There are 143 posts in total.
One year ago today - Day One of The Event
- 2021-03-13, 17:32:43
#OneYearAgoToday was the day which from where I sit in the world Everything Changed.
Two weeks ago I think most people still thought of the approach of The Event as something which was still broadly a Somewhere Else's Problem - we'd all started washing our hands more often, fersure, and we were doing the elbow bumps (and feeling faintly ridiculous doing so) thing, one week ago folks were starting to be a bit more circumspect in their behaviour, and I think the Downing Street briefings had started, but by and large the UK was still continuing to function normally. It might have been yesterday or the day before when our team manager told us to start taking our laptops home with us at the end of every day at work, 'just in case'.
The News, though, whilst The Event had spent the last two months creeping up the running order, still had other stories on it as well.
Today, March 13, it all changed.
I'd taken the day off work, because it was March, and I always end up taking random days off work in March because I always end up with quite a few unused days of annual leave to take. I'd taken the day off basically to get some shizzle done at home on my own - I can't remember if it was tidying or if it was making music - but before I started to do whatever it was I was going to do I put News 24 on to [...]
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The collapse of the travel industry during the Covid-19 epidemic
- 2020-08-22, 11:33:12
Looking at STA travel now being a CovidCasualty, alongside other travel industry casualties just before The Event and the ones which are inevitably to come, it does occur to me that travel industry casualties are of somewhat more reaching and significant social consequences than the retail sector’s and the hospitality sector’s casualties.
Arguably over the last few years the hospitality sector had been expanding far in excess of the capacity of the market to sustain that growth anyway — it was a bubble that was inevitably going to burst, and the casualties are arguably more of a market correction than an existential crisis. When All This Is All Over there will still be plenty of pubs and bars, cafés and restaurants, for people to go to, and the ones who survive The Event will do so as businesses which are more sustainable.
Little needs to be said that hasn’t been said at length about the state of the retail sector — people aren’t buying things from shops because shops aren’t selling things people want to buy when people want to buy them. Shops aren’t closing left, right, and centre, it’s just certain shops which are closing left, right, and centre — you can still buy clothes, perfume, food, and tech in shops, you just can’t buy them in many department stores anymore. You can still buy purses and shoulder bags in shops, you just can’t buy purses and shoulder bags in shops where the only distinguishing feature is they’ve got the name [...]
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Exercises for Improvisation, Composition, and Compovisation
- 2020-01-24, 13:51:28
This article was originally written for a module of the Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology which I did in 1996.
Creative music making has always been seen as something which is difficult to do, some thing which is not for the average musician, but which can only be done by certain types of performer: the Jazz musician, the Rock guitarist, etc. Somehow people seem to forget that in 99% of cases their very first experiences with a musical instrument will have been of an improvisatory nature, for how many of us were able to pick our instrument up that first time all those years ago & read & play a piece of music from a piece of paper; indeed how many of us were even able to read music when we first bashed at the keys of the classroom piano as a child ?
Nowadays the ability to play more than just what has been written down by some body else is becoming more & more important, & also to teach this ability to other people. The British National Curriculum for Music has composition as a major part of its syllabus. Music Colleges, such as Birmingham Conservatoire, have as a constituent part of their courses classes in improvisation & composition, & options to take this further for more advanced students. For the professional musician, contemporary music increasingly includes elements where the player must take more responsibility for what happens next, & the jobs in the London Sinfonietta & the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group [...]
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The Secret Power of Music
- 2020-01-24, 13:34:40
This article was originally written for the Musical Philosophies module of the Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology which I did in 1996; I've often had cause to refer to it since then so I've reproduced it here on my main site to make it easier to. It is presented as a description of philosophies held be other people and groups and not necessarily a personal view.
"All music, based upon melody & rhythm, is the earthly representative of heavenly music" - Plotinus (AD 205 - 269)
"Hear, & your soul shall live" - Isiah 55:3
Music as an organisation of sound is known to have existed for over 3000 years, & writings from the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, India & China suggest there was such an artform at least 1000 years previous to this. In our so - called 'scientific age' it is often easy to forget this; & music as it was taught in English schools until very recently even served to implicate a denial of this fact, by its labelling of our mediaeval music as 'primitive', its concentration on the theory of music apparent in the 'common practice' period, & by completely failing to mention the existence of methods of making music outside of the traditional Western art music mould.
