Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Dirty Boy

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

I’ve gone on here before about how web filtering is wrong and doesn’t work properly, and how the bigger the scale, the harder it is.

We’ve also seen that, according to an Ofcom report (PDF, 1.1MB) customers have greeted the filters with rejection.

That’s quite gratifying, I think. People are being actively prompted to allow censorship, and are rejecting it. Of course, that the tech required is now in place will make it easier to do more packet inspection should law (or other means) request it…

Here’s the Open Rights Group‘s take on it, the approach is humourous, but the message is serious.

If you think this won’t happen, try the Scunthorpe Problem for size.

I’m personally of the opinion that an ISP should do one thing: provide the infrastructure to route packets to the internet, and maybe a few basic services (like DNS, SMTP etc). You might note that the sponsors of that video refuse to offer a filtered connection, something they’re to be congratulated on.

If, like me, you want to defend an open, uncensored Internet with reasonably privacy, then consider joining the Open Rights Group or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Note that ORG is a UK organisation, EFF is US-based.

Spiked

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

There’s been a veritable explosion of outrage accross twatter and feckbook concerning anti-homeless spikes in a doorway in London: people have compared them to anti-pigeon spikes, and that we’re demonising homeless people like we would pigeons or other vermin.

The Outrage Bus has been struggling to cope.

And now, the anti “disciplinary architecture” nutters begin to appear- they seem to consider that any structures that are designed as to stop potentially undesireable activity, like this anti-skate-boarding studding, designed to protect publicly-funded street furniture from damage:

An example of studding on a public bench to prevent damage from skateboards

An example of studding on a public bench to prevent damage from skateboards

is an affront to their rights, conveniently forgetting that the public space is, well, public, and has to be shared with people of all viewpoints.

It got worse, with one tweeter identifying this as anti-homeless:

This is designed to stop pedestrians and vehicles crossing in an unsafe way.

This is designed to stop pedestrians and vehicles crossing in an unsafe way.

When it’s clearly designed to stop vehicles and/or pedestrians crossing that space, probably for road safety, but let’s not let the facts get in the way, eh?

Just a couple of thoughts: Firstly yes, the spikes aren’t nice, but then having people sleep in your doorway probably isn’t either. Don’t we all think the outrage would be better targetted at the very fact that we have people so desperate they have nowhere to sleep but a doorway or under a bridge? It’s like the facebook “like this to stop cancer” posts: pointless. If you’re really concerned and want to help, Crisis is this way, and Shelter is over here.

Secondly, if anyone is seriously suggesting we should design the urban environment to accomodate desperate homeless people because there’s nowhere else, then we have failed as a society.

That’s worth getting angry about.

Health For Sale: care.data

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

I’m not going to go on about the ongoing, immoral creeping privatisation of the health service here, though that’s disgusting. If you agree, please take a look at the NHA.

I’m instead wanting to make sure you all know about the effective selling of your medical records to all and sundry. I don’t know about you, but I expect my medical records to be something confidential to people treating me.

What might surprise you is that there are plans to start uploading your medical data to the HSCIC, The national provider of information, data and IT systems for health and social care.

From brief.care-data.info (a website written by a concerned GP):

GP practices nationwide will soon be required to supply patients’ personal and confidential medical information, on a regular and continuous basis, to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, GP practices have no choice but to allow the HSCIC to extract this information.

The Act removes any requirement to seek the consent of either patients or GPs before extracting and uploading the data.

This project, called care.data, is administered by the HSCIC using software and services provided by a private sector company called ATOS.

The HSCIC states that care.data extractions will start from GP surgeries in March 2014*.

The HSCIC will administer the data, and states it intends to use it “for planning health services and for research”.

This is known as secondary uses of your medical records.

Medical staff treating you in GP surgeries, hospitals, A&E, pharmacies and GP out-of-hours centres will not use, or be able to use, this database.

care.data is not about information sharing between healthcare professionals.

The data will be available for sale to people such as:

Pharmaceutical companies
Health charities
Universities and other academic organisations
Hospital trusts
Medical Royal Colleges
Information intermediaries
Think-tanks
Commercial companies
Insurance companies

and may include:

Your NHS number
Your date of birth
Your postcode
Your gender
Your ethnicity
The date you registered with your GP surgery
Your medical diagnoses (including cancer and mental health) and any complications
Your referrals to specialists
Your prescriptions
Your family history
Your vaccinations and screening tests
Your blood test results
Your body mass index (height/weight)
Your smoking/alcohol habits

Do you fancy that? Imagine if you’ve had a drug habit. You’re now clean, but data that you had a habit is for sale.

