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Computers do it faster…

September 3rd, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Technology

…but people do it better!

I was quite amused to see the BBC news at lunchtime. At work we have it on screens in the lobby, with the sub-titles on. The sub-titles are, I am pretty sure generated by some computer speech recognition software, and it was having some trouble with David Cameron at PMQs.

As I was walking past, the sub-titles said something like “jewel gnasher…. joule nationality”

To be fair though, that is about as much sense as he usually makes at PMQs.

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Another one bites the dust

September 1st, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

It appears that Crawley is now a UKIP-free zone, as our only UKIP councillor resigned on Friday.

To be honest, it doesn’t sound like it will make a big difference as he was rarely spotted in the town hall. I suppose he should be congratulated on doing the right thing, eventually. Having spent several years doing nothing he could easily have continued to get paid for doing nothing until next May. A pity he did not take the opportunity to stand down a few months earlier then we could have elected a replacement during the regular elections.

Had to laugh a bit at his quote:

Southgate deserves a councillor who can commit a large percentage of their time to the town, and I am no longer in a position to do that.
That is something that everybody else knew ages ago. Did it really only just register with him?

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The circus comes to Clacton

August 28th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

Today’s ‘shock’ announcement of a Tory MP defecting to UKIP has been a bit of fun for all the non-Tories, but not entirely a shock in some respects. OK, so it wasn’t expected or even hinted at, but once you saw the headline, the identity of the MP in question was far from a shock. What really was a shock was the idea that he would stand down as an MP and the fact that the whole thing was a surprise, with no leaks, not even to the PM.

When the police can’t raid an ageing pop star’s home without the media getting tipped off and surrounding the place with photographers, it is quite an achievement for a political party to hold a press conference without the press knowing in advance what was being announced, even if UKIP did have to hint at something different in order to get them interested.

As for standing down as an MP, that is very interesting. Whenever somebody defects, whether an MP or a councillor, there are always calls for them to stand down, which always annoys me slightly. I don’t disagree that they ought to stand down, but I get frustrated that those yelling for it because ‘people voted for a xxx party candidate’ would often be the last to agree to changing the system so that we do actually vote for a party rather than a person. You can’t have it both ways.

Had Carswell not stood down then I imagine the Tories would have been very quick to say that he should do, so its quite amusing that, in anticipating this he has effectively called their bluff before they even made it, and left them in a right state. A real case of be careful what you wish for.

But if it is refreshing to see somebody prepared to actually resign and stand again under their new colours, even though it would have been easy to say that we are only 8 months away from an election anyway so let’s avoid the unnecessary expense of a byelection, I did think at the time that it was a bit presumptuous and arrogant to automatically assume that the new party would select him. What I didn’t know at the time was that UKIP already had a candidate, announded last month, even if they are now trying to pretend that they don’t.

I guess this is where the fun starts, as we find that Cardwell has simultaneously managed to stir up internal divisions within both the Tories and UKIP.

I try to imagine what would happen if Henry Smith suddenly announced that he was defecting to Labour. I can’t imagine any circumstance where Crawley Labour party would decide to ditch our current candidate for him, even if we liked Henry. Which we don’t.

What UKIP are saying now is that their NEC has approved Carswell and so the local party should go along with it. For all their talk of ‘cleaning up Westminster’ and ‘democratic reforms’ they are being very, very undemocratic if they force a selected candidate out  and parachute somebody else in against the local party’s wishes. All very enlightening because they are not just showing themselves to be as bad as the other parties, but far worse. Fortunately they will never hold power, but can you imagine what they would be like if they did?

Farage says that Carswell’s decision is the ‘bravest and most honorouble’ he has seen in British politics. Well the standing down bit could be, but the announcement that he would be the new candidate, without telling, let alone consulting, the local party and possibly even the current candidate is certainly one of the rudest and most arrogant announcements in British politics. And they wonder why they just can’t shake that nasty party image…

I don’t know what will happen in the election. Obviously the best result would be for Labour to win, but there would be a lot of justice if Roger Lord stood as an independent and came second.

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Not such grand designs

August 17th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

On the way home from having lunch in town on Friday we popped into B&Q for a new toilet seat and came out with more than we expected because they were getting rid of some firesat ridiculous prices. I think it was old stock of a discontinued product line.

When we got home I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and actually get round to doing a bit of DIY straight away instead of letting it wait around a bit. [Read more →]

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Overthinking the Hunger Games

August 13th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

Over the weekend I finally got round to watching the two Hunger Games films. I should have enjoyed them more, and if only I had remembered to do what I was told to at school I probably would have done.

All the way through the films I kept wondering how on Earth actors of the stature and quality of Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright and Woody Harrelson could be involved in something so poor. That is not to say that I found them totally unwatchable: Jennifer Lawrence’s performance alone made it worth seeing, even if there is no way she can pass as between 12 and 18.

The thing is I forgot the golden rule of appreciating science fiction (well arguably any fiction, but especially science fiction) – willing suspension of disbelief. It was almost a mantra of my old English and film studies teacher and I forgot to do it, so I was in the wrong frame of mind completely.