Along with the increase in interest in the study of the theory & practise of other musical cultures on an equal footing to our own, there has been an upsurge of interest in what some people like to describe as the [...]
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Manifesto for Local Government Digital Services - part two
- 2019-11-06, 17:02:48
I recently attended Nick Hill’s Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum event Local Gov MIDLANDS Transformation, Collaboration & Digitisation at which I did a session to introduce and talk about my Manifesto for Local Government Digital Services.
One thing which especially pleased me about the event was the extent to which the other speakers there were sharing insight and experiences which complemented the ideas in the Manifesto quite well - to the degree that rather than simply write up the other sessions as a simple event report, I can write it up as a Part Two of the Manifesto.
So, to round up what I learned from listening to Kate Hurr, Hilary Jones, Ben Proctor, and others and their presentations:
For about the last 10 years, the work we’ve collectively done to develop and improve our online services has been done so under the banner of Transformation. We could say there have been four phases of that transformation up to now:
Local Government Digital Services 3.0 - A manifesto
- 2019-06-11, 17:41:11
"There will come a time soon when for some councils there won't be a council website any more - the website will be the council" - Tom Steinberg, founder, MySociety
This is the second time I've opened an article with this quote - the first occasion was in March 2016 at the start of A Web strategy for local government. I don't normally do pithy quotes from other people in articles, but this one seems sufficiently relevant that it bears repeating.
But what does it mean?
Go to any modern council website these days, and you'll see more or less the same layout of links on the home page - at the top, you'll see the so-called Top Tasks, links to specific services such as paying your council tax or a parking ticket or reporting a pothole or that your bins weren't collected, followed perhaps by some links to more general service areas, some links which will have been provided by the council's communications and marketing team to the latest council news stories and some marketing and information campaigns they want highlighting, and a series of other links which make perfect sense to the council but perhaps seem a little random to the website visitor.
A lot of the choices for links on the home page, particularly the Top Tasks area won't have come out of the website managers' heads, they will be data driven - if the most prominent four links at the top of your council's home page are to pay your [...]
Read the rest of Local Government Digital Services 3.0 - A manifesto.In group Public / Third Sector Digital
The Crumbling of Parliament
- 2019-04-05, 09:31:10
So everybody laughed yesterday at the House of Commons being suspended yesterday because of water gushing in through the ceiling. But here's the thing.
The Palace of Westminster is an historic building, part of our nation's heritage. Like all our other historic buildings it's supposed to be held in trust and protected, just like the buildings and monuments from ancient history have been by their civilised custodians.
The occupants of the Palace of Westminster have know for years that the building is literally crumbling around them - not only do all the utilities within a working building need upgrading, the masonry itself is falling apart - on a near-monthly basis a piece of the stonework will fall off and come crashing to the ground. But the elected occupants have for years prevaricated about coming to a decision on what to do about it. Everybody knows what actually needs to happen is they all need to decant to somewhere else entirely for a couple of years whilst a relatively short and relatively cheap complete repair and upgrade job is done, all in one go. But a sizeable number of MPs don't want to do that, they want to instead spend a couple of decades, and considerably more money - your money and my money, which could be spent on the NHS instead - on a bit by bit repair and upgrade programme, closing off sections of the building and re-opening them bit by bit.
So because they've been unable to agree on how the [...]
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Brexit - what should happen next
- 2019-01-16, 09:16:41
The country and Parliament have failed to agree, and it's pretty clear they never will agree; the wheels have fallen off the Brexit train not least because the people who voted for and campaigned to leave have been unable to agree amongst themselves what 'leave' actually means. Here's what should happen next:
Revoke Article 50, make it clear to the Leave folks that the matter is not ended, spend the next two years trying to do what David Cameron failed to do at the beginning of 2016 (whilst the EU might be a bit more predisposed to grant the concessions they told him to whistle for back then, having seen that the UK actually is stupid enough to jump off a cliff if it so desires), also spend the next two years fixing some of the problems - including the UK's own botched implementations of EU directives and regulations - which led to the slender Leave victory in the first place, put the matter to The People again in a binding referendum with a properly fairly agreed franchise and a realistic enhanced majority threshold (55% / 45% seems reasonable enough), and implement any subsequent second Leave victory in an orderly manner with a National Unity Government rather than a minority leader behaving like they've got an absolute divinely-sanctioned majority.
