Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

June 8, 2017
by Neil Turner
2 Comments

Go out and vote!

Go and vote at your local Polling Station! It’s general election time again! If you’re registered to vote, and haven’t already done so by post, please get out and vote at your local polling station. I know it’s a dull wet day, but if you don’t vote and the party you like the most (or dislike the least) isn’t elected, you’ll feel bad for the next five years. Or whenever the next general election is.

Your local council should have sent you a polling card; if you have one, it’ll tell you where to go and you should bring it with you if you can. If you don’t have a polling card – don’t worry! You can find out where your local polling station is here, just by entering your postcode. It’ll give you a map and directions. Take some ID with you if you don’t have your polling card just in case. I’d recommend a driving license as it has both your photo and your address on it, or a passport and a utility bill. If you have your polling card, there’s no need to bring any official identification with you.

If you applied for a postal vote but forgot to send it in, again, don’t worry! Contact your local electoral registration office before 5pm today and they’ll hopefully be able to sort you out with a replacement ballot paper.

Remember, you have until 10pm tonight to vote, so you can do it after work if needed.

Who to vote for

I voted Labour (I’m a party member), and, in most cases, I think you should do too. Their manifesto commits them to reversing recent cuts to schools, policing and the NHS, and re-nationalising privatised public services. Both Christine and I work in the public sector and the prospect of another five years of cuts and austerity by the Conservatives is very scary. I’m also worried about various friends of mine with disabilities, who are already struggling.

There are some constituencies where I’d recommend that you don’t vote Labour. If the Liberal Democrats, SNP or Green Party have a realistic chance of winning the seat, then vote for them instead. This rather sweary web site can help you with that – in my parents’ seat, the LibDems have a greater chance of unseating the Conservatives.

If you really can’t bring yourself to vote for any parties, then please spoil your ballot, rather than not vote at all. Spoilt ballots are still counted and contribute to the turnout figures. But I’d still prefer you to just vote Labour anyway.

Who will win

The polls are all over the place, showing anything from a 13% lead by the Conservatives to a 2% lead by Labour. Previous polls for the last election in 2015, and the EU referendum last year, did not accurately predict the final result. I think part of the problem is that the polls are usually a sample of around 1000 people across the country; whereas the ‘general election’ is effectively 650 smaller elections in each constituency. If you poll 1000 people nationally, then you’ll get the opinions of, at most, a handful of people in some constituencies, and none in others. Ideally, you would poll, say, 100 people in each constituency, but that would mean collating 65,000 responses.

My own prediction is for a very narrow Conservative majority. It’s not the result I want, but I think it’s the most likely. But I think that the Conservatives will win fewer seats than last time, leaving them in a worse position than before. I also reckon that at least one government minister will lose his or her seat. This, combined with the fact that the election wasn’t necessary, will lead to Theresa May standing down, and a second Conservative leadership contest in as many years.

Labour have done really well in this election campaign. Two months ago, they were far adrift in the polls – the Conservatives were polling 45-50% and Labour around 25%. Whilst most polls still put Labour behind, they have closed the gap on the back of a strong, positive campaign that shows that there is a real alternative to the Conservatives. Jeremy Corbyn has changed too; he’s a smarter, more statesman-like leader and, in my view, has demonstrated that he can run the country. I have had my doubts about him in the past, but I feel like he could make a good prime minister.

This is an election that nobody expected Labour to win. That meant that Labour had nothing to lose.

The exit poll

So, taking into account everything that I’ve said above, our first indication of what will probably happen is the exit poll. The poll has been jointly commissioned by the BBC, Sky and ITV, and polling will be carried out by Ipsos MORI. The plan is to ask 20,000 people in 100 selected seats – this will include key marginals, but also some safe seats. Clearly the larger sample size should give us a more accurate result, and indeed the 2015 exit poll was far closer to the actual result than any of the polls preceding it. It wasn’t bang on – it still predicted a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party, rather than a Conservative majority – but it was the best indication yet of the final result. And it only polls those that have actually voted, rather than those who say that they will probably vote.

The exit poll result will be announced once the polls close at 10pm.

