Month: May 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Keeping Busy

What a glorious weekend. Friday past was another work trip down to Roodlea. All week the forecast was for a warm day but it still came as a really nice surprise when it actually turned out to be true. It was great weather and another thoroughly enjoyable day.

Dream Team

I’m glad I put on some sun cream though – I expect a few red faces at work tomorrow and that’s not form the quality of golf on show. The rest of the weekend has been really busy. Lot’s of gardening – grass cutting, hedge cutting, weeding, planting etc etc. All worth it as it’s looking pretty tidy even if I do say so myself. I’ll never make a gardener but at least it’s looking presentable.

I’ve also had a lot to do in setting up a new project. Can’t say too much more at the moment. Well, can’t is the wrong word. I don’t want to say too much more at the moment but all will hopefully be revealed soon enough. Can’t promise it will be good but it will at least be….interesting. Still a lot to-do to get it off the ground but made a lot of progress over the weekend.

One thing not going so well is my broadband connection and/or router. Warm resetting every day now. Complete pain in the tits – must get on to O2 tomorrow and get it looked at. Doesn’t matter what broadband firm or technology I use – after 6 months to a year I always run into some sort of trouble. Frustrating.

Anyway, that’s for tomorrow. Hope you had a good weekend too. What a difference a bit of sun makes.

Time for Change?

Watched Question Time tonight – really good with the politicians on the rack again but with the old party politics back in play. However some really interesting points tonight.

  • Recognition of the anger around the country at the MP’s expense row.
  • Acceptance that criminal proceedings should take place – deliberate fraud has occurred.
  • Each party has to clean up it’s act.
  • Martin Bell – each party faces a test which it will pass or fail – can it clean up it’s MP’s and not just the old guard and back benchers but also take action against cabinet and shadow cabinet members? Labour is messing this up right now and as the party in power should be doing a lot more than it is.
  • A general election now would elect a very different parliament.
  • Is it time for electoral reform?
  • Will celebrity MP’s become more common?

The part that was really interesting was around reform of parliament and election of independents. The panel was split between the need of established party politics so that effective government could take place against election of independents to shake up the parliament.

It got me thinking – could a People’s Party, a coalition of independents standing on the ticket of anti-sleaze become a dominant force? What if the independents weren’t just known faces like Martin Bell, Esther Rantzen et all but acknowledged business leaders and academics? How many of our current MP’s are actually fit to lead? I’m not measuring fitness based on the expenses scandal either. What qualifications do our current crop of MP’s actually have apart form going to the right schools and universities, joining their party branches at an early age, working for former MP’s as researchers etc. Where’s the business acumen, the proven leadership? Sadly lacking in many cases.

It was no surprise to see the larger parties saying that the only answer was for them to sort out their issues. They were the only way forward. William Hague dared to suggest that it was only the large parties that could take on issues like unemployment, financial crisis and defence. What a cheek. Neither party has covered itself in any glory in the last two decades. With the public not having much of a choice would it not be better to vote on qualified independents rather than a candidate chosen by the local party offices especially when the selection is made to satisfy a quota or is based on the candidates influence and background? Do we really need 1300 officials in parliament? How different would a slimmed down parliament with proportional representation look compared to today’s mess?

I can’t see electoral reform taking place in the short term but a coalition of independents with a ticket of anti-sleaze and a commitment to fight for electoral reform would win many many seats if there were an election in the next 6-8 weeks. Throw in a few respected celeb’s into the mix and there’s the potential to have many more seats and power than the Liberals while denting Conservatives and especially Labour. Sadly the chance of the election taking place this year are slim to non existent. By 2010 this could well be old news. Hysterical mass media will have moved onto the next big thing. Can you remember when swine flu and the credit crunch dominated the news? One things for sure – if issues like this don’t get people out voting, nothing will.

Google Spreadsheets As A Database

Following on from the Google Spreadsheet links in the previous post, I spotted this retweet from Guardian Datastore. Interesting – database querying of a Google Spreadsheet. So following a link takes me to Tony Hirst’s blog and a how-to on applying SQL type queries to a Google Spreadsheet. Very useful.