Nobody could argue such a course would be undemocratic, because the procedure would be legally binding from the outset, and all but the minority extremists on both sides will get what they want, [...]
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Brexit, omelettes, and eggs
- 2018-10-17, 07:44:06
This, by or via Facebook user Jane Cody, is currently being widely shared around Facebook; reproduced here as fair use to allow people to see it without having to login to Facebook.
LEAVER: I want an omelette.
REMAINER: Right. It’s just we haven’t got any eggs.
LEAVER: Yes, we have. There they are. [HE POINTS AT A CAKE]
REMAINER: They’re in the cake.
LEAVER: Yes, get them out of the cake, please.
REMAINER: But we voted in 1974 to put them into a cake.
LEAVER: Yes, but that cake has got icing on it. Nobody said there was going to be icing on it.
REMAINER: Icing is good.
LEAVER: And there are raisins in it. I don’t like raisins. Nobody mentioned raisins. I demand another vote.
DAVID CAMERON ENTERS.
DAVID CAMERON: OK.
DAVID CAMERON SCARPERS.
LEAVER: Right, where’s my omelette?
REMAINER: I told you, the eggs are in the cake.
LEAVER: Well, get them out.
EU: It’s our cake.
JEREMY CORBYN: Yes, get them out now.
REMAINER: I have absolutely no idea how to get them out. Don’t you know how to get them out?
LEAVER: Yes! You just get them out and then you make an omelette.
REMAINER: But how?! Didn’t you give this any thought?
LEAVER: Saboteur! You’re talking eggs down. We could make omelettes before the eggs went into the cake, so there’s no reason why we can’t make them now.
THERESA MAY: It’s OK, I can do it.
THERESA MAY: There was a vote to remove the eggs from the cake, and so the eggs will be removed from the cake.
REMAINER: Yeah, but…
LEAVER: Hang on, if we [...]
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Have the police lost control of the city centre streets of Birmingham?
- 2018-10-03, 14:20:57
A couple of weeks ago when I was walking from work to the railway station along Dale End / High Street in Birmingham I commented that just about every evening when I walk that way there's some kind of blue light incident going on in the area.
Last night as I was walking along the road I saw that the blue light incident had been levelled up considerably by the entire area being sealed off.
It turned out what had occurred this time was a mass brawl of about 100 youths resulting in three people being stabbed. From eye-witness reports of the lead-up to the incident, it seems that to a certain extent some kind of rumble was already pre-planned:
"I was on the bus going into town and everyone started making weird noises as it started pulling up at the bus stand near the McDonald's.
There was a massive group of kids, I'd say they were probably aged around 16.
They all went after this one guy who looked the same age and grabbed him - he nearly went under a taxi.
There were probably about 30 of them. Then about 10 or 12 guys started stamping on him. I was on the phone to my mum when it happened and I told her I wouldn't be surprised if he was dead. They were stamping on his head and legs, [...]
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Gmail - no longer considered secure enough for business or consumer use
- 2018-07-06, 09:59:03
So yeah, I've been generally working on reducing my reliance on Google services, not least because of Google's habit of withdrawal mission critical services that people are even paying for at the drop of a hat. Looks like Gmail is the next thing to replace, since currently all mail to star-one dot org dot uk actually gets read by us through Gmail.
I wonder what businesses - especially tech businesses tt- who are using Gmail Pro think of the possibility all their confidential business emails may have been read by developers at other tech businesses?
#technology #business #security [...]
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What laptop should I buy?
- 2018-06-15, 13:52:04
Roughly once a month or so I see requests from friends asking the world for general advice on buying laptops. Since it's quite burdensome to type out the advice I always give on my phone, here's a handy guide on the internet.
First of all, for most people's uses, pretty much any Windows, Linux, or Mac laptop you can buy these days will be sufficiently powerful for your needs. The only areas which will need extra power will be computationally-heavy tasks such as real-time audio (for example if you're making music with your computer), video editing and rendering (to be fair, a less-powered computer will still be able to do it, it'll just take a lot longer), or gaming. If you're doing any of these tasks, you'll need to go for the fastest computer you can afford; if you're doing real-time audio a Windows laptop will be OK, but if you've got the budget for a Mac then go for one of those instead, because Macs' audio handling tends to be much more efficient than Windows'.
