Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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27 February 2008

I am rather amused by my local paper’s story about it with the headline Earthquake Shakes Haringey too which went on to indicate nothing was damaged, nobody hurt and that almost nobody even noticed it happened. For more on the quake from where it was noticed check this out.

11 September 2007

The EU has agreed to give up trying to force Brits to use the metric system. Without that pressure I fear my son will still have to learn about an archaic, illogical system of measures long past its sell-by date as well as metric. I remember being the first generation to learn metric in the UK and being told it was the future. And so it is – except here, it seems!

4 July 2007

Microsoft’s UK head Gordon Frazer says, “unless more work is done to ensure legacy file formats can be read and edited in the future, we face a digital dark hole.”

Is this guy from the same Microsoft that changes its own file formats every few years?

16 May 2007

Just for a change neither of them have to do with terrorism. Eszter brought to my attention a feature in Popular Photography (US) about parents whose innocent (to them) pictures of their children were treated as suspicious by photo developers and resulted in their being criminally prosecuted. You can read the self-published story of a grandmother who fell foul of this culture of suspicion here.

The other story I heard on the radio this morning (listen to it here). Because (it seems) of arrest targets UK police have, a 13 year old child who shoplifted a single roll of candy worth around 40p was taken to the police station, cautioned, fingerprinted and had his DNA taken and stored.

I am not too worried about building up a DNA database per se but I am a little concerned that the fact that someone’s DNA turns up in the database could be taken by future employers or others as evidence of criminality itself, if one day it were to become public.

12 January 2007
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK),Old media at3:12 pm

I have long been in the habit of reading The Economist and while it has often irritated me I have generally found something in each issue I didn’t know before – often a statistic or chart worth clipping. Alas in an editorial this week about Ken Livingstone, the Economist seems to have let dislike of the mayor get in the way of the facts. When it comes to public transport “Bagehot”

  • distorts some of the facts – London may have some of “most expensive capital-city fares in the world” but only if you don’t have an Oystercard – and London’s public transport fares have never been cheap. Oystercard fares are still often cheaper than when he first came to power.
  • Refers to old conspiracy theories that are as far as I know at best unproven – that lower car traffic speeds are due to “artificially restricting road widths and re-sequencing traffic lights across the capital” and worst of all…
  • Resorts to complete (and misleading) hyperbole. “Even the mayor’s buses travel at little more than walking speed.” Well I haven’t been able to find figures more recent than the TFL 2003 report but then the average bus speed was 18kph and the average walking speed was 5kph. I do not believe the gap could have closed appreciably in the last three years!

Ken is no angel – some of his political alliances are certainly suspect – but it’s hard to argue with the broad thrust of his transport policy.

21 December 2006

A while ago I read in The Economist (registration required to read) that,

Transport is the only sector of the economy in which carbon emissions have risen since 1990. It is also the only one in which they are expected to be above that year’s level in 2020″

but “petrol is now 7p per litre cheaper in real terms than it was in 1999” (thanks to the government’s capitulation to petrol protesters). Seems to me there’s an obvious step the government could take. It turns out “Lowering the motorway speed limit to 60 mph, for example, would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by around 18%.”

(In a reversal of the usual practice I am stepping up my posting frequency over the Xmas holidays by posting old posts I drafted but forgot to post!)

27 November 2006

The exemplary chaps at MySociety.org, a group of mostly volunteer developers producing e-democracy-related web apps has managed to get the prime minister to support (or at least host) an online petition system (see BBC news coverage). Among the petitions launched so far is one which asks him not to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system. I encourage you to sign it – though note that these petitions are for UK residents only.

I oppose the replacement of Trident both on economic grounds and in the interests of encouraging others to abandon their own nuclear arsenals. Nation states who would use nukes against us would surely be deterred by the US and the international consequences of their use, while terrorists are not deterred by nuclear weapons and couldn’t in any case be targetted by them.

It seems to me that this decision comes at a crucial point in history where by deciding to turn away from nuclear weapons we could help turn the rest of the world in a new direction (and save billions that could be used to tackle important issues like climate change).

If you have some more time after signing that petition, please also sign this petition asking for a free vote and a full debate in parliament or visit The Big Trident Debate which has its own similar petition and discussion spaces.

23 November 2006
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK) at6:05 pm

I just read via the BBC about niceness tokens that are being handed around when someone is nice to someone else around London (probably eventually around the world as the tokens circulate). The other linked stories from the BBC site tell of other similar attempts to encourage us all to be nice to one another.

Awww. And in the spirit of niceness, a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers…

PS I’m back on broadband now – hurrah!

14 September 2006

According to a new article by The Economist (subscription required to read), “bets in Britain have grown rapidly, from £7 billion in 2000 to £32 billion in 2004 and an estimated £50 billion or more this year.” Internet betting accounts for 15% of this, and half of the bets are placed by foreigners (leaving half to be placed by our own citizens). Regular readers of my blog will know that I am horrified by what amounts to a de facto voluntary tax on the poor and if you are in the UK I encourage you to sign a petition against super-casinos here.

13 June 2006

Wow – at last you can look at the BBC News site statistics in some detail so you can see who reads what (at least for the top ten stories in a given subject or continent – and without exact page views).

Interestingly, the site’s announcement of this feature is in the top 10 even though it doesn’t appear on the front page….

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