Staying up to watch the results

I’m not staying up to watch the results – I’m at work tomorrow and I need my sleep. I may stay up for the exit poll result, but will go to bed straight afterwards and put my phone on airplane mode until the morning. I’ve previously woken up in the early hours of the morning, to see news alerts that have stopped me from getting back to sleep. This makes the following day even more of a struggle, especially when it’s bad news.

If you are going to stay up, here’s a guide from Buzzfeed. My advice would be to stay up for the first result from Houghton and Sunderland South, and then take a nap until 2am when it starts getting interesting. Sunderland is a safe Labour seat, so unless there’s a major change (i.e. Labour lose it, or there’s a big change in their share of the vote), it’s unlikely to mean anything for the other 649 constituency elections. Sunderland almost always declares first, by throwing a huge amount of resources at the count.

The Press Association have a list of expected declaration times, if you want to find out when each constituency will declare its results; Halifax, where I live, isn’t expected until 5am tomorrow morning.

What happens next

FiveThirtyEight has listed three scenarios for the result tomorrow. Essentially these are:

  • Conservatives win a bigger majority (what Theresa May called the election to get)
  • Conservatives win a similar majority to now (what I think will happen)
  • A hung parliament

With the polls as they are, any of these could happen, although betting markets suggest that the third option is unlikely. Unlike in 2010, when a hung parliament lead to a coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, a simple coalition wouldn’t be so easy to form this time around. Again, based on the polls (which may be inaccurate), the Conservatives would still be the biggest party, and would only be able to get a majority if in coalition with either Labour or the SNP, which is highly unlikely. The progressive parties – Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and the Greens – probably can’t form a majority coalition, unless the polls are way out.

The current administration may continue as a minority government if it fails to achieve a majority, but, historically, such administrations haven’t lasted long. So, if there’s a hung parliament, we could end up back at the polls again in a few months. What fun!

I think, fundamentally, nobody really knows what will happen tomorrow. But the best thing you can do is make sure your vote is cast, and have your say in the result.

June 6, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Manchester and London

The past two weeks have seen England fall victim to two separate terrorist attacks, with multiple fatalities in each. I’m fortunate that neither myself or any close friends or family have been directly affected, although some friends know people who were at the Manchester Arena that night and who thankfully were unhurt.

We Brits have had to face the aftermath of many terrorist attacks over the years. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was the IRA; more recently, it’s been Islamic extremists. Each time we’ve mourned the dead, showed solidarity, and then moved on. The terrorists want us to be scared and retaliate, and to demonise those that look like them, or practice the same religion. We can’t give them that satisfaction. The best thing we can do is carry on living our lives as we did before.

Manchester

The Manchester attack was more upsetting for me. Manchester isn’t that far away from us, and the fact that many of the victims were children was particularly sad. Whilst I hate to use the phrase, ‘As a parent…’, I can’t help but feel that being a parent upsets you more when you hear about children being killed or injured. If Lizzie had been older, that could have been her, or Christine, or me. Jo Cox’s assassination last year hit me hard as well, knowing that her two children wouldn’t see their mother again. And imagining what I would do if I was in the same situation as her husband, Brendan.

Logistically the Manchester attack affected me slightly, as the trains that I get to and from work start and terminate at Manchester Victoria station. The station is located below the arena and was treated as part of the crime scene; consequently it was closed for a week whilst the police gathered evidence. This had a knock-on effect with the trains being less reliable. Despite this, the police have a duty to the victims and their families to investigate this properly, and so I can understand why the station had to be closed for so long.

London

The London attack took place just a few hours after we left the city. I think we were fortunate there, but London is a resilient city and I don’t think we would have had much trouble getting home on Sunday had we stayed over on Saturday night.

The general election will still go ahead on Thursday, as it should. To me, terrorism is a political act, and I think it is right to politicise the attacks – especially during an election campaign. I agree that it was right to suspend the national campaigns for a few days each time as a mark of respect to the victims, but I also feel that the Coalition and Conservative governments’ policies of cutting the number of police officers, and security service resources, may have been partly responsible for these attacks taking place. In both cases, the attackers have previously been known to police; surely more could have been done with existing police and surveillance powers?

Labour, if elected, will reverse the police cuts. Please bear this in mind when you go to vote on Thursday, if you haven’t already voted by post.

May 22, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Last chance to register to vote

Register to vote banner on the old Odeon cinema in Bradford

Hello, people of the United Kingdom. As you may be aware, there is a general election on the 8th June. If you would like to be able to vote in it, then you have until midnight tonight to register to vote.