If literally all you're wanting to do is a bit of Word, a bit of web and email, and a bit of streaming video from Netflix, then indeed the cheapest new computer you can get will see you right.
So on that basis, how do you choose?
First of all, you'll need to balance drive size, processor speed, and RAM.
If it's going to be your only computer, then you'll almost certainly need at least 500GB of drive space [...]
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Landing pages - October
- 2017-11-17, 13:22:20
Just for fun, as Peter Snow always used to say, the proportional landing page accesses to www.birmingham.gov.uk during October 2017.
Read the rest of Landing pages - October.In group Public / Third Sector Digital
Council digital teams - have we stopped innovating?
- 2017-10-05, 16:15:41
Way back in November 2013, as part of the project to improve Birmingham City Council's website I was leading on, I wrote a blog post speculating on a few ideas which might be coming up in the Local Government digital sector in the coming year; at the time of writing I didn't expect I'd be likely to be implementing any of the ideas myself, because at that point my project was principally an information architecture and content strategy project, we weren't at that point expecting to be in a position to improve the underlying technology behind the site. So these things which I predicted somebody else might do were:
- Open data,
- ‘The Internet of Things’,
- Responsive Design,
- Crowdsourced content, and
- Real time information
So when recently I was copying the old blog posts from the site for that project into this site, that original post caught my eye – in the sense that I was moderately surprised that nearly four years on, actually not much has changed.
Let's examine those predictions and what's transpired over the last four years:
Open data in local government is still a niche area; yes, many councils now have their data portals with a handful of datasets on them, but they tend to just be token efforts so the councils can say they're doing something with Open Data, rather than the rich datasets that are being exploited by enthusiasts, activists, and third party agencies to do something useful with. I think it's still a vicious circle – councils are reluctant to put in [...]
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Cheese filled portabello mushrooms
- 2017-09-24, 13:09:14
- Portabello mushrooms (or other large flat mushrooms)
- Chopped garlic
- Bouillon powder
- Truffle oil
- Hard goats cheese
Sprinkle a small amount of bouillon powder into each mushroom, then dribble a small amount of the truffle oil over them. Spread the chopped garlic around them, and then spread large amounts of butter in. Place broken off pieces of the cheese around the stem, and then bake for about 10 minutes at 220c
#cheatcuisine #lunch [...]
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In other news - balloon releases, and similarly, sky lanterns. Yeah, they look pretty, and can be a nice gesture as a celebration of a life lost. But actually, they're not really that nice at all, when you remember that what goes up must come down. A city - or a field, out an ocean - littered with balloon debris isn't very nice, and neither is the charred remains of a house, park, or warehouse after a still-burning sky lantern has landed on it and set fire to it. Balloons are often sold as biodegradable - what that means is they'll biodegrade in landfill over a period of years, it doesn't mean they biodegrade in a field or a river over a period of weeks.
If the litter and environmental impact of balloon releases doesn't convince you, maybe the human impact might. Helium might be the second-most abundant element in the universe, but on Earth it's actually extremely rare - it's difficult to extract, and the known stocks of it are being depleted at an alarming rate. Why is this a problem? Essential medical equipment such as NMRI scanners need it as part of their cooling systems. No more helium, no more NMRI, no more life-saving brain scans. So this goes for all the other ways helium is wasted, too.
There have been a few attempts at petitions to get these things banned, and somebody has done another one. It'd be nice if this one is signed - and shared - in [...]
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- 2017-09-18, 18:44:09
Lady on train next to me with 7 unread Facebook messenger messages, 16 unread texts, and 54 pending app updates.
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I've long been dubious about there being any real difference between paella rice and risotto rice, but can anybody persuade me there's a real difference between arborio risotto rice and carnaroli risotto rice?
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Great way to promote a brand
- 2017-08-16, 12:24:51
All the dog turds on the pavement this person has stepped in will now be on your food. Great way to promote a brand, @emmicaffelatte
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NHS cuts and private bathrooms
- 2017-08-14, 09:23:51
Any Tory-leaning folks care to trying to defend the health secretary having a £44,000 private bathroom fitted in his office at the same time as ordering £21,000,000,000 of cuts to the health service?
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