Ethics of this blog post.


This should be considered a ‘point in time’ snapshot of my feelings and the policy of this blog. These things, by their very nature evolve.  This post is probably only interesting to other bloggers and people generally interested in how the system works.

#gamergate crossed into my space recently. I was peripherally aware of the movement but got to see the darker side of it close up(a little triggering for various things) I’m planning on doing some writing on the topic at some point, but I should do some blog housekeeping first.

One of #gamergate’s claims is that it is focused on ‘ethics in journalism’. Normally they mean gaming journalism but it’s worth making sure that I’ve got my own house in order.

I’ve never been paid for any post on this blog. The blog carries no advertising and does not directly earn. It’s true to say that I do get income (the occasional bit of consultancy and so on) *as a result* of my online presence, but that’s the result of a raised profile rather than any corroboration. I have been paid to write for other sites and they included a non-disclosure agreement. I suspect I’ll be avoiding that in the future.

I have been sent the odd free sample to review: an example being the retrode for this post. (short review: an excellent device that means great things for the area and disabled people, but build quality is a little low)

I do get free entry (and the odd free drink) for the movies I review. I also have had free press passes for a few events. The free passes are an interesting thing. Several times I’ve accepted a free pass and after investing a day, found that I could not recommend the event to anyone, this might be because it was just a bit ‘meh’ or because it was a gratuitous, empty, hipster-focused status-obsessed love-in misadertised as a festival for tech-collaboration (You know who you are…).
I’ve not had the heart to write such events up as bad. It takes a particular sort of person to accept free attendance, free food and hospitality, and then do a hatchet job (I think it takes a particular sort to do a hatchet job anyway).

I’m interested in letting people know about things that are awesome, rather than highlighting things that I dislike (sometimes I do have to get things off my chest about events I go to such as BETT, but relatively rarely).
Similarly with interviews. I’m not here to make anyone look silly. Interviewees can review the article before it’s published and check I’ve not altered the context or the questions.

When I put up information that people might not like I also put up all of the research, both sides of the story and, importantly, the source code that produced the lists.
So that’s my general approach so far, I can’t promise that it will stay that way: I’m only human, and I make mistakes, but it’s the path I intend to stay on. 🙂

“Data Protection”

This has been rattling around in my subconscious for a little while as a nice neat example of a post. I dug out the emails recently for someone as an example and given that I edited it down for them, I thought I’d share it with everyone. I think it’s a nice example of several things:

That freedom of information staff are often undertrained, and this lack of training manifests as a tendency to give out less information (because institutions generally don’t like to give out information); That, in freedom of information terms, it’s often insufficient to ask – you also have to know your rights, and be able to present evidence.

As a bit of context: In 2012 I was gathering data for the Domesday Dataset, which went on to reveal hosts of issues, including device obsolescence, postcode lotteries, and the rising dominance of the iPad.  I do think of it as my greatest academic work (at at some point in 2016 or so I should repeat the study to see what’s changed).

I’d asked Walsall Healthcare Trust for a list of devices they’d purchased between 2006 and 2012. I’d let you look at the resulting correspondence (the bits that have been edited out are things like overly long signatures and quoting previous emails).

0210/11: FoI Response Letter
8 messages
Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust <> 11 January 2012 at 11:20
To: Me
Dear JosephThank you for your Freedom of Information request.  I am pleased to attach our response to your request.


Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any queries.


Joseph Reddington <Me> 11 January 2012 at 12:06
To: “Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust” <>
Thank you so much for your quick reply – very efficient :)Just a quick query – is it possible to be a bit more exact on the numbers? 1-5 is a bit vague when some of these devices are £10,000 a pop…


The other minor thing is that I meant to ask for the results broken down by year – apologies for not including this at first – would it be possible to do this? I’m happy to put in another FOI request if necessary…






Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust <> 11 January 2012 at 15:48
To: Joseph Reddington <Me>
Dear JosephUnfortunately, due to Data Protection we are only allowed to specify between 1-5.  In terms of the data to be provided by year please would it be possible to put in as another FOI request.

Kindest Regards


Joseph Reddington <Me> 11 January 2012 at 16:11
To: “Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust” <>
Could you tell me what aspect of Data Protection is involved here? In particular why it affects the data supplied by your trust and not the 56 other trusts who have so far responded with exact data to the same question (for reference I’ve listed their responses below)?(Also please consider this the formal request for breakdown by years – I’m entirely happy for the 20 day cycle to start from today for this additional request)





Classicly done

[Quoted text hidden]

Freedom Of Information (RBK) Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust <> 12 January 2012 at 11:01
To: Me
Dear JosephPlease find attached a list of the exact number of devices purchased as requested. 

Kindest Regards



Supertitle, a project for school students with English as an additional language.

So I’ve been ‘incubating a new project. It’s existed within eQuality Time as a concept for a while and over the last few months I’ve been making connections around it and putting things into place. It’s time at this stage to put the ‘broad brushstrokes’ out there. The intent of this article is to describe a problem space and present the strong case for a particular program that will relieve some of the pressure.  


The context: language can be a barrier both inside and outside of schools

Almost 1 in ten UK households have a non-english speaking member. In such households UK TV is generally not watched to avoid further isolating household members, even if others have a desire (or even, given the politics of the playground, a social need) to consume traditional UK media. This state of affairs perpetuates at the expense of that households. The non-english speaking members continue to be isolated, and barriers are formed between the bilingual members and their peers.
Children in such households are bilingual by necessity, but when you look at their school performance, their results in English are, quite understandably, much lower than their scores in, Maths and Science (in many cases, they still perform better than their peers). Pride and fear of labeling are big reasons why these kids don’t accept extra help from teachers.

Language barriers remain a major obstacle in UK healthcare [1], child protection [2], and involvement in local issues [3]. We developed this project in response to not only the academic research but also from the written and verbal feedback from teachers and students that we have previously worked with on literacy issues.