Here’s the form to complete. It takes no more than a few minutes. You just need to give your personal details, current address and national insurance number, if you have it. If you’re of ‘no fixed abode’, then you can still register to vote using this form. And those in Northern Ireland will need to use this form.

If your local council has already sent you your polling card, then you’re registered. But if not, I’d suggest filling the registration form out just in case, even if you think you’ve already done so. Because if you don’t, you may not be able to vote come June 8th.

Students

If you’re a student, and you live away from home to attend university, you can use this tool to decide whether to register to vote at your term-time or home address. Based on previous polling data and your home/term-time postcodes, it’ll let you know how safe each seat is, and therefore where your vote is most likely to have an impact. Although I’m no longer a student, my parents (unfortunately) live in a safe Conservative seat, whereas Labour won the Halifax constituency by a whisker last time.

Recent polls have put the gap between Labour and the Conservatives down to single digit percentages, meaning that it’s likely to be a close election. The Conservatives are defending a majority of just six seats, and the electoral landscape has changed significantly in the month since the election was announced. It’s about to get very interesting, so make sure you register to vote and have your say in the outcome.

May 17, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

When Jeremy Corbyn came to Bradford

Jeremy Corbyn delivering a speech in Bradford

Yesterday, the Labour Party launched its General Election manifesto. And it chose to do so in the building where I work.

We were treated to Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet, who delivered a presentation and answered questions for around 90 minutes. All in front of the nation’s media, with live TV and internet broadcasts. Naturally, security was tight, and access was limited. Only university staff and students, Labour Party members, and invited members of the media where permitted. This included heavyweight political correspondents such as ITV’s Robert Peston, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and Sky’s Adam Boulton.

I was unable to get a seat, so I had to watch from one of the balconies above with no view of the stage. Corbyn got a really warm reception, particularly as the majority of people there were university staff. The biggest cheers were in response to Labour’s policies regarding ending hospital car parking charges, renationalising the railways, and, predictably, ending university tuition fees.

From the university’s perspective, it was great to see a high profile event run so well. This was despite it having been planned at such short notice. But we have form here: seven years ago, then Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to us to make a speech the day before the 2010 General Election. And the university’s first chancellor, back in 1966, was Labour prime minister Harold Wilson; this was something that Corbyn referenced in his speech.

I’m a Labour Party member, so I’ll be voting for Labour next month anyway. Brexit aside, I was very impressed with what Jeremy Corbyn promised us yesterday if elected. Sadly, that’s a big ‘if’; despite recent improvements, Labour are still trailing significantly in the polls. We’ll see what happens come June 9th, when the results will be clear.

All of the above is my own opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer.

May 16, 2017
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Which Tech Giant Would You Drop?

Last week, The New York Times posed a question – which tech giant would you drop? Give the choice of Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, which would you cut ties with first, and which is the most valuable to you?

John Gruber picked up on this, as did Kevin Spencer. Here’s my answers:

1. Amazon

Amazon is basically just a shop to me, and there are other shops out there. I would miss being able to listen to audiobooks on Audible, Goodreads, and the Amazon Associates commission, but I could probably find satisfactory alternatives if I had to. We don’t have Amazon Prime and I get my films and TV shows from Netflix.

Unless, of course, I had to cut ties with every company that uses Amazon Web Services. Now that would be painful.

2. Alphabet (Google)

Alphabet is the name of the holding company contains Google, as well as Google X, Google Ventures, Nest Labs and other related entities. The fallout from Google Reader being closed meant that, in 2013-14, I tried to cut down my reliance on Google services.

Bing still isn’t as good as Google Search, but I think I’d manage if I had to. Currently all of my email goes to Gmail, but I could flip that back to my own server if needed. Apple Maps gets a lot of stick but, again, I could use it instead of Google Maps if needed. Losing Google Calendar would be a pain, but I could fall back to iCloud or set up an ownCloud server if required. I would miss YouTube, but it’s not the only video platform out there.

Losing access to Nest would be a bit more of a problem since we have a Nest thermostat. I assume that the thermostat would still work offline, if access to Nest was blocked, but we’d lose access to the apps.

