Friday, 30 January 2009

Hypocritical Ryanair are at it again

Remember the story about Ryanair demanding cash from Cornwall Council because the authority shut down Newquay Airport for important safety work after it took control from the military. They claimed that the shutdown damaged their reputation.

Guess what? Now Ryanair have cancelled their own flights even after bookings have been taken after a delivery of new planes was delayed by a strike.

You can't fly without planes of course. But you can't fly without safe airports either.

I trust this puts an end to the ridiculous claim for compensation that will have to come out of the pockets of Cornwall Council Tax payers.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Photo Geek Time

This is incredible. David Bergman has used a Gigapan imager and specialist software to create a truly massive image of the Inauguration. You can zoom in and still get incredibly strong images of different sections of the crowd. The best comparison I can make is with Google Earth - the ability to pan and zoom on different sections.

Why this is special is because the stitching between the different images is relatively faultless.

Imagine trying to do this by hand. You take, say, five images panning across the horizon. Your hands wobble, the camera skews and the focal length means that you will get some fish-eyeing or barrel distortion. All of these make it very difficult to get an image which looks perfect in all sections.

Even the so-called expert programmes are not hugely much better. Supposedly they identify common pixels and stitch on that basis. But the results, at least to my eye, are always disappointing.

So that is why this image is so fantastic. Yes it requires specialist equipment and software, but the camera itself is a bog standard point and shoot. And what's more, the equipment and software only costs $379 (admittedly, that's more than most people will pay for a gimmick, but cheap in photo cricles).

Thanks to The LibDigPig team for bringing this to my attention

Friday, 23 January 2009

The wisdom of Jasper

Jasper is my four year old nephew. He was being looked after by my mother on Tuesday and Mum wanted to watch the Obama Inauguration. Because it's not the sort of programming Jasper usually watches, she explained to him that she wanted to watch the most important man in America on TV. Jasper's father (my brother) is off to a trade show in the States. So naturally Jasper assumed that his daddy was about to be on TV. He was most disappointed by the reality.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

On that FOI cock up

I can't even pretend that I can follow just how the Labour Cabinet managed to cock up the decision on MPs expenses. First they were saying that there would be a whipped vote (but that it was all about opening up, not secrecy - oh no). Then it was to be a free vote. And then no vote at all (unless you were Hazel Blears who appeared not to have got the second memo and so was still claiming it would be a free vote. I don't blame her for being confused...)

And don't even get me started on the shoddy attempt to blame to Tories for reneging on a deal.

What is quite clear is that the blogosphere managed a bit of a coup. It was the collective will of a lot of bloggers and the technorati that got this campaign up the agenda.

But what seems to have been ignored by most of the media is that the Lib Dems have been active on this as well. It was Jo Swinson who tabled a motion highlighting the attempt by the Government to sneak privacy in by the back door and it was the Lib Dem front bench who acted to stop the move.

I'm not trying to claim anything like the whole credit for the Party. But it would be nice if the BBC, among many others, recognised just which Party did something on this issue rather than simply dragging in the usual Tory and Labour MPs to shout and scream at each other.

It may be that Lib Dem MPs can come across a bit holier than thou on some issues. But in this case they could be said to have every right.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Obama - borrowing from King, Kennedy... and Bartlet

I watched the Obama Inauguration Speech not expecting too much. Not that I am not a fan. But such a moment needs to send too many messages to too many people to really allow the oratory to soar. Back in the days of JFK, a new President could really let rip. But with today's global media (more than a billion people watched the speech live) there really does need to be a message for every audience and so today couldn't be the time to truly let rip. That moment (hopefully those moments) will come when he is free to concentrate on a single theme rather than having to saying something to everybody.

So what were my impressions of the speech?

Well there was a tad of JFK in there. It is surely expected for every incoming Democrat to borrow from him. Obama remade the 'Ask not...' portion of JFK's inaugural into his own words.

It has to be noted that another aspect also reminded me of Kennedy. There is an audience of the top VIPs seated behind the new president with a stairway directly behind his head. The people in the seats there believe they are so far back as to be out of camera shot. They do not realise that the TV cameras foreshorten things and so every movement they make is picked up and seen around the world. In JFKs case there is a woman (I believe Mrs Johnson) who spends most of the speech burying herself in her muffler. There is also someone who sits on the stairs to hear better - and therefore appears in the entire shot. Today we had someone standing near the back who is recording the speech on a cameraphone (I think) and had to be moved out of the way by someone who realised he was ruining the carefully planned clean shot.

Perhaps the biggest borrow was from Martin Luther King. Not surprising perhaps. But I recognised the form and content of much of the 'I have a dream' speech in Obama's words.

And finally there was Jed Bartlet. As soon a Dianne Feinstein announced that YoYo Ma was to play as part of the musical interlude I was reminded of one of the classic episodes of the West Wing.

It has to be said that if Obama manages to combine JFK, MLK and Bartlet in the future then I will be a happy bunny (although perhaps the likes of Iain Dale won't be)

Monday, 19 January 2009

My desert island discs of the day

With thanks to the BBC for the link to one...

