newspaper titles are left of it and half the newspaper titles are to right, it should be about readership.

So if we include circulation figures (from wikipedia)
The Guardian - 279,308
The Independent - 185,035
Daily Mirror - 1,194,097
Financial Times - 383,067
The Times - 457,250
Daily Telegraph - 651,184
The Sun - 3,001,822
Daily Mail - 2,133,568
Daily Star - 734,311
Daily Express - 639,875

The total number of newspaper readers is around 9.5 million. The halfway point is around 5 million. It follows then that someone in the dead centre of the political spectrum, where half of all newspaper readers are on the left of him and half of newspaper readers are on the right, would be a reader of The Sun. That's what the centre ground looks like.

Say you break down the entire newspaper readership into three thirds representing the leftwing, the centreground and the rightwing, then still The Sun represents the entire cohort of the centre ground. The trio of the Daily Mail, Daily Star and Daily Express represent the entire rightwing. The leftwing of newspaper readership includes, as expected The Guardian, Independent and Daily Mirror and, somewhat counter to expectations, The Financial Times, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Although that last three are rightwing compared to the Guardian and Independent, they are left of centre compared to the centre.

Left wing
The Guardian - 279,308
The Independent - 185,035
Daily Mirror - 1,194,097
Financial Times - 383,067
The Times - 457,250
Daily Telegraph - 651,184 
The Sun - 3,001,822
Right wing
Daily Mail - 2,133,568
Daily Star - 734,311
Daily Express - 639,875

Now, back to that barmy wrongcock from Yahoo Answers, accusing the Daily Mail of being extreme right wing, I bet he feels stupid now, in reading my methodology and research, cos look, its just right of centre, not extreme right wing, it can't possibly be any closer to being on the centre ground.

Just because a dreadful newspaper is dreadful, doesn't mean it is far-right, it just means you're a snob who hates people and thinks they're too stupid to be trusted to make their own decisions.

Addendum to my previous post on the political spectrum and newspapers

My previous post on location the position of the best selling national daily UK newspapers in the political spectrum lead to some interesting discussions on Google Plus which pointed the way to other areas of research and points I need to clarify.
Is the left- and right-wingedness of UK newspapers representative of UK political opinion?

Probably not, the thing that is most representative of UK political opinion is the general election, and even then, that isn't representative of people who don't vote. The political spectrum of UK newspapers based on their -wingedness rank and their readership size is only representative of people who make the free economic choice to purchase newspapers. It doesn't represent people who don't buy papers, but instead get their news from TV, radio and the internet.

On the other hand, TV, radio and the internet are pretty much free, like The Metro newspaper, you don't have to make an economic decision to indulge, so they may be less representative of their viewers/readers.

I was going to say its like comparing apples and oranges, but I had a look on wikipedia about apples and oranges, and the consensus is that they're are quite comparable, they're both soft fruit that cost about the same, etc. Comparing websites and newspapers is pretty easy and valid, compared to, for example, comparing the word "research" and the number 38.

Anyhoo, I guess one of the main points of my argument that I should have mentioned earlier, is my belief that political views in the UK are smoothly and symmetrically spread. That there are just as many left of centre people in the UK as there are right of centre, and just as many far left supporters as there are far right supporters, not only that, but I propose that any doubts in the nature of this smooth continuum are down to the beholder's own personal bias, rather than an imbalance in -wingedness. And so from this, the centre ground is the median point where there are just as many people to the right as there are to the left.

An exception to this may be that perhaps some swath of people are less inclined to purchase newspapers and so aren't represented. So it could be possible that the UK press as a whole are biased to the right, or possibly biased to the left.

To try to address this, I've looked at the alexa stats for the newspapers involved, and from the given number of links to the website, we can approximate how popular the sites are, and applying the same methodology as before, the -wingedness of the papers is a little different:-

Left wing
The Guardian - 76,114 incoming links
The Independent - 27,797 incoming links

Centre ground
Daily Mirror - 10,263 incoming links
Financial Times - 26,386 incoming links
The Times - 39,534 incoming links

Right wing
Daily Telegraph - 54,075 incoming links
The Sun - 17,721 incoming links
Daily Mail - 40,243 incoming links
Daily Star - 2,520 incoming links
Daily Express - 4,347 incoming links
And I can create the neat table at the top of the post where the width represents the approximate number of hits for each newspaper's website.

This shift in the middle ground suggests that website viewers are biased to the left compared to newspaper buys who are biased to the right. Of course the objective truth of what the middle ground looks like is somewhere between these two. As for which is more truthiness, the internet or newspaper buying, I reckon its the people who are willing to directly hand money over for their news, rather than those who can freely click, that's my bias.