Tony then takes the data and visualises it using Many Eyes Wikified. Very impressive and a site I hadn’t heard of or used before. Applying the same principles Tony has now applied visualisations to the Shadow Cabinet spreadsheet.

Only slight snag I can see is that spreadsheets are easy to change and hence the visualisations could break easily – more easily than a database would. Apart from that though I’m very impressed. I’m off to dabble!

Snouts In The Trough

Over the last ten day’s or so there has been only one story in UK politics – MP’s and their expenses. A media storm has built up around the amount that MP’s have been claiming for. In fact it’s not just the amount that have annoyed people – it’s the content of these claims. Paying for moat cleaning, gardens, second homes farther away than your primary home to parliament, some outrageously high food bills – it just smacks of taking the system for a ride at the taxpayers expense. It’s not limited to one party either – Labour, Conservative, Liberals and the Others all have been exposed primarily by the Telegraph. The full list of their investigations make for sobering reading. The Telegraph have spun this story for all it’s worth, drip feeding a couple of new MP revelations each day to maximise the publicity and also to keep the pressure on MP’s and in particular the government.

Ultimately it’s the Labour government that is and will come out of this the worst. The first week of bad press was all reserved for the government and those MP’s that abused the system. Gordon Brown refusing to apologise was a critical error. With the Telegraph switching to the Conservatives, David Cameron, and it doesn’t fill me with glee writing this, played a master stroke by apologizing before anyone had really seen just how damaging some of the tory expense claims were. Moats, tennis courts and more examples of flipping. The whole flipping tag really winds me up as it’s a playful little tag for a disgraceful abuse of position. The whole point of the second home payments was to allow anyone to stand as an MP and ensure they weren’t disadvantaged by a lack of money. Instead many MP’s put expense claims in for one home, then flipped what they called their second home allowing them to put claims in for another property. Outrageous – how could this be allowable in the rules? Why did nobody until now think this wasn’t an issue?

But MP’s did think there was something wrong with this. Heather Brooke first asked for expenses to be made public in 2004. If it wasn’t for her fight to have the information made public we wouldn’t be seeing MP’s being brought to task today. If the expenses system was fair and the majority of MP’s weren’t abusing the system as the story is trying to be spun now, why did the house of commons try so hard to block moves to have expenses be made public, trying to overturn decisions that were made against them. Even recently we’ve seen Harriet Harman trying to defend MP’s and also say the problem with publishing receipts is that MP addresses are revealed. Tosh – you can publish expenses without revealing an address.

Another reason that Labour will suffer the most is that they could have made changes. They were in power. If it was such a serious issue they could have made changes within 24-48 hours. It’s been done before – why not now? They’ve also got the old guard still plugging away at these outrageous leaks. Michael Martin really isn’t fit to be speaker of the house. It’s nothing to do with snobbery as his cronies will spin to anyone who listens. He’s so out of touch with public feeling on this. They don’t want to see him get annoyed about the leaks – he should be taking the matter in hand and reacting to how the country feels. His reaction in parliament this week was of a man who’s had his dirty little secret revealed and he wasn’t about to go down without fighting it. Idiot. Then you have George Foulkes turning on a BBC presenter for daring to interrupt and question MP’s. The video is below.

Foulkes came across as a bully. I guess everyone’s reaction is that his time will come. The electorate will take care of him. Of course not. He’s now a Lord so quite easy for him to come out and say what he really thinks, not what the public want to hear. Another idiot. Going back to the claims itself it’s easy to see why there are shouts for police investigations. Flipping is bad enough. Claiming for a mortgage already paid off doesn’t sound like a simple error when it was £16,000 claimed for. Labour’s David Chaytor is also accused of claiming £13,000 for a mortgage on a house already paid for. Worse, it’s also claimed he flipped houses six times. Ridiculous. How could this ever be seen as being fair and reasonable? There’s other strange claims as well – Alex Salmond claiming £400 every month for food expenses yet he’s made just over 16% of the votes. A man with three jobs claiming the maximum amount for food each month. It stinks. It really sticks in the throat that so many MP’s stepped forward last week to hand back money. Reminds me of series one of The Wire – politicians happy to take money until found out all the while trying to influence the investigation. I wonder if the team at the Telegraph feel like McNulty and Co chasing the money.