Dooby dooby doooo, dooby do, dooby do do do

and to YouTube for this one...

Go on, you know you want to

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Anglers face Eurocracy

Sea Anglers are to be brought into the Common Fisheries under plans from the EU according to the BBC.

At a stroke, a large number of jobs will be lost from the tourism industry, huge amounts of paperwork will be created and there will be virtually nil impact on fish stocks.

At the moment, commercial trawling is regulated by the CFP to preserve fish stocks. As is well documented, this has had some benefit to fish numbers, but also leads to lots of problems in terms of paperwork and dumped fish.

Sea anglers are not currently regulated. Some are serious fishermen who catch a reasonable number of fish (but tend to do so in a sustainable way, and still nothing to seriously dent the numbers caught by trawlers) and others fall into the day tripper tourist category. Trippers catch some fish, they tend not to be experts and it is more about fun than fishing. But they have to be taken out by somebody and so boats and skippers are kept in business by this trade. Almost every coastal town will offer these excursions.

Requiring boat skippers to register and apply for licences will cost them money and lead to many of them leaving an already precarious business. And the net gain in terms of fish preserved will be so minimal as to be completely without worth.

Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this proposal is that the EU Commission is trying to preserve sole - a severely over-fished species. The trouble is that sole is a sea bed dwelling fish and is almost never caught by anglers.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Ryanair in danger of being labelled hypocrites

Ryanair are threatening to sue Cornwall County Council over the recent temporary closure of Newquay airport.

The airport used to be owned and managed by the RAF. Back in December, the RAF handed over ownership of the base to the County Council. The requirements for a civillian airport differ from those which are owned by the military. CCC therefore had to do urgent works to the land and the airport had to close while these were done as a safety certificate couldn't be signed off until they were.

Ryanair objected to this move and promptly cancelled their flights from the airport until March.

They now claim that their reputation as well as their business has been damaged because they cancelled flights at the last minute.

FACT: In November, Ryanair cancelled flights on two routes from Newquay without warning and held on to money paid by customers who had already paid for these flights for a number of weeks.

Graham Stringer - the MP for the planet pillock

Back in the days of yore, I used to work for Peter Brand who became the MP for the Isle of Wight between 1997 and 2001. Peter had (still has) many great causes that are close to his heart, but one that mattered to him even more than most was dyslexia.

Both Peter's wife and son are dyslexic. And both Peter and Jane would work very hard to make sure that people suffering from dyslexia were not abandoned by the education system as being too difficult or thick to teach and they campaigned hard to make sure they were kept in mainstream schools. They also both dedicated a lot of time to campaign groups on behalf of people with dyslexia.

I so wish that Peter was still in the Commons at this moment.

Labour MP Graham Stringer has claimed that dyslexia is a made up condition designed by education chiefs to cover up for shoddy teaching. This is such an insult to those with dyslexia (and to teachers for that matter). And Peter would have been the one to give him stick.

How can a person who was apprently taught so badly that a made up condition was assigned to them go on to become a successful GP as Jane Brand has - and still exhibit noticeable signs of dyslexia? (Insert your own joke about GP's handwriting.) Surely if she was taught so badly then she should never have had a career. Instead, her natural abilities have helped her to overcome the condition to a great extent and become a better person than Graham Stringer will ever be.

(And yes, I did want to make the headline stronger, but the wrath of the naughty word filters made me change it)

My ghast is well and truly flabbered

Why would anyone want one of these in the first place?

It's art, but not for the po-faced

It always gladdens my heart to see the po-faced taken down a peg or two. And the Czech artist David Czerny has certainly managed it with his sculptures commissioned by the Czech government to celebrate their EU Presidency.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dave Cameron - man of the people (with a £92 bin)

Perhaps David Cameron will come to regret doing his interview with Andrew Marr from his own home. I know that he has taken the decision to open up his home and his family to the media (something Nick Clegg has refused to do) and that is fair enough if you are prepared to cross that threshold.

But the BBC staff apparently took agin what they perceived as high-handedness (surely another example of BBC bias).

And then the line went down three times during the course of the piece.

And now the Guardian has published a 'How to live like Cameron' piece identifying all his fixtures and fittings and how much they cost. What got me was that they reckon the bin in his kitchen cost £92.

I'm sorry, but who spends almost a hundred pounds on a bin?

And then they trashed his bookshelves reckoning that many of the books were ones he had never read and only had there for show.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Farewell Bill Stone

A subject that rarely fails to bring a lump to my throat is that of the remaining World War One veterans and so it is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Bill Stone, one of the last four servicemen of the Great War.

A stoker in the Royal Navy during both wars, he joined up on his 18th birthday to serve in the final two months of the first war and was then involved in a number of actions, including the Dunkirk evacuations in the second.

I know that this idea has been around for a while, but I believe that it would be appropriate for the passing of the last of these great men to