I would also lose the small amount of money that I get from hosting Google Adsense advertising on this blog. The money I get is much less than the cost of hosting, so I might just get rid of the advertising altogether.

3. Apple

Okay, so my home computer, phone and tablet are all Apple devices, and I have all of my photos in iCloud. But those devices are replaceable and, whilst it would be a costly exercise, I could transition to Windows and Android devices if I had to. My Mac needs replacing anyway. I ranked this higher than Google because transitioning away from Apple would cost me more.

4. Facebook

I imagine most people would drop Facebook quite quickly if they had to. I wouldn’t. I would feel very isolated if I could never use Facebook again; the vast majority of my friends use it, and it’s a good way of keeping in touch with friends and former colleagues that I don’t see regularly.

Unless, of course, all of my friends also had to stop using Facebook, and moved to an alternative. And I think this is the key difference here – I could abandon Apple, Google and Amazon without having forcing my friends to do the same.

When Google+ launched, a friend of mine closed his Facebook account and moved everything over there. His friends didn’t follow, and I think he’s now quite isolated from his old friends, especially as this coincided with him moving to a different part of the country.

5. Microsoft

Finally, the company that I could do without the least. I rarely use Microsoft products at home, although I do have an Office 365 license and occasionally use Skype. But work is a different matter – I use Windows and Office on a daily basis, and our work email system uses Office 365. There’s no way I would be able to do my job without using Microsoft products.

Given time, I suppose something could be done if we had to give up Windows and Office, but if using Microsoft products somehow became illegal overnight, we’d be screwed. The recent WannaCry global ransomware incident shows just how reliant we are on Microsoft products in the workplace, and what the fallout could be if those systems go down.

May 15, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

A child-free night out

Lizzie is approaching 17 months old now, and yet last night was the first time that Christine and I had a child-free night out, as a couple. We’ve struggled to get childcare in place, and Lizzie is still breastfeeding before bedtime. Thankfully, this time we managed to arrange for a friend to look after her.

We went to a recording of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in Halifax. This is the second time we’ve seen the show be recorded; we saw the last two episodes of series 61 being recorded in Bradford in 2014. This time, they were recording the last episode of series 67, with guests Susan Calman (who we also saw later in 2014) and John Finnemore. Graeme Garden, one of the three regulars, wasn’t present for the recording, but Barry Cryer and Tim Brooke-Taylor were.

Though not quite a sell-out, the Victoria Theatre in Halifax was very busy. Tickets for ISIHAC recordings tend to only cost around £5, and so it’s a relatively cheap night out. Though each show is only around 30 minutes when broadcast, significantly more is recorded, and two episodes are taped at each recording.

These two episodes will be broadcast in July, I believe. Watch out for Susan’s lovely singing voice (although her vocal range did prove a limiting factor in the Pick Up Song round), and some controversial moves in Mornington Crescent. Sadly, you won’t get to see John’s facial expressions as he sings One Song To The Tune Of Another, such are the limitations of radio.

When we got home at about 10:30pm, Lizzie was still awake but very, very tired. Suffice to say she was still asleep when we put her in the pushchair to go to the childminders this morning. Apparently she’d been perfectly happy whilst we were out. Hopefully, if our finances improve and we can get childcare again, then we’ll be able to have a few more nights out.

May 13, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Eurovision time!

Tonight we have a few friends coming over to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Watching Eurovision with friends is an annual ritual for us, although it’s only the second time that we’ve hosted a Eurovision party ourselves. The last time was in 2014, back when we lived in our flat.

Whilst I wouldn’t call myself a massive Eurovision fan, I probably take a greater interest in it than most. I haven’t watched either of this week’s semi-finals, but I have listened to all of the songs on Spotify. Here’s the official playlist, if you want to do the same. Of those, I like the Danish and Greek entries the most. Romania’s entry is very silly, but still in the spirit of the competition. Of course, I haven’t seen any of the performances and part of the entertainment is watching the flamboyant displays that some acts put on.

Ukraine won the 2016 contest and so is hosting it this year. The implications of the 2014 annexing of Crimea mean that Russia isn’t taking part. Sadly, Ukraine hasn’t made a repeat of 2007 and so I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Verka Seduchka this year. TANZEN!

Britain hasn’t won Eurovision since 1997, and I expect our chances are lower than ever this year, what with Brexit. Whilst our participation in Eurovision is completely independent of our membership of the European Union, I expect our European neighbours will feel less inclined to vote for us. Our entry isn’t bad, but I can’t see it winning, even in better circumstances. But let’s hope it’s not Royaume-Unis, nil points.

If you’re planning to watch the show tonight, the BBC has eight things that you need to know.

May 10, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Wonderlab at the National Science & Media Museum

Wonderlab at the National Science and Media Museum

One of the places I took Lizzie to during our week together was the new Wonderlab gallery at the National Science and Media Museum, in Bradford. This is the first time that the museum has had a gallery that focuses primarily on science, rather than media. The museum rebranded from the National Media Museum earlier this year, and was previously known as the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.

The gallery opened just in time for Easter, and seems to have been a big success. Visitors have been required to obtain timed tickets for it, either in advance or on arrival, to manage the numbers. It occupies one of the museum’s larger gallery spaces, with plenty of hands-on activities.

Whilst Lizzie is perhaps a bit young to learn about how things work, there was plenty of visual and aural stimulation in the gallery. The centrepiece is a projected model of the sun, with a video playing every few minutes. There’s also a mirror maze, and an UV light side-room.

A studio inside Wonderlab includes a live show that runs four times a day at weekends (and presumably every day during school holidays). It’s more suited for the over 5s, so we didn’t go in.

Like the rest of the museum, Wonderlab is free despite the requirement to book tickets. Expect to spend about an hour there, on top of any time spent in the rest of the museum. More new galleries are due to open soon, as part of the museum’s re-alignment towards science. The museum is also hosting the revived Bradford Science Festival this summer, in collaboration with my employer, the University of Bradford.

May 9, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Shroggs Park, Halifax

Shroggs Park

At risk of this blog becoming a review of parks of Calderdale, here’s a few words about another park that I’ve visited recently: Shroggs Park in Halifax. You can also read my post about Centre Vale Park in Todmorden.

Shroggs Park sits on a high point above Halifax, overlooking Ovenden and the huge Dean Clough mill complex. It’s a typical public park dating from the 19th century, I presume, with a bandstand, bowling green and space to play ball games. There’s also a small skate park, playground and a tennis court. The latter was covered in graffiti, although I suspect this may have been deliberate; some of the graffiti was quite artistic. On the back of the bowling green clubhouse, there was a spray-painted mural of St George and a dragon; fittingly, I had visited on St Georges Day.

Compared to Halifax’s other parks, such as Manor Heath and the Peoples’ Park, Shroggs Park felt a bit more rundown. I guess that has to do with it being close to less affluent areas of the town. But whilst there were fewer flowers and planting, it was still clean and tidy when I visited.

As with my trip to Todmorden a few weeks ago, my visit to Shroggs Park was a combination of keeping Lizzie entertained and catching Pokémon. Parks are often home to nests of less common Pokémon, and at the time it was home to a number of Girafarigs. Christine and I are both in a local Pokémon Go Facebook group, so that we can share information about rare spawns.

Shroggs Park was nice to visit for a change. It helped that it was a nice, sunny day, but even then, it was quiet. There weren’t many other families there at the time we visited.

May 6, 2017
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

No more Links from Pinboard (for now)

You may have noticed that there was no Links from Pinboard post last week. This seems to be because of a problem with the RSS Digest plugin that I use.

It looks like a recent update to WordPress has broken it. The settings pages on the WordPress dashboard no longer work, so I can’t check to see why it didn’t post. Furthermore, the plugin appears to have been abandoned with no updates since 2011 – approximately when I started using WordPress myself.

There’s a premium version, called RSS Digest Pro, but I can’t be sure if that works either – the web site still says ‘Copyright 2011’. And I’m not about to spend $59 to find out if it does. So, for now, there’ll be no more links posted on Saturday mornings.

I have looked into replacements. Whilst there are plenty of plugins out there that can import content from an RSS feed, I’ve not been able to find one that posts a digest in the way that RSS Digest does. I don’t want a new blog post for every new item in the RSS feed.

Until I find a solution, you can view my links on Pinboard itself. Most links also get tweeted out, so follow me on Twitter if you want to see these links sooner. And if you’re aware of an alternative way of posting a weekly digest of links from Pinboard, please let me know.