What you are supposed to do is accept the starting premise that there was some sort of rebellion and that the government instituted these hunger games and proceed from there. Accept that all as a given and then it is all about how people would react in those circumstances. Instead of that I could not get over just how unlikely the whole thing was.

Admittedly, even if I had done that I would still have had other problems with the whole setup. The idea of an insulated elite of the idle rich, living in luxury while the masses struggle and starve is a common enough concept. The problem is that the pampered elite seemed to outnumber the masses enormously. The districts seemed to be able to gather all their children into a small town square for the reaping, implying a population of not more than a few thousand, while arenas in the capital were packed out with tens of thousands of people.

But I would have found that easier to ignore if not for the doubts over the whole premise of the story. There is also the small matter that the whole idea of the hunger games seemed like an inferior copy of Battle Royale, which is still one of my favourite films, which is why I put off watching for so long.

I’ll try to approach the third and fourth films with a more open mind, when I inevitably watch them.

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My favourite Robin Williams line

August 12th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life, Politics

One reason why I like comedy is the way that a comedian can often manage to sum up a whole social issue in a one-liner that makes its point better than a politician could in an entire speech, and still make you laugh  When politicians try humour it is cringeworthy at best, but when comedians try politics it is often a lighbulb moment.

Which brings me to my favourite Robin Williams line, one which I have repeated many times, and although it comes from an old VHS I had in the late 80′s or early 90′s it is still depressingly relevent today.

When your company is paying you minimum wage it is just their way of telling you that they would pay you less if they were allowed to.

Of course, back then we didn’t have a minimum wage here, but we still got the joke and the implications of it.

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Will the last minister to leave the Foreign Office please turn out the lights

August 12th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

I have never really taken to Baroness Warsi, but at least she resigned on a matter of principle, unlike Mark Simmonds. I don’t think that being unable to scrape by on many times the average wage really counts as a principle.

When I see him complaining that MPs’ expenses can’t pay for him to rent a flat in London, when those expenses would allow him to spend over £2300 a month on a flat I imagine that all those people in London who are not even taking home £2300 a month but still somehow managing to get by will be searching Ebay for the world’s smallest violin.

I also imagine that anybody who has to work away from home driving lorries, out on fishing boats, with the armed forces in Afghanistan, or just tgravelling to visit customers to earn a whole lot less than the £89k junior minister’s salary will be similarly sympathetic.

No wonder there is so much resentment aimed at politicians these days.

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Re-writing history

August 9th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

I have been building up quite a collection of Robert Rankin books on my Kindle. He keeps doing special offers on his birthday or a christmas where one or two are free and others are at reduced price for a short while and I snap them up.

This is not just me being tight, I just don’t want to pay full price for books I already have and have already read several times, but I am OK with paying 99p to have an e-copy I can take with me when I am travelling.

Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I have been re-reading the Armageddon series. These are probably my least favourite of Rankin’s books and I thought I would get them out of the way first.

During the second book I had a feeling that it might have been subtly changed from the old paper copy I have. It was in one of those bits where the characters are taking about the book they are in I think, and there was passing mention of the publishers, Far-Fetched Books. I was fairly certain that was a company Rankin set up fairly recently to buy up the rights to his older books and re-publish them, so it didn’t exist at the time the book was written.

In the third book of the series (The Suburban Book of the Dead) there is passing mention of Lady Gaga, which stopped me in my tracks a bit. When the book was first published Lady Gaga was only six years old.

It now has me wondering what other little changes were made prior to the re-publication. Those two only stood out because they were anachronistic – quite fitting since all three stories feature time travel with some very deliberate anachronisms that get acknowledged openly by the author and also by characters themselves.

I dare say that some obsessives have gone through the versions line by line and put all the differences online somewhere, perhaps even on the Golden Sprout site.

By the way, I am not complaining about this. I’m sure that plenty of books could do with periodic tweaking to maybe update topical cultural references, or embarrassingly superseded technology. I remember reading an EE ‘Doc’ Smith book set in the distant future that mentions the Bakelite control panel of a spaceship for example, and a Harry Harrison book writeen when 386 computers were the cutting edge that mentions a 586 computer to help establish that it is hundreds of years in the future.

Of course there is an argument that these period details give books a certain charm and that you wouldn’t keep re-writing Shakespeare to bring it up to date – though plenty of people do that one way or another.

I’m not particularly bothered one way or another, but it does mean that when I do re-read all those Rankin books on the Kindle there is still the chance I could get surprised, even if it is a book I have read two or three times before.

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Catching up

August 9th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Music

During this week I have been using Spotify to catch up on some of those things I missed out on the first time around.

Sometimes it gets a bit embarrassing to realise just how many popular and important albums I have never even heard or properly listened to. Only slighly embarrassing though, because I know the reasons. [Read more →]

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Laffer spotting

August 4th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

I had a real surprise the other day. I was watching Sky News and they had an interview with Arthur Laffer, the bloke who has that curve named after him.

For some reason I had always just assumed that the Laffer curve, and by implication Laffer himsef, were a lot less recent than that. I just imagined him being perhaps a contemporary of Friedman and therefore probably either dead or extremely ancient. It turns out he is only 73 but looked a lot younger than that. It turns out that the eponymous curve only came to fame in 1974! [Read more →]

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