Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Goal-line tech is immaterial. What's needed is good-quality refereeing. Technology would be useful for the edge-cases, when it is uncertain whether the call has crossed the line, or if the attacking player was within a foot of being on-side. Neither of these cases, nor Thierry Henry's blatant hand-ball in the qualifiers, should be a matter for the beeping machines.

I don't know much about football, particularly not the org structures of referees, but that appears to be what needs improving. Seems to me that a 3-challenge video-replay system would help deal with the most egregious cases with technology that's available to all the major leagues already.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


The budget was, of course, an appalling raid on the poor. And that is entirely to expected, being largely a Tory budget. I imagine there's a bit of politics going on here in that they want to get the bad news out of the way as quickly as possible - they are going to have 4 more budgets before the next general election so it is better to be bad now and good later.

Despite that, that 20% VAT rate is going to scar the Lib Dems for a long time, and will probably still be potent enough to bite them in 2015. Expect a return of those VAT bombshells, this time probably exploded ones.

I am lucky enough to have been born into a society in which my particular set of skills happen to be quite valuable, meaning that I am in the top 10% of income earners in the country (the decile statring at approx £40k - it's lower than you think). Okay, so I don't have any children yet, but I literally have money to burn.

If I didn't believe the government was wasting large slabs of tax on things like "defence" (or "attack" as I like to call it) then I would be inclined to overpay my tax bill because I really believe that people like me should be paying more.

Who is it at the top of the Tory party who honestly thinks that screwing the poor is a good and sensible thing to do? Who says "I know, instead of raising the top rate of income tax, CGT, council tax on large homes, instead of introducing green taxes or local income taxes or land value taxes, what this country really needs is for poor people to pay more for their phone credit, dog food, Sky subscription, kitchen utensils, beer, clothes, Coke and petrol!"?

It's a good job I'm only supporting the Lib Dems because of their position on electoral reform. They'd better get that right. I mean, I know that this is a Tory budget with a bit of Lib Dem restraint, but if this is the best the Lib Dems can deliver, it's pretty pathetic.

Saturday, 29 May 2010


George Osborne, theoretically at least, is David Laws’ boss. What he should be doing, provided there are no further facts to scrutinise, is stepping outside the door of Number 11 and calling down the thunder. He should tell the press that his faith in Laws’ ability is undimmed. He should say that forcing Laws out of the closet was to the press’ shame. He should say that he believes that Laws has made and will make sound and prudent judgements about the economy and looks forward to continuing to work with him through a very difficult period. In other words, he should be willing to step into the line of fire for his colleague. Showing this amount of courage could turn the Coalition into a team; the spectacle of a Conservative defending a Liberal Democrat would do nothing but cement trust. It would also be an eloquent statement to the Alistair Campbells of this world that their form of political discourse no longer works.

Too right.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Stuart White is distressed by the abolition of the Child Trust Fund, claiming it as "one of the great liberal achievements of New Labour".

I am a great believer in the Ackerman/Alstott idea of a "stakeholder grant"*, particularly as a cover for university tuition fees, and it is sad to see the basis of such a grant strangled in its infancy by the very liberals who should be 'pro' such a scheme.

Is there anything that can be done before the fund is abolished, in order to save it?

I'll be writing to my Lib Dem MP, who might actually have the power to do something about it for once.

* Incidentally, why has Alstott been dropped from Stuart's list of stakeholder grant progenitors? She literally (co)wrote the book on the subject.

Friday, 7 May 2010


Keep the pressure on. Email him here, and tweet at @nick_clegg.

Mention STV. AV and AV+ are not really good enough, and he knows this is true. Let's deliver a fair voting system for ever. Email. Tweet. Pass it on.

NO COALITION WITHOUT PR, NICK email cleggn@parliament.uk tweet at @nick_clegg #letsactuallyfixthevotingsystem please RT
Edit: added hashtag. Also, you can email the Lib Dem Federal Executive here. Please be brief, polite and unsubtle.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Techno techno techno

Alix Mortimer rightly bemoans the quantity of idiots in parliament, but it should be obvious why there are so many of them: the political skills required to get selected then elected are nothing like the skills required to be a top-class legislator.

Ideally, legislators should have a sharp eye for detail, excellent reading comprehension skills, an excellent grasp of statistics, an understanding of history and political philosophy and a set of novel personal background experiences to bring to the table.

In contrast, parliamentary electees must convince 35,000 skeptics to give them a job, through awareness-raising campaigning, doorstepping, local problem solving, successful media interviews and appearances, and being able to recall and reframe the main planks of their party's brand identity at will.

These two skill groups are so different it should really be a surprise that there are any smart people at all in parliament. And while the media insist that everyone's special and everyone's opinion is important, and while political parties are built on strong brand identities, and while the electoral process only allows one candidate of each political stripe to stand in each constituency, this will continue to be a problem.

What can be done to change things? STV would help a little, I think, because only the "best" tranche of each existing party's candidates would get elected, and would potentially allow smaller parties with more focussed branding to pick up 1st preference votes ("Smart Labour", anyone?).

I would really, really like to see all PPCs take an apolitical statistics and reading comprehension test, with their scores marked on the ballot paper next to their name. That way, voters can actually decide in a meaningful way whether they do want smarter politicians.