The fear out of all of this is that democracy, in the short term at least, is under threat. All mainstream parties, in particular Labour will take a hit in the upcoming Euro elections. What I can’t figure out is whether people won’t bother to vote as a protest or will instead switch their vote. If they don’t vote then it’s a chance for smaller parties to gain power. In the Euro’s that means parties like the Greens, UKIP and the BNP. Worrying times.

So what next? Well out of all this reform that been talked about the one thing I want to see is a clear and open process in which all data is published and freely obtainable for all to see. For me that means RSS, XML or a web service so that MP expense claims can be used by anyone as they see fit. How many of these claims would have been made if they were to be made public within one month of being claimed? We certainly wouldn’t see the shit storm that we see now. The Conservatives are making a step in the right direction by publishing the expense claims of the shadow cabinet here, also available as an XML feed. Not ideal as it should really come from an independent body but it sets the tone and shows that action is being taken eventually.

There are more sources of data that prove very useful available now. The Guardian have an up to date spreadsheet of all the claims currently known made by our MP’s. Using this you can see clearly how there are some strange claims being made – this map shows claims made against MP’s constituencies. Couple that data with sites like The Public Whip and TheyWorkForYou and it’s clear who the hard working MP’s are.

One wonders though if all this could have been avoided while still providing access for everyone to stand as an MP. Build a hotel. One that could comfortably house all the MP’s and make sure it’s in walking distance of the Houses of Parliament. Food would be provided and an MP wouldn’t have to pay for anything. Wi-fi and those all essential TV services for Jacqui Smith would be provided – not a claim in sight! No need for expensive second home claims or all those costs to furnish a second home. Sounds all too sensible, no?

Beinn Narnain

After the last walk on Ben Vorlich yesterdays stroll up Beinn Narnain was in complete contrast. Narnain is also (just) a munro and is situated on the banks of Loch Long, just across from Arrochar. The biggest difference was the weather – it was an almost perfect day! The next biggest difference – we followed the path!

View at Lunchtime

Heading out from the car park it was a fairly straightforward path towards the Cobbler on the left and Narnain to the right. This was our only rain of the day on the hill and it quickly passed. We left the path a bit early (or missed an earlier path) so we had a bit of a slog for about 40 mins. After that though it was path for most of the way. There was also quite a bit more scrambling than before and it was a little slippy underfoot at some points. However once we got to the top the views were stunning. Picture above is where I had lunch and here’s me at the trig point on top of Narnain.

Me on Narnaim

With lot’s of breaks it took just under three hours to get to the top which was pretty good going. The route down was pretty good with a clear path and some scrambling over rocks but nothing too taxing. One option was to do The Cobbler as well but we decided to keep that for another day. Something I should have done was put on some sun cream. I burn easily and with the better weather I’ve got a red nose and neck today. Nothing too bad but easily preventable.

Beinn Narnaim Runkeeper

I again used RunKeeper to track the route and this time it didn’t work flawlessly. The iPhone/RunKeeper lost GPS signal or at least couldn’t get an accurate signal and it thought we had walked 16 miles near the top of Narnain. When I loaded the total walk up to the RunKeeper site it was showing we had walked over 20 miles. Damn. However you can now edit the route by moving waypoints. Five minutes later and with the route corrected RunKeeper updated the walk calculating the correct distance. Fantastic. This was also the first time with the newly updated RunKeeper which now lets you switch the screen off while using it. The battery life is now much improved. By the time I go to the top of Ben Narnain I still had 1/3 battery life left. I plugged in my battery pack and it only took a quarter of the charge to fully charge the iPhone. I now expect to be able to track for at least 10 hours which is really good and much longer than I initially expected.

So that’s my second Munro done. Full Flickr set is available here. I wonder where we’ll end up in June?

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