I don’t think that is on. Neither do many other people, from concerned GPs to the Open Rights Group, who sent me this:

This is a guest email from Phil Booth, Coordinator of medConfidential – the campaign for confidentiality and consent in health and social care.

You may have heard in recent weeks about something called ‘care.data’ – a new scheme by the arms-length body that is now in charge of the NHS in England, which will soon begin uploading confidential information from your medical record held by your GP.

care.data will involve some of your most private, sensitive information being uploaded, processed and passed on or sold in various forms to researchers, pharmaceutical companies, commissioning bodies, insurers, think tanks, ‘information intermediaries’ – basically any organisation or company that can make a plausible case for access.

The decision has already been taken. If you don’t act now, you’ll lose control of your medical information for ever – because once uploaded, your data will never be deleted.

You can now opt out of your medical records being uploaded to care.data using faxyourgp.com. Contact your GP here:
https://www.faxyourgp.com

You have a right to opt out, but the people in charge of the scheme have made it seem as confusing and as difficult as they can. It’s not difficult, but you do need to take action pretty quick. You can opt out here:
https://www.faxyourgp.com

Cheers,

Phil Booth
Coordinator
medConfidential

More on this at The Register.

Please, read the linked sites, and make your mind up. Consider opting-out.

*This date has now been delayed due to pressure.

Mayoral Car FOI Response

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

My FOI about the Mayoral car has been answered, and with fairly good answers. Here’s the response.

Going through the answers, the model is confirmed as an XJ LWB, in Portfolio trim, which puts it in the middle of the LWB range, just below the Supersport, which would be a bit racy for the mayor, and even more expensive to run and own. As expected, it’s the 275BHP turbodiesel, not the petrol, which at least is the sane engine choice, giving similar performance and better economy and emissions (though of course, there’s better choices for economy):

Screenshot from Jaguar's website showing performance and economy/emissions for the XJ series. Click to enlarge.

Screenshot from Jaguar’s website showing performance and economy/emissions for the XJ series. Click to enlarge.

If you want to look yourself, see Jaguar’s website.

I’m unsure what is meant by

Purchased initially then an options
appraisal is carried out to see which option is cheaper i.e. leasing or
Prudential borrowing. (The options appraisal is being done now).

If any reader can explain that, please do so. Strikes me as an odd thing to do: purchase then investigate the costs [shrug], but at least they paid below list, that being £59288.33 excluding VAT but including OTR costs, according to Jaguar’s site.

The fact that no comparison was made to any other car intrigues me: The new Jag was considered

Like for like replacement on technical specification.

For the old car. At this point I realise I should have asked for an exact model for that (and if anyone fancies getting me a picture of it now it is the deputy Mayor’s car, I’ll follow that up), but on the face of it, it would seem the selection critera were “Buy a Jag, because that’s what we did last time. Make it big and luxurious, and bollocks to the cost”. History of the XJ range can be found here.

It’s interesting that the old DH1 did 6k miles last year, and for the new car’s expected life and depreciation term according to the response, it should cover 42K miles during it’s life. In that time, Walsall council tax payers will be paying £7273.95 per year in depreciation on the balance sheet, though of course, in reality, depreciation is heavier in the first few years, levelling out later on, and even after 7 years, this car will hold some value.

I find it especially damning that no thought was given to the costs of hiring an appropriate car as required: average mileage for a private car is around 15k miles pa, and this very expensive car is covering less than half that: it will be spending a lot of time quietly depreciating in a compound, or on the shiny new car park.

Consumable costs at under £1000/year seem reasonable, and their estimates of fuel costs seem, if anything, slightly pessimistic, depending on if you believe the manufacturers fuel economy figures. The Jag is reckoned to do 36.7-50.4 mpg, diesel is currently £1.349/litre, about £6.13 a gallon. If we take the combined mpg figure, I reckon £821/year, £2463.29 over 3 years.

I’ll accept that the only other 4 or 5 door car on fleet (an 03 Focus estate) is probably not suitable.

So, a reasonable response, but for me it’s shameful that such an expensive car was purchased without exploring alternatives- be they a cheaper car (PDF) , or hire.