Our idea: translating subtitles using teamwork and technology

The TooManyCooks project has worked with many skills to improve teamwork and creative writing.  To get TooManyCooks working I had to develop a lot of techniques to get kids to work together on tasks, make sure everyone had a job, a vision, and knew where they were going. I’d like to make use of some of the techniques we developed in TooManyCooks and apply them to this context.
So I believe that every child has a right to sit down with their family and watch Doctor who, and that’s a bit difficult when the iPlayer doesn’t subtitle in Urdu, or in Polish, when it doesn’t include simplified English and in some cases when it doesn’t subtitle it at all. But I’ve got lot of contacts with schools in London who have a lot of bilingual kids, and I have got a bunch of techniques that get kids to work together on literature.  So I want to go into a school, take 10 kids who want to give something back to their community and say to them that we’re going to do an hour a week after school, doing a bit of translation work. And every week they can take home their translation, and have it running in front of the TV.
I see a network of schools: “You are the Eastenders school!”, “You are the Cash in the Attic school!”, “You are the Sherlock school!”, “6th-formers? You get to do the thick of it.”. Everyone shares.
This is just a concept note, but I think it’s a way to bring communities closer, to end isolation, and to sneakily get an hours extra help with English to a group of kids whose pride might stop them taking it any other way.

[1] JACOBS, E., CHEN, A. H., KARLINER, L. S., AGGER-GUPTA, N. and MUTHA, S. (2006), The Need for More Research on Language Barriers in Health Care: A Proposed Research Agenda. Milbank Quarterly, 84: 111–133. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2006.00440.x

[2] Kriz, Katrin, and Marit Skivenes. “Lost in translation: How child welfare workers in Norway and England experience language difficulties when working with minority ethnic families.” British Journal of Social Work 40.5 (2010): 1353-1367.

[3] Livingstone, Andrew G., et al. “The language barrier? Context, identity, and support for political goals in minority ethnolinguistic groups.” British Journal of Social Psychology 50.4 (2011): 747-768.

Support Social Change or end Crime? (Requiem)

This article is a heavy rewrite of a concept first wrote about here. I think it’s worth refining my work every so often, but this took much more of a rewrite than I would normally give – it’s clear than when I first wrote about it I was struggling to process the idea.

Over the last three years I’ve been following Operation Yewtree with interest and horror.  It all seems so awful, not least  because the defence appears to be “It was all very acceptable at the time”.  The thing that has struck me very forcibly is to wonder what is it that my society does that future generations will turn pale at.  Unelected scrutiny of laws? Drink driving? It’s at least starting to become unacceptable (except the morning after).  Speeding is certainly acceptable culturally, as is media piracy (and at least the pirates didn’t kill or seriously injury 3,064 people last year due to excessive download speed).  The selective abortion of babies that would have had a learning disability?

It’s a haunting thing to wonder about – partly because you know full well that a) it’s probably going to be something you didn’t think of and b) it’s probably going to be something that you are doing right now.

….and of course we can stop it. We could decide to, as a society, stop the change by simply removing the concept of privacy.

I find privacy less useful that most people.  I’m fairly happy to drop implicit social barriers where I can. Examples might include being quite into the quantified self movement and by being very open about approaches to things like twitter and goals. The most obvious example is of course, having a blog at all: you can practically define a blog as a method of making private thoughts public. As I wrote when I put out my 2014 twitter resolutions, I get a lot of positive benefits out of being open with the world that I wouldn’t if I were closed in.

As an aside: I’m relatively open compared to, say, the average person, but if you’d like to see openness really pushed quite far it’s worth reading Steve Pavlina, who was (and remains) a very high-profile productivity blogger – he went on to start blogging about this divorce and then his later experimentation with bondage and dominance in relationships. I salute the man’s commitment to openness, but can’t imagine being *that* open…

If we removed the right to privacy – make it culturally normal to be able to read each other’s emails, bank accounts, and text messages – there would be a massive array of benefits. For-profit crime (as opposed to crimes of passion – I suspect there would be a brief spike in those) would quickly eliminate themselves. Lying would become something close to a relic because everything would be so easy to check and scientific progress would jump forward because sharing data would be the norm.

From the point of view of this topic though – the removal of privacy would also prevent use being caught in a nasty trap generations from now.  We’d find out who was ‘not normal’ right now and treat them accordingly.  The baddies would be treated badly and those who do the ‘acceptable’ bad things would find acceptable from a population that secretly all did them.

The problem is…  that if we had done this 50 years ago we’d still be putting gay people into prision.  If we’d done it 150 years ago the idea of women voting would have been snuffed out before it had a chance to blossom.   300 years ago – we’d still have slaves. All of those generations believed that they were correct and that the ones that had gone before where wrong.  And they changed by people meeting other people they trusted and forming movements under the radar of society.


On the other hand, I do very much believe in a person’s right to privacy. I think that the world could be considerably more perfect, and that privacy is pretty necessary as an ingredient letting social change gather pace. Consider how things like homosexuality, being of the ‘wrong’ race and various other crimes were treated 50 years ago compared to now. I’m really looking forward to being 80 and seeing 50 years of social change – and I’m pretty sure that without privacy we won’t get very far at all.


The problem is that the more of myself that I am open about, the more I diminish the position of people carefully maintaining their privacy. There are big things that people keep quiet (for example if you’ve reassigned your gender) and little things (like if you’d started smoking again and didn’t want your sister to find out), but if it becomes normal to be open (which I do think would be a good thing) then those people who are the vanguard of social change are going to get a kicking…

…and I don’t have a way to resolve these two positions.

To finish, there is a fascinating TED talk by Dan Gilbert which leaves us with this thought:

The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if, for most of us, the present is a magic time. It’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.