I like to write something here when I am positively surprised by an online transaction, to reward the seller beyond just the purchase price. So:

I ordered a replacement battery for my Asus laptop on Sunday night on eBay and it arrived this morning, despite it being listed as 3-4 days shipping time. It was also pretty much the cheapest option going. So if you're looking for a laptop battery, give Battery Pro a look on eBay.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Satire: the death of politics?

Malcolm Tucker appears to be writing a series of columns in the Guardian, which considering he is fictional is an impressive feat.

It's well known that Tucker is viewed as something of an inspiration to many spin doctors in the Westminster Bubble - Armando Iannucci tells a story that when filming In The Loop it was a senior Whitehall spinner that suggested that Peter Capaldi be filmed leaving the actual 10 Downing Street front door and organized it. On the day of filming, the press pit opposite was full of "special advisers" all cheering for Capaldi.

So one has to wonder just how much influence a fake blog - presumably written by Iannucci (though you would have thought that Capaldi would at least get an "ok" on the text since it's effectively his face slapped on the column) - has in the run-up to the actual election. Satire has shaped politics before, of course - Thatcher was a big fan of Yes, Minister and again Iannucci relates that it was because of the portrayal of senior civil servants on TV that caused Thatcher to begin the reign of the "special advisers" - but has satire ever set out its stall at an election campaign so brazenly?

I supposed we can but look on and see whether Labour really do press the Tories on Ashcroft, Ulster Unionists and young conservative organizations...

Sunday, 7 March 2010


So I've had the joy of flying abroad and back recently, and on the return it really hit me just how much time, energy and money we waste on trying to keep people born in different geographic locales from entering and staying in our geographic locale. How pointless is it, that we in the West consider ourselves so much better than everyone else that the dirty foreigners must be boxed in, tagged, queued up and questioned?

It's entirely depressing. Along with the new e-passport cages at Bristol airport: "Come in to our country! But you'd better be the right sort, else we'll lock you in a box!"

I look forward to a world in which geopolitical boundaries finally become meaningless.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Two tribes

So I've gone and read the report that 54% of people are talking about! Sorry, I mean 0.54%. In short, it is uninformative rubbish. Yes, there are lots of number about how much worse the worst areas in the country are compared to the best areas in the country, but, well, so what? Sure, life is going to suck in the worst places and be awesome in the best places. Here are some examples from page 7:

• Children are six times more likely to grow up in a household dependent on out-of-work benefits.
• Young people are almost twice as likely to be expelled from school.• Pupils are half as likely to get three ‘A’ grades at A-level as their peers in the least deprived local authorities.
• Teenage girls under 18 are almost three times more likely to become pregnant.
• Young people aged 18-24 are twice as likely to suffer from youth unemployment.
• People are twice as likely to be on a waiting list for social housing.• Households are four times more likely to be homeless.
• People are almost three times as likely to be a victim of violent crime.
• People are twice as likely to be a victim of common assault.
• People are thirteen times more likely to be a victim of robbery.
• People are twice as likely to have no qualifications at all.

Of course, this tells us absolutely nothing about what life is like for the vast majority of people in the country. It tells only us about outliers, which are definitionally rare and at the end of the spectrum. This is pure availability bias: tell us about the best and the worst because that's what sticks out. This is why people are frightened of terrorists, too: terrorist events (in the Western world at least) are so vanishingly rare that each one gets so much news coverage we feel they are far more likely than they are.

If the Tories had identified a line at, say, 40% median "area depravity" (they love the word "deprived"!) and shown that things were on average significantly worse below that one line than above it, perhaps their thesis would have some merit.

Here's another little vignette of the deception this report tries to pull, from page 2:

Since 1997 the Government has spent £473 billion on welfare payments alone – that’s as big as our whole economy in 1988.

Typical political trick: is your scary number not big enough? Then add it up over lots of years, then compare it to a number from a single year!

£473bn is approx £40bn per year, which, according to the Tories at least, is only 8.3% of government spending in 1988. But why did they choose 1988? £40bn is only 4.6% of 1997's GDP, and a measly 2.3% of 2008's GDP. Do we really resent paying 2-4% of GDP on welfare payments? Really?

We are not "two nations". We are one nation. And we're getting pretty sick of transparent political bullshit.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Brilliantly, the UK Statistics Agency has pwned Chris Grayling for, basically, lying about crime figures. Mark Easton's report here.

I'm surprised (well, perhaps just disheartened) that this isn't getting more play in the national media: here is what could be the future Home Secretary lying through his teeth about crime figures that he full-well knows are incomparable for political advantage.

Sure, this thing is probably all too common, but I still think it warrants flagging up when it happens.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Here's a thought: everyone is arguing about which is better: AV, AV+, FPTP or STV. Or at least, lefties are - clearly STV is best! - but instead of gambling five years of potentially ruinous governance on a proposition with no local evidence, why don't we run some trials, eh? Take ten random constituencies and have them vote AV, another ten, AV+, another ten STV. See what happens. Take some time, get some evidence.

Is that really such a crazy idea?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


So I am investigating building a 3d game in XNA. So far, my main conclusion is that all of the available "engines" are rubbish. Either poorly-documented, feature-lacking, or both. I am used to the relative elegance and acres of documentation of Java3d's Scenegraph, and despite the fact that J3d is lacking a ton of modern features (like, er, shaders), I have actually managed to get something approximately like what I want up and running in it.

This is quite frustrating. In the unlikely event that you have any tips, please contribute.