Friday, March 30, 2007

when volleyball goes bad

The BBC brings news that all team sports in Greece have been suspended for 2 weeks! This follows outbreaks of violence following an athens derby volleyball game.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Better biking in Brum?

Information about a Friends of the Earth event next Monday:
Speaker event - Can we make the city of the car the city of the bike?

Precedes a potential future planning session for a cycling campaign.

*Graeme Sherriff, Manchester FoE Award-winning "Love Your Bike" campaign
*Birmingham Critical Mass members: Ethan and Rob
*Graham Lennard, Birmingham City Council Cycling and Walking Team

Monday 2 April, 7:30 pm
The Warehouse Cafe, 54-57 Allison Street, Digbeth, B5 5TH

Talk starts at 7:30, but come at 6:00 onwards to:
- Enjoy great vegetarian food from the Warehouse Cafe. Special
offer: Cyclists' Mega Burgers! (Last orders 6:45pm)
- Meet campaigners from Pushbikes, the Birmingham Area Cycling Campaign
- Stock up on cycling gear from Sprocket Cycles - get 10% off
all purchases on the evening and enter a prize draw to win free
Bike Doctor service

For more information, contact Chris Williams on 0121 632 6909

Monday, March 26, 2007

cold hands and much wobbling

This was the first line introduction to an item on Today about the new cycling proficiency test (not proficient cycling tests, but Bikeability, something much more 21st century). So hardly a great introduction when we're trying to encourage more people to cycle, rather than highlight that occassionally you may get cold hands. (I'll come back to gloves...)
As someone who took the CP test over 20 years ago, the new version sounds far more relevant: getting riders to experience actual roads. My test was in a school carpark on a saturday morning, so not a car in sight. It did involve basic bike handling - turning, braking, balance and a simple understanding of common road signs - give way etc.
Birmingham offers some fantastic traffic free routes: national route 5 could take me from home to the council house. But I could also choose to ride on some of the busiest roads (bar the Aston Expressway which is a motorway!). I've got more than enough confidence in my riding style to make my journeys as safe as possible, but it doesn't stop the nutter in a white van from overtaking you when you've indicated to go right and pulled into the middle of a quiet residential road. Unfortunately I didn't get the whole of his number plate NY54...
No one should ever suffer from having cold hands while cycling. I strongly suggest wearing an appropriate pair of gloves whatever the weather. When I've come off, gloves have saved me from the worst of the accident as you instinctively stick your hands out to break any fall.
Its a shame the govt couldn't find an additional £10m to train the other half of 10yr olds. But clearly £5bn on the war in Iraq is far more important than the safety of our kids on the roads.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ming launches local campaign

The big Ming is in town today to launch the local campaigns. The theme for the day has been civil liberties, and their erosion under the current Labour government. There has been good coverage in the local papers! With front page coverage in the Post. The BBC also led with it earlier.
Unfortunately, pressures of work, and a charity football match later have meant I've missed out on hearing Ming speak in person.

One of those weeks

The last fortnight has been a perfect example of how there are monthly peeks and troughs in meeting patterns. (last week no evening meetings, this week surgery, Audit committee, Constituency committee, Ward committe, and finally meeting our IDeA peer). But the fortnight is also the most important as far as we're concerned at work as we're setting the budgets for the academic departments for next year.
Tonight is my first evening off all week, so I get a chance not to think about student FTEs, budgets or NRF bids for a few hours.

Monday, March 19, 2007

labour exchange or flatpack hell

Unusually I had a weekend relatively free of commitments. So when Craig asked for some help building a wardrobe I didn't think twice. Little did I realise quite how big it was... Definitely a two man job. But we weren't helped by one crucial missing piece.
The instructions were very visual, but most of the text led with german and the pieces, when labelled were in german as well. But with diagrams you need to be able to distinguish parts that look similar. So we weren't sure what was missing until we'd started to build it.
Most is constructed and can start to accomodate Sue's shoes and black tops.
In exchange I got a couple of hours of house cleaning out of Craig. All very communal.