(As is often the case, the page image is from Wikicommons – I was looking for something in terms of ‘mask’ or ‘disguise’ and this jumped out of me.  I decided I didn’t care how relevant it was to the post on privacy, I was having the picture of the dog in dark glasses) 


I believe in every person’s right to privacy (one of the goals of the work I do in AAC is to provide technical frameworks that allow AAC users this right).

Charity Update

Note, this post was drafted a month ago, since then we’ve had some responses on funding, I wanted to keep this draft as it was written because I think it puts across the ‘waiting’ feeling that I was feeling at the time. More up-to-date posts to follow.

So a few months ago I wrote this post – announcing that I was putting together a charity. I’ve been quiet on that front, largely because relatively little impressive stuff has happened. Still it’s time to give a bit of an update.

I’m getting a excellent introduction into how business law works, and more to the point, I’m getting a pretty good introduction as to why companies don’t generally work in the way you would expect.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 18.17.01

It’s hard to say how it’s going right now. We filled in all manner of paperwork, we’ve opened bank accounts, registered domain names and all of the overhead that is needed.  We’ve also got a name: eQuality Time, that was suggested by one of my trustees (the process resulted in a range of good names that are clearly going to be saved for things in the future).

Most importantly, we’ve applied for eight distinct lots of funding for a variety of projects. Some of which already exist on my project pages, and others are more ambitious ones that need some solid seed funding behind them before we can release them (if I’m low on blog posts over the next few months I’ll put out some posts describing what I want to do).

I have limited experience with this sort of funding. Since 2009 TooManyCooks probably picked up one in three of the funds it applied for and now we’ve got official organisation bank accounts, trustees, and articles, so we are more of a ‘safe’ bet for funders. On the other hand TooManyCooks was a proven commodity and I was only applying for funds that I was very certain we’d do well in. More to the point, since 2010 there have been fewer and fewer funds and more and more need for them. It’s really unclear if there will be room in the wide world for an organisation like ours.

None of the funds available will get back to us for at least a few months, and there are five or so more than we are eligible for before then. So we are in a strange place: plugging away at changing the world but we’ve got no idea how well we are doing at all.

In other news: I’ve been prototyping an intervention with a school in North London – I should be reporting back about that in detail shortly. I’ve also been working on a range of other cool developments for the TooManyCooks methodology and beavering away at the details for some other interventions like beefing up this into a solid resource and investigating some other ways of getting though things.

So while I do feel like I’ve rolled the dice… I do have to keep hustling until I know a little bit more about how it’s going.  I’m just a little worried at the moment that I underestimated the timescales involved; That a even a year on savings isn’t enough time to get something sustainable happening.


Load of good cobblers

Where possible, I repair clothes rather than buy new ones. My jacket has had a rip mended, so have the jeans I’ve just put away. This is partly a small idiosyncrasy of mine, partly because I’d like to keep money in the local community rather than in supermarkets, and partly because I’d generally like to be a little less consume-consume-consume where I can.

One of the slightly embarrassing things about the modern world is that it costs more to get something repaired than buy it new from a supermarket or the everything-you-can-wear-for-a-fiver stand at Primark, which I think is one of those things that is very damaging in many ways.

The most deeply practical reasons is that I find if I just replace something that gets torn, it gets torn in the same place three months later.

Anyway – the point of this post is to highlight a really nice experience I had with some cobblers who I’m happily recommending to the world.

I bought some (cheap but nice) shoes from Amazon. The sole wore though in about two months. I complained to the Amazon seller who apologised and sent me a replacement pair.  The soles in the replacement pair wore out two months later.  I’m unsure why I was surprised.

Local cobblers quoted me an astonishing amount to resole a pair of shoes and, as an experiment, I thought I’d try Googling.  It turns out that there is a UK business that repairs shoes over the internet.  The cost was £30 to resole (twice the price of the shoes! Although still much cheaper than the local quotes) but I gave it a go as an experiment.

The nice man rang me up checked what I wanted, explained to me that the shoes were too cheap to bother with really but agreed to give it a go to satisfy my curiosity.  They arrived promptly and I made it six steps outside my door before one of the heels fell off (upon inspection it turned out that the glue on both shoes hadn’t been given time to dry).


Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.18.40Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.18.02


The cobblers were mortified to find they’d got it wrong and paid for my postage to go around the loop again.

Unhelpfully, partly due to my failing to explain properly, they only fixed one shoe rather than both. Feeling happy with the shoe I had and feeling a bit bad about the amount of effort I was putting the guys to I sent the shoes back with a pair of boots that needed resoling (and had for about a decade).

Everything came back perfectly and when I tried to pay for the boots I got this:

“Joe. Please accept this repair as a courtesy repair for the aggravation over your shoes. However, I am a keen supporter of Macmillan charity, they are are helping my wife a great deal at the moment and any donations in a box would be gratefully received. “

Which I think is a lovely sign that there are good craftworkers still knocking around on the internet. I’ve donated the £40 for the shoes to Macmillan and I’m happily recommending Please give them your custom.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 15.04.24





So a little while ago I did this rant:

Something that I’ve never quite understood since the advert of DVDs is why I can watch the deleted scenes as separate sections, but I can’t switch on the setting that says ‘include these scenes in the main film when I watch it’.

In a similar way, when watch a boxed set if DVDs, I don’t understand why I have to watch 60 seconds of ‘previously on’ when I’ve just watched all of the previous footage.

More to the point, I like the film Iron Man and my god-nephew likes, reasonably enough, the cartoon Iron Man. I can’t watch the film with him because it’s not age appropriate, which is odd, because it would be pretty simple for the distributors (the classification board really) to mark out the ‘over 13′ bits and have a setting on the DVD where I could enjoy a (15 minute shorter) film which my god-nephew. It’s not like the technology is an any way complicated, it’s a small file that says ‘play 0:00-43:12 of this file and then cut to 43:43′.