Interested readers may like to see what What Car Magazine thought of this car, and what it thinks of running costs (screenshot below). This will be based on owning the car from new for 3 years and doing 12000 miles per year:

What Car? Magazine's estimated running costs for the Jag.

What Car? Magazine’s estimated running costs for the Jag.

Troweling it on

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

After we heard about the 70k Mayoral car, you’d really think that any further news on the subject would be carefully considered.

It would seem not. From an Express and Star story, a quote from Mike Bird, showing great talent for PR again:

If you are a bricklayer you have a trowel, a painter needs a paintbrush and a mayor needs a car.

If we let the terrible analogy pass (or not: surely a Mayor needs a pointy hat and gold chain, following the series, because we’re looking at tools to do the job, not a means of getting there?), then we can go and make a comparison.

My friend is a brickie. A damned good one. I asked him how much a top-notch bricklayer’s trowel, the kind of thing you’d use as a pro, costs.

It’s about £40, for a Marshalltown, in case you want one. I don’t know any painters, so I can’t ask about paintbrushes.

You can buy over 1700 top-notch brick trowels for the price of the Jag….

Fat Cat

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Hat-tip to BrownhillsBob:

BrownhillsBob's blog about the latest excess of Walsall MBC. Click to visit the site.

BrownhillsBob’s blog about the latest excess of Walsall MBC. Click to visit the site.

The story speaks for itself, except that if I’ve ID’d the car correctly from this photo, then it’s a Jaguar XJ LWB Portfolio, starting at £70,975. Even if I haven’t, the range starts at over £50k.
[edit]
The E&S story quotes £50k excluding VAT. Would Walsall MBC pay VAT on a car purchase, or are they exempt?
[/edit]

I’ve submitted an FOI request to confirm this, plus some other stuff.

Read Bob’s blog now. Read about the cuts to jobs and services in Walsall (Bob does that kind of thing better than I do), and get angry.

Abuse of Abuse

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

The metaphorical manure hit the air-movement device this week, and now we have the self-appointed Twitter police oiling up the censorship stick.

Unsurprisingly, as this is the Internet, and some people are nasty, bigoted, small-minded little pricks, Caroline Criado-Perez, who’d led a campaign to put Jane Austen on the £10 note, got some very unwelcome (and completely unacceptable, lets not forget that) attention.

She got rape threats. Just think about that for a moment, and think about the sort of dreadful person that does that. It’s the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory in full effect, or, if you prefer Online disinhibition effect. Some are under the impression the Internet means you can say what you like, free from reprisals: it does not.

This is not a new thing: Usenet, which to this day remains fairly anonymous (with posts only being traceable by IP address, and therefore only with the cooperation of an ISP or NNTP server admin) has been “enriched” by this for many, many years now. It remains a throwback to the old days, with all that entails. Anyway, back to the point.

Something Must Be Done, the world cried.

Then, magically, it was.

was detained in the Manchester area on suspicion of harassment offences.

Sounds like a great idea. Someone makes threats, they get a visit from the Old Bill. Seems like a good way to deal with a criminal act, huh?

Not good enough. We must #takebacktwitter.

The calls are in for a Report Abuse button. These are pretty common on web forums, and newspaper sites, like, say, The Guardian’s Comment is Free.

Ok. Let’s look at problem 1, handily suggested by @Greg_Callus:

Screenshot from 2013-07-31 20:47:25

Greg’s on the money with that: the moderation load of even a smallish, well-behaved web forum can represent a lot of work.

Just think about that for a moment. Twitter is a free service, so I doubt it can afford hordes of moderation staff. So perhaps we could automate it?

Then think that you might post something someone disagrees with. Lets say that you express a political view: nothing illegal, but something that sparks controversy:

Someone Is Wrong

and a few people who hold an opposing view get all the people they follow to hit the abuse button. Suddenly, you’ve been silenced. This is why user-trained spam filters fail too: users categorise mail they don’t like as spam, when it isn’t.

One final thought: just like the porn debate, we’re blaming a transport medium:

Screenshot from 2013-07-31 20:46:14

Screenshot from 2013-07-31 21:21:10

When the problem lies with people. Bitter, small-minded people. These people need challenging, but the challenge needs to be intelligent and reasoned, not a knee-jerk reaction that would cripple the social media network. Hey, if only we had laws against threatening behaviour, then we could do something.

[edit]
Found this rather fine post
by Lilian Edwards, Professor of E-Governance at Strathclyde University.