Friday, March 16, 2007

RIP HP and University entrance forms

Today sees the last bottle of UK produced HP sauce roll off the production line in Aston.
There is also much in the news about students applying for university having to declare the level of parental education, and occupation type.
I have often joked in the past that you could gain sociodemographic information from asking a simple question of how do you take a bacon butty (red or brown sauce, white or brown bread). Like most sociodemographic indicators its not 100%, but can provide clues.
We often find that on UCAS forms that where applications describe their parents occupation type, they generally overstate. I can see similar issues declaring parental education levels (both of my parents were teachers, but went to teacher training college, and not university, so I was a first timer in our family).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Mail Mayor

Well, the Evening Mail has finally jumped, and has kicked off the petition for elected mayor.
The DCLG has lots of helpful information for those who are organising petitions for calling for Elected Mayors. Of particular interest is the possible timetable for a referendum if they happen to collect 36k signatures. The Mail has given the impression that this could all be wrapped up by 3 May. But my reading of the timetable is that even submitting the petition now would result in a September referendum. If the result went the way of the elected option, then the mayoral election would then hit the May 08 elections.
Which ever way you look at it, either the referendum or the mayoral election would fall on a normal election day, and would therefore incur the full costs of running an election/referendum. Will the Mail pick up the tab? Not if Trinity Mirror sell it off they wont. Is Steve Dyson, the editor, thinking of a possible future in politics?

Friday, March 09, 2007

bonkers for the lords

Today's Matt cartoon got me thinking. When will the internal positioning start occurring to secure the desired positions on our party's lists for Lords elections?
Will Lord Bonkers be seeking election? The place would be quite different without him.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Not as the name suggests some form of freestyle biking, but recycling useful stuff that you no longer need.
Today has been my first experience of freecycling. I've had a spare bed base taking up a chunk of room in my house for a month of so, and finally got around to offering it on Birmingham Freecycle. Within an hour of the email hitting the list it was taken. Hopefully to be collected this evening.

insincere voting

The aftermath of last nights voting on House of Lords reform is just beginning. The first accusation I heard this morning is that there was a lot of insincere voting in favour of the most radical option. Theresa May hints at it in her quote on the BBC.
Of course this was always bound to happen as they had rejected any form of preferential voting, and instead used multiple FPTP votes. As FPTP is a system that relies on insincere voting the result was almost inevitable.
The next battle will be ensuring the fully elected option makes it into the final version of the bill, and then the turkeys have to vote for christmas.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

fighting fraud

The BBC is reporting figures published ACPO on the cost of fraud in the UK. They have come up with the eye-watering figure of £20bn a year, equiv to £330 per person.
The per person figure resonates with me, as 12 months ago my credit card details were swiped, and I lost about £300. Fortunately Egg had spotted the unusual payments and stopped the card before anymore was lost. They were also v.quick in refunding me. But they were the eventual victims of the fraud.
Fraud is something that the Council's audit team have to take seriously. But they are also hampered by Whitehall targets. There is one measure whereby they need find and take action on so many frauds. This has the effect of seeking out lots of small frauds, rather than going after the "Mr Bigs", as that only counts as one action, even if it might stop a higher value of fraud.
To me this highlights the futility of target setting:
"When a measure becomes a target, it is no longer a useful measure." - Prof M Strathern restating Goodhart's Law.

If any target should be set, then it ought to be based on the value of frauds detected and action, not the number.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Conference of yesteryear

Originally uploaded by Radders.
This is a photo from a Liberal conference in 1969, in Blackpool (photographer unknown). The photo belongs to my fellow ward cllr, Alistair Dow, who can be seen to the left of Jo Grimond, against the back wall. On Jo Grimond's right is David Steel, and to David's right is Wallace Lawler (first Liberal MP in Birmingham).
I think glasses were compulsory for young liberals in the 60s.

reflections on Harrogate

Several people have written on the events of the LibDem spring conference in Harrogate.
Alex Wilcock has a good textual analysis of the leaders speech. I didn't go into the hall to hear it, but watched it on a relay screen (the only time I was in the hall was for Trident, see Colin Ross). I suspect the production values of the relay screens weren't quite that of the BBC, so we didn't get the Ming training montage, or the music at the end. From watching it, you didn't realise he'd finished it as he just seemed to stop, start waving and shadow cabinet jumping on the platform, no rising crescendo of rhetoric.
I quite like Harrogate as a venue, lots of nice small food places that I've found over the last 3 years:
Est est est - italian on the main food drag. Nice window seats, and staff who don't badger you to leave.
Biscaya bay - a basque restaurant near the conference centre. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Loch Fyne - seafood here. Again book early as the leader and his entourage will be taking up several tables.
Salsa Posada - mexican. No bookings on Fri/Sat night. Short stroll from the conference centre, and no libdems in sight!
Unfortunately we're not going back next year, but rather to capital of culture 2008, Liverpool.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Trident worries

News has reached me that the Leaders office is doing a ring round of PPCs prior to the trident debate at conference on Saturday, and being whipped into attending!
Maybe they realise that the hall may be lacking in enough high profile LDs, as I've heard via other sources that various members of the parliamentary party will be strategically absent for the vote.