…It turns out that you can, in fact, do exactly this by making use of the the .m3u playlist format that the media player VLC supports.  If you’ve not heard of VLC it’s the go-to open source media player – back in the day its major selling point was that it supported all of the different ways of encoding content, so you could just watch things with VLC rather than spending your time hunting around the internet for the right codex.

Anyway, the point is that instead of complaining that:

I’d pay for a version of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that removed the fridge sequence, the exploding crate, and the monkeys (vastly improving the film while in no way affecting the plot).

I can in fact produce such a thing.  Given this DVD:

IMG_3668and this file. You can watch JOE’S MILDLY IMPROVED VERSION OF INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL. This version does indeed cut out the whole scene around the fridge (there’s a mild reference in the following dialogue), the horrible CGI in the car chase, and the remarkably silly monkeys. You are, admittedly asked to believe that the jungle car chase went around in a bit of a circle (given the ravine, this isn’t too bad) so that Mutt can randomly swing back in – and you are also asked to believe that monkeys just dislike the bad girl (it’s canon that ants attack her so…).  I’d like to point out that these are pretty minor things to accept compared to the rest of the story!

Ahem.  While we are here, we can look though the how in a bit more detail using a slightly simpler case. For your interest I did a similar playlist for people who own the Aladdin DVD but just want to watch the songs.

So here’s the DVD I used:

IMG_3519I’m aware Frozen would have got many more blog hits. But Aladdin is the one I grew up with so we are doing Aladdin!

The file to download is here – but we can also look at it properly.

#EXTINF:9000,Arabian Nights
#EXTINF:9000,One Jump Ahead
#EXTINF:9000,Friend Like Me
#EXTINF:9000,Prince Ali
#EXTINF:9000,A whole new world

Some things should be obvious – like the start and stop times of each scene.  There are in seconds rather than minutes and seconds so you have to do a little maths.   Also the #EXTINFO let’s you put in a chapter title, which was worthwhile for the songs. Less obviously is choosing the protocol – dvdread works for me, but only after trying a bunch of alternatives.  The most difficult thing was generally locating the track on the disk –  I suspect if you have a different DVD it would be a different track so you might want to alter ‘rdisk1#10’.

I’m going to look into using this technique to remove the scary bits from films so that younger children then enjoy the non-scary bits but I’m planning on treading very carefully. In the meantime if you use this technique to put together your own edits I’m happy to host them for you until we build up enough for a bit of a library.  Or if you’ve got any special requests I’ll see what I can put together at this end.


The list of US Senators most likely to be making up facts.

My article on Monday: “The list of UK politicians most likely to be making up facts.” was pretty popular, which was nice.  It was actually popular enough that I decided to repeat the process, except instead of using UK MPs I’ve used members of the US senate.  I’m publishing the results in full here.

For those new to the post – I’ve writen some code that fetches a Twitter account’s recent tweets, strips out the retweets and also anything that doesn’t contain a number.  I then compare the number of times the account tweets a number without a link.  I’m NOT interested in who is right on any given issue, I’m interested in raising the level of the debate a little bit.  I’m aware there are some weaknesses in the methodology and I discus them in this post.

Before I give the table, a couple of things surprised me. One was that US senators are, despite their reputation for partisan bickering as much much more likely to cite sources than the UK MPs.  I had 15 MPs who hadn’t cited a single figure in the data on Monday. Today I have none.  Plus the averages are a lot higher – all but two Senators cite more often than a full half of UK MPs.  From a quick perusal it appears likely that this is due to US Senators being much more likely to have a dedicated press office, but that’s a bit of a wild guess.

In any case, here is the full list of US senators and how likely they are to reference figures they tweet about:

Rank Twitter ID Name Tweets in Sample Tweets with numbers Tweets with numbers and links Ratio
1 @SenShelby Richard Shelby 228 21 20 95%
2 @TomCoburn Sen. Tom Coburn M.D. 752 101 96 95%
3 @Mike_Johanns Senator Mike Johanns 575 40 38 95%
4 @SenThadCochran Senator Thad Cochran 797 78 72 92%
5 @SenJohnMcCain John McCain 800 52 48 92%
6 @SenTedCruz Senator Ted Cruz 838 57 52 91%
7 @SenatorSessions Sen. Jeff Sessions 768 34 31 91%
8 @SenStabenow Sen. Debbie Stabenow 790 44 40 91%
9 @TomUdallPress Tom Udall Press 191 54 45 83%
10 @SenatorBaldwin Sen. Tammy Baldwin 766 88 73 83%
11 @SenAlexander Sen. Lamar Alexander 657 86 71 83%
12 @SenBlumenthal Richard Blumenthal 551 40 33 83%
13 @MarkWarner Mark Warner 477 38 31 82%
14 @SenDonnelly Senator Joe Donnelly 789 92 75 82%
15 @MarkeyMemo Ed Markey 711 60 48 80%
16 @SenatorEnzi Mike Enzi 834 90 71 79%
17 @JohnBoozman Senator John Boozman 865 71 56 79%
18 @SenatorCollins SenatorSusanCollins 660 27 21 78%
19 @JerryMoran Jerry Moran 724 88 67 76%
20 @SenDanCoats Senator Dan Coats 610 29 22 76%
21 @SenatorHarkin Tom Harkin 780 95 72 76%
22 @SenatorKirk Mark Kirk 747 115 87 76%
23 @SenMikeLee Mike Lee 749 44 33 75%
24 @SenOrrinHatch Senator Hatch Office 871 106 79 75%
25 @SenToomey Senator Pat Toomey 806 80 59 74%
26 @lisamurkowski Sen. Lisa Murkowski 824 80 59 74%
27 @SenBobCorker Senator Bob Corker 825 38 28 74%
28 @SenJohnThune Senator John Thune 849 60 44 73%
29 @SenSanders Bernie Sanders 857 37 27 73%
30 @Sen_JoeManchin Senator Joe Manchin 784 166 120 72%
31 @MikeCrapo Senator Mike Crapo 790 41 29 71%
32 @MarkUdall Mark Udall 840 61 43 70%
33 @SenAngusKing Senator Angus King 806 60 42 70%
34 @SenatorFischer Senator Deb Fischer 839 79 55 70%
35 @SenJohnBarrasso Sen. John Barrasso 607 92 64 70%
36 @SenJohnHoeven Senator John Hoeven 742 55 38 69%
37 @SenDeanHeller Dean Heller 670 44 30 68%
38 @maziehirono Senator Mazie Hirono 694 69 47 68%
39 @McConnellPress Sen. McConnell Press 703 25 17 68%
40 @PattyMurray Senator Patty Murray 424 40 27 68%
41 @SenFeinstein Sen Dianne Feinstein 844 92 62 67%
42 @SenRonJohnson Senator Ron Johnson 785 46 31 67%
43 @CantwellPress Sen. Maria Cantwell 802 72 48 67%
44 @senrobportman Rob Portman 891 74 49 66%
45 @RoyBlunt Senator Roy Blunt 774 50 33 66%
46 @JohnCornyn JohnCornyn 534 58 38 66%
47 @ChrisCoons Senator Chris Coons 744 55 36 65%
48 @SenatorBurr Richard Burr 835 81 53 65%
49 @SenatorTomUdall Tom Udall 866 435 284 65%
50 @SenatorIsakson Johnny Isakson 689 72 47 65%
51 @SenBennetCO Michael Bennet 744 80 52 65%
52 @SenSherrodBrown Sherrod Brown 874 97 63 65%
53 @SenatorTimScott Tim Scott 747 56 35 63%
54 @RonWyden Ron Wyden 796 50 31 62%
55 @SenGillibrand Kirsten Gillibrand 784 62 38 61%
56 @SenRandPaul Senator Rand Paul 696 31 19 61%
57 @SenCarlLevin Senator Carl Levin 690 54 33 61%
58 @SenatorWicker Senator Roger Wicker 837 64 39 61%
59 @SenPatRoberts Pat Roberts 720 74 45 61%
60 @SenatorMenendez Sen. Robert Menendez 828 61 37 61%
61 @SenJackReed Senator Jack Reed 787 98 59 60%
62 @KellyAyotte Kelly Ayotte 763 70 42 60%
63 @SaxbyChambliss Saxby Chambliss 723 66 39 59%
64 @SenJohnsonSD Senator Tim Johnson 809 84 49 58%
65 @SenatorCardin Senator Ben Cardin 639 33 19 58%
66 @SenWhitehouse Sheldon Whitehouse 812 56 32 57%
67 @SenMarkPryor Senator Mark Pryor 695 95 53 56%
68 @JeffFlake Jeff Flake 839 52 29 56%
69 @timkaine Senator Tim Kaine 804 59 32 54%
70 @InhofePress Inhofe Press Office 783 85 46 54%
71 @SenatorCarper Senator Tom Carper 784 138 73 53%
72 @SenatorLeahy Sen. Patrick Leahy 591 53 28 53%
73 @SenatorBoxer Sen. Barbara Boxer 744 103 54 52%
74 @SenLandrieu Senator Landrieu 787 90 47 52%
75 @SenadorReid Senador Harry Reid 423 54 28 52%
76 @SenBillNelson Bill Nelson 472 45 23 51%
77 @SenBobCasey Senator Bob Casey 723 67 34 51%
78 @MartinHeinrich Martin Heinrich 838 46 23 50%
79 @SenBrianSchatz Senator Brian Schatz 131 6 3 50%
80 @SenatorBarb Barbara Mikulski 797 71 34 48%
81 @SenWalshOffice Sen. Walsh’s Office 172 15 7 47%
82 @SenatorBegich Senator Mark Begich 849 95 44 46%
83 @ChrisMurphyCT Chris Murphy 726 84 38 45%
84 @DavidVitter David Vitter 746 51 23 45%
85 @SenRockefeller Jay Rockefeller 891 80 33 41%
86 @SenJeffMerkley Senator Jeff Merkley 806 49 20 41%
87 @marcorubio Marco Rubio 892 103 42 41%
88 @SenatorDurbin Senator Dick Durbin 845 80 30 38%
89 @SenSchumer Chuck Schumer 768 107 40 37%
90 @GrahamBlog Lindsey Graham 797 51 19 37%
91 @SenatorRisch Senator Jim Risch 279 30 11 37%
92 @SenatorReid Senator Harry Reid 645 42 15 36%
93 @amyklobuchar Amy Klobuchar 737 150 52 35%
94 @clairecmc Claire McCaskill 855 70 24 34%
95 @SenatorHagan Senator Kay Hagan 882 140 45 32%
96 @CoryBooker Cory Booker 790 81 10 12%
97 @SenWarren Elizabeth Warren 257 11 1 9%
98 @ChuckGrassley ChuckGrassley 897 281 6 2%


I should say, in defence of Senator Grassley, he has a lot of Tweets of this form:

where he shortens things like ‘for’ into ‘4’ and a very large number of tweets that appear to be reporting volleyball scores, which take down his average somewhat… still the odd link would be useful to see from him.


Lower case i and how children are happily changing the language….



…A little while ago I was running a TooManyCooks camp (it would be a whitewaterwriters camp these days) for year 9 students in a school in South London.

On the Tuesday evening I looked through the drafts (teachers generally do this too) to give some feedback in the morning.