“Clean Wi-Fi”

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

They’re at it again then.

The politicians, despite being met with indifference over the wholesale filtering of domestic Internet connections, our right honourable overlords now wish to promote “good, clean, wi-fi” in public spaces.

Whatever the fuck that means. No porn, maybe? The conspiracy theory types will say this is just the thin end of the wedge for censorship. We could have all sorts of content considered ‘unclean’.

I’ve already discussed that providing wi-fi for public access can be hard, and this is a further obstacle. It’s unclear what the term “wi-fi provider” defines- it could be anything from the biggies like BT Openzone down to my local friendly garage or pub who have chucked a Netgear domestic router in for customers to use.

I’ve already said how hard it is to do filtering properly, and you don’t have to take my word for it.

It’s a bit easier to do on a larger scale, with some enterprise-grade hardware and a subscription, but this costs thousands of pounds a year, and still isn’t 100% accurate.

The domestic routers a lot of small potential wi-fi providers use are the same sort of stuff we all use at home. Here’s my router’s filtering setup page:

router setup page

A typical domestic router’s filtering setup: dependent on manual entries. Click to embiggen.

It’s reliant on maintaining a list of dodgy sites and entering them. Other routers can block based on DNS hostnames, but this, once again, relies on manually keyed blacklists. This is not going to encourage the provision of free wif-fi if people have to stump up time and money, or face legal problems if they don’t.

Here’s a wild idea: if you’re a parent, talk to your kids about the content available on the Internet (the chances being, if they’re teenagers, they can probably teach you a thing or two). Don’t devolve parenting to tech, and if you really have to, do it on the device, where you have control.

The Politics Game

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

I take a passing interest in politics, or at least in the results of politics. My own political leanings do, as anyone reading will probably eventually realise, lean leftwards, and in a mockery of the old cliche, as I get older, lean more so.

I’ve been criticised online when I’ve mentioned the shortcomings of local politicians, with the suggestion that I should get involved.

Here’s the rub: I don’t want to. I’m not interested enough. I’m not interested in a future in politics, and quite frankly, I have neither the time or energy to do so.

Most of all, I don’t want to be involved in the games and the bullshit.

Last night’s display (documented fully by BrownhillsBob, Aiden MacHaffie,and discussed beforehand by The Plastic Hippo in a far better way than you’d find here) by the local Tory bunch voting themselves a raise while employees and citizens suffer cuts, aided and abetted by the Labour group abstaining, allowing the motion through was stunning. Note: at this point I’d like to make it clear that at least 2 councillors have made it publicly known that they will not be accepting the increase. This is to be applauded, but the situation is either amazing incompetence (by neglecting to offer an alternative), or there’s something I’m missing, and it’s some grand scheme.

I’ll be generous: I’ll ignore the possibility of incompetence, because I can’t quite believe it: the people involved know the process and how it works, so they would know what would happen. They’d previously stated they would oppose the raise.

So then, why does the world of politics have to be all about games, point-scoring, and petty battles? Why is the whole thing so detached from what it should be? One look at our politicians in the House of Commons should be enough to convince us that efficient, sensible public service is a long way from what goes on.

Am I being too simplistic? Is there something I just don’t get? I think I’m a fairly pragmatic person, but as such, I recognise there are things I don’t understand. Maybe this is one of them (and if it is, please comment), but I dearly wish we could cut the crap, and get councillors politicians at all levels that look after the people that they represent.

Prace Bets Now!

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

A short reference to silly post-pub gameshow Banzai.

I’m now wondering after yesterday’s events (blogged in detail by Brownhills Bob) which historic building in Walsall will be next.

We’ve had the Jabez Cliff building, the church at Melish Rd, another old leatherworks near the art gallery, several pubs, and of course Shannon’s Mill. Prior to that, Great Barr Hall.

So then. What’s next for the unleaded and Swan Vestas treatment, so handy for ridding yourself of an expensive to refurb building?

Will it be The Bell in Willenhall?

The Walsall Workhouse Guardians Building?

Or a mystery item from our diminishing list of historic buildings? (In all honesty, I’m running out of ideas as targets are acquired) Still given the state of our town, something is bound to become vacant and unloved, then burnt and demolished soon.

As The Plastic Hippo pointed out, there’s a remarkable amount of fires involving buildings from either the Statuary List (PDF, 262k) or the local list (PDF 180k). At least the Avion escaped.


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