So on the Wednesday morning I mention to the writers they have got a lot of lower-case ‘i’s when they should have capital ones.  They vaguely nod and we move on.
That lunchtime, I look though again. Same problem, perhaps worse. We start proofreading the next day but it’s still odd for this age group.
When they came back from lunch I brought it up again….
(The following conversation is not verbatim – my memory of the event is fading and I’ve filtered out all but the salient points. ).
Me: Hey guys.  I mentioned the capital I thing earlier, it’s still happening a lot – is there something I’m missing?
Girl: Yeah it’s not doing it.
Me: Pardon?
Girl (possibly the same one) When you type ‘i’. It doesn’t make it a capital.
Me: Well yes… You have to use shift…
I’ll admit to a certain amount of confusion at this point. These writers had successfully ploted and (mostly) drafted a full novel and and demonstrated quite reasonable technical skills throughout. Two of them were actively circumventing the school’s web controls so they could listen to Spotify while working (I consider this reasonable technical skills although I suspect that working in Computer Science for the last decade has somewhat altered my evaluation criteria). I was not expecting us to need to give reminders on the finer points of the shift key.
Girl (probably one of the others): Noooooo. See… look!
She demonstrates on Microsoft Word. Indeed. In Word if you type ‘when i clean windows’ it indeed automatically makes this ‘When I clean windows’. Well done Word.
The thing is, we were using Google Docs, which leaves your text alone.
And when you look at this from the point of view of the student, this does seem like something not to worry about.  The capitality (new word alert) of the I doesn’t help meaning at all – it’s never ambiguous. More to the point, having it lower case makes more sense if you are getting the hang of writing.
And indeed, for the students the only time their typing was assessed was when they had written the document in Word. Word takes care of it. So they don’t need to worry about it in exactly the same way I have no idea what a choke is for in my car but I understand there is an automatic one and it’s handling things nicely.
In this particular instance we carefully explained to the student that they were going to have to engage with the shift key, and from then on rattled on merrily producing a quite pleasant book.
The experience stayed with me because I take a quiet enjoyment in watching a language refine itself and I can only imagine that in another few years when this generation reach the workplace in large numbers, written English will change in a dozen sensible ways. And i for one welcome it. 🙂

The 16 UK politicians most likely to be making up facts.

This article ranks UK politicians by how likely they are to back up their factual assertions with references. I use their Twitter streams as a starting point.  The method is somewhat noisey and it’s certainly not the sort of thing that I’d call science, but it illustrates some points nicely. As soon as someone comes up with a better method I’ll use that instead. This is a very rough first attempt –  There will be a proper full version around January, with plans to repeat on a monthly basis until the election in May.

I’m going to first give my motivation in terms of Wikipedia.  Then I’m going to describe my methodology such as it is (I’m including the source code), and then give the results.  This post clocks in at 1,500 words so it’s one of the longer ones…

Motivation: Wikipedia cites its sources, MPs should do the same

I like Wikipedia… I genuinely think it’s one of humankind’s greatest achievements…  Many politicians, however, do not…

Shabana Mahmood: …. Gentleman says that I had a career in the accounting industry, but I did not— I was a barrister specialising in professional indemnity litigation. I hope he did not get his information from my Wikipedia entry, which also has me down as two years younger than I am.

Murdo Fraser: …with the duty, they must understand its meaning. During the evidence-taking sessions, we heard many different definitions of sustainable economic growth—somebody even suggested the one from Wikipedia, although I am not sure that that is helpful to the law-making process.

Stewart Stevenson: …however one looks at it. Ken Macintosh referred to Fort Augustus and the first hydro power station that was built there. In 1896, the aluminium factory had what is described as—at least in Wikipedia, so it must be true— “the first large-scale commercial hydro-electric” generation.

Patricia Ferguson: …in the form of a national tree. I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will agree to formally recognise such an iconic image for our country. While doing some research for the debate, I noted Wikipedia’s bold assertion that the Scots pine is the “national tree of Scotland”. We know that that is not quite true, but it is interesting that such an assumption has been…

Christopher Pincher: …on both Front Benches. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), the shadow Secretary of State, who made a typically assured and polished speech—as I am sure his Wikipedia page will shortly remind us.


There’s also some small cases of people treating Wikipedia properly…

Paul Flynn: …of the English monarch as de facto Head of State. I want to clear up one point. There is a belief that the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) is 246th in line to the throne, and according to Wikipedia, the authority for that claim is the blog of “Mr Paul Flynn”. I advise anyone who wishes to repeat that claim to treat it with some caution,

However, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.   Wikipedia is well known for requiring citations. It’s untrue that ‘every’ statement needs to be cited (although a sizeable proportion of Wikipedians would like it to be true) but in practice every statement that is likely to be challenged should be cited. In many articles this boils down to the same thing.

Politicians, on the other hand, have NO such restriction. When they quote a statistic, or fact, they are under NO obligation to provide a source.  And one of the things that depresses me about politics is that the electorate appear content with this situation.  Facts are important. Context is important. Both are especially important when you are making decisions that affect many many thousands of people.

I appreciate that during a speech, or particularly a debate, it’s a bit tricky to keep saying things like “If you look at you’ll see” , but in the written word, there should be NO hiding.


But were can we find a large number of statements made by MPs in such a way that the prevailing culture is to provide links with statements?

 Methodology: Twitter as a proxy

In the UK our MPs are fond of political point scoring on the Microblogging site Twitter. Some of the points are sensible, some are rabble rousing of the worst sort.

Here’s what I did.  I took the set of MPs on Twitter (thank you to @tweetminister for providing the list) and for each member I pulled out all of their tweets over the last little while.  Checking every tweet by hand would be ridiculous, but we can put together some proxies and make the process more accurate.  First of all I want to pull out those tweets that are definitely from the MPs – so we remove the retweets. Next we want the tweets that are definitely statistics.  Examples might be:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 12.25.05Which is definitely a statistic, but we have every reason to suspect that Brandon made it up.  If he’d given a reference, we’d know both the source of the statement and the context, we’d be able to have an informed debate on the subject (to keep this party neutral I also have a go at Rachal Reeves later on)

So what I’m going to do is just extract those tweets that contain the digits ‘0’ to ‘9’. I’m aware that I lose a lot of facts this way, but I certainly improve the fact:tweet ratio.  This is a weakness in the methodology but as I’m going to be comparing MP against MP we can cope with a little bit of noise in the signal.  This leaves us with a relatively small number of tweets (it varies by MP actually, some MPs tweet a lot without ever mentioning a number, something I find very odd).   Some have links in them and some do not. I want to know how many come with links and which are the politicians most likely to pick a fact out of the air.  So I write a little bit of Java code, and gather some results.

All the code is in this github repository.  The repositry contains both the code, and every tweet downloaded from every MP so you can have a look at how fair the approach is for any given MP (and have a sneaky look at how your MP did, every MPs file ends with a line giving their results).


Now, let’s be clear – I’m aware that this is rough mertic. I’m aware that a tweet like “If you want to see the 9 unicorns that the Tories are killing go to” counts positively.  I’m aware that having a link doesn’t make something true – as XKCD points out much better than I could:

But what I’m looking for here is the set of politicians that are willing to back up their assertions with something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 12.42.57

…compared to the set of politicians that are willing to just pull figures out of the air (Sorry Rachel, you get to be the good and the bad example).

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 12.42.46


Results: Cite your sources guys…

So… let’s see what the data tells us.  Here’s the top 20:

Rank TwitterId Name Tweets Tweets with figures Figures and links Percentage
1 @johnredwood John Redwood 890 78 78 100%
2 @michaelmeacher Michael Meacher 691 41 41 100%
3 @CliveBettsMP Clive Betts 233 25 25 100%
4 @MalcolmRifkind Sir Malcolm Rifkind 68 3 3 100%
5 @HazelBlearsMP Hazel Blears 81 2 2 100%
6 @glendajacksonmp Glenda Jackson 102 1 1 100%
7 @edvaizey Ed Vaizey 424 86 81 94%
8 @SMcPartlandMP Stephen McPartland 636 47 41 87%
9 @TonyBaldry Sir Tony Baldry MP 761 15 13 87%
10 @TogetherDarling Alistair Darling 130 7 6 86%
11 @RoryStewartUK Rory Stewart 798 201 170 85%
12 @GarethThomasMP Gareth Thomas MP 745 89 75 84%
13 @mike_weatherley Mike Weatherley MP 589 36 30 83%
14 @Owen_PatersonMP Owen Paterson MP 74 6 5 83%
15 @DanJarvisMP Dan Jarvis 575 53 44 83%
16 @ChrisRuaneMP Chris Ruane MP 360 35 29 83%
17 @nicolablackwood Nicola Blackwood 399 38 31 82%
18 @tcunninghammp1 Tony Cunningham MP 240 26 21 81%
19 @JonCruddasMP Jon Cruddas 602 39 31 79%
20 @JeremyLefroyMP Jeremy Lefroy 816 62 49 79%

Which is pretty impressive… from those 20 MPs… John Redwood storming out ahead and I’ll admit that Glenda Jackson appears to have been a touch lucky with happening to have a link in her single tweeted figure – I may have to introduce a cut off point in future iterations. I’ve limited it to 20 because these are the ones where I’ve a chance to look thought and check I’ve not done something crazy.

…and, more controversially, the bottom 16, and the reason it’s bottom 16, is because I found 16MPs who, in the time period I was looking at, didn’t cite a single figure…   (there were also about 15 who didn’t mention a single figure, which is alarming in it’s own right…)

@AlbertOwenMP Albert Owen MP 303 16 0 0%
@AnneMiltonMP Anne Milton MP 791 64 0 0%
@Craig_Whittaker Craig Whittaker 64 12 0 0%
@GordonBanksMP Gordon Banks MP 257 14 0 0%
@KeeleyMP Barbara Keeley 177 9 0 0%
@Keith_VazMP Keith Vaz MP 741 27 0 0%
@LindsayRoyMP Lindsay Roy MP 81 3 0 0%
@MPritchardMP Mark Pritchard 769 53 0 0%
@PhilipDaviesMP Philip Davies 320 16 0 0%
@RebeccaHarrisMP Rebecca Harris 21 1 0 0%
@SHammondMP Stephen Hammond MP 239 17 0 0%
@Valerie_VazMP Valerie Vaz MP 83 7 0 0%
@damiangreenmp Damian Green 424 29 0 0%
@jreedmp Jamie Reed 361 5 0 0%
@pamela_nash Pamela Nash MP 284 9 0 0%

I should give @AnneMiltonMP a bit of a pass on this.  It turns out that Anne keeps writing things like:

and about once a day:

which, of course, mean that she does undeservedly badly by this metric…

Pamela Nash is relatively blameless but one of her nine is this sort of one:

…all of these MPs might be exactly right with their statistics, but unless they back them up with the links, they are going to keep lowering the level of the debate…





Friday Requiem: If you would like to clean up the internet, do it properly.

Quick note for readers.  I think it’s important that I consider my back catalogue of posts to be part of the site and that they get maintained, looked after and followed up on.  So each Friday I’ll be picking a post I did from that week last year, and see if my opinions have changed, or find out how the story develops.

So last year I wrote this:

I used to work for a forensics analysis company, processing hard drives of people that the police had arrested for various horrific child-related things. I lasted about two months and it was deeply deeply awful.

The area (enforcement of the law around making indecent images of children) is massively understaffed, and it’s massively underfunded. Particularly because it’s one of those ‘invisible’ crimes. Public outcries happen at the wrong time – when someone is caught, rather than when the crime is committed and there is never the money to do proactive enforcement of the law.

So if someone wanted to ‘clean up dark corners of the internet’, then the thing to do is to properly enforce the existing laws. To fund the teams that can protect children, to get those teams enough staff that they have time to arrest people. That would make a genuine difference.

Or, if you wanted to save some money, you could announce that you are making something else illegal as well. Yes I’d like to see *that* vanish entirely. But it’s an empty law. There simply isn’t the police staff to enforce it. Yes, a tiny fraction of people who distribute rape porn are going to be arrested (which is a good thing, no question) but for every one of them who gets arrested, someone who distributes child porn won’t be arrested.

If you want to deal with problems like rape porn and child porn then the thing to do is to fund the agencies that deal with it. If, on the other hand, you want votes from people who don’t understand the internet, then keep going as you are.

For those interested in following up on such things – the legislation is now before parliament (until I started doing this Friday Requiem posts I had NO idea how long it took to make a thing illegal. You can read the particular relevant clause of the bill here.  Simultaneously you can also read here about the one in six police jobs that are threatened. Sigh. I think we should protect children, rather than pretend to.

Solving abuse of disabled parking spaces.

Picture of a disability parking pass

By Tony Webster (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve written before about how I think banks could solve underage drinking,  and today’s article is on a similar subject. How insurance companies can reduce traffic crime. 

I dislike illegal parking, I particularly dislike people who aren’t disabled using disabled bays.  How about this: 

If you are illegally parked,  your insurance isn’t valid.  

Simple right? and harmless.  No moving parts are required. Just that if you are ignoring the social contract you have with the community, then the insurance company gets to ignore you.  

This works particularly well in terms of being progressive (in taxation sense – a progressive tax is one in which the richer members of society pay more in absolute terms).  While someone would think twice about parking their 1997 Cleo if their insurance was threatened, they’d definitely be parking their top-of-the-range Land Rover somewhere else.  

If we wanted to be properly effective, we can extend the idea.  Full comprehensive insurance? If you are found to be speeding that reverts to third party.  Fire and theft? Only if you’ve paid your car tax.  

Maybe that’s enough to make people think twice. It would certainly stop employers encouraging their delivery vehicles to hover on double yellows for a half hour. 

I’m slightly confused why this doesn’t happen already.  Insurance companies want to make money and are normally willing to use every trick in the book to make it.  How have they missed this one? 

There are already laws, but these are laws that seemingly many people really don’t worry about breaking. How about we get some real skin in the game.  How about we let the insurance companies say “If you walk away from the society’s rules, then society will walk away from you”. 


I’ll say this for the youth. New words are easier to spell.

I’ll say this for young people and words. The ones that young people add to the language are easier to spell. 

‘Lol’ is an easy word to write.  ‘Selfie’ is sensible and helpfully orthogonal to such other words as ‘onesie’. 

The new words have little time for such silly things as silent letters, double letters, ‘c’s when you mean ‘s’ or ‘k’ and  words that clearly make no sense in respect to the prounation (I’m looking at you ‘through’).  (There are couple of exceptions: “lolled” is spelt with a double ‘l’ apparently…)

Initiaisms afaik have the slightly different problem of being easy to spell (one hopes) while being impossible to pronounce without the relevant knowledge.  But I kind of like the idea of ‘afaik’ going the same was as ‘i.e’ – people know what it means but no idea what it stands for (“it’s probably Latin”). 

‘Twerking’ whatever you think about it, is certainly easier to spell than do. (Waltz, on the other hand, apparently doesn’t have an ‘s’).
Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 09.42.29
I’d like to take a moment to applaud this tendency.  I like the idea that we are rebuilding the language, that we are giving up on words like ‘Pusillanimity‘ and putting in ‘demo‘.  The English of our children will be more even-handed, more universal, and easier to learn.

When I was road-testing this post, I had  a conversation with some colleagues (Yep – these ideas are road tested – you should hear the ones that don’t make it…) 

Alice: I’ve had people literally say ‘lol’ in conversation to me. 
Bob: I might do that. I think it’s reasonable to say “I lolled”. 
Me: that’s my point; “I lolled” is much easier to spell than “I laughed”. 
Alice: wait hang on – does it have a double L? 
Me: *momentary hesitation* well it might, but it’s certainly better than having a ‘ght’ in there. 
Bob: “laughed doesn’t either”
Me: *thinks* I rest my case? 


Third-person ambition

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 20.19.04

There should be a word for third-person ambition.

If someone is ” ambitious” then the assumption is that they want to achieve all they can. To gather, power, status and money. But I want a term that describes being ambitious for other people. A parent is ambitious for their children, a teacher is ambitious for their charges but what do we call someone who is ambitious for their country, their religion their causes?

It’s not pride… That’s the past tense. I was ambitious and now I am proud. I want to describe Che Guevara before the revolution. Gandhi before the liberation. 

Campaigners against the death penalty – clearly defined goals and passion. But nobody would call them ambitious because it’s the wrong word

It’s difficult to coin a term. Maybe ‘ambustious’, no… Definitely not. Is it greek? No turns out it’s latin: ambitiosus Is there something we could do with the word endings? Damn my lack of a classical education. 

Any ideas? Anyone?  Third-person ambition is pretty close to being a googlewack which is horrible in that it’s a concept that should be around. 

It seems like a playful poke at language but it’s not,  I’ve accidentally ended up as a social entrepreneur (even if I loath the term) but I want to describe the feeling.     Take Camp_Nou and reverse it – so that instead of 100,000 thousand people desperately willing the 22 people  on the pitch to excel, you have the 20 people desperately willing the 100,000 to achieve, to win, to be everything they can be.  That’s the feeling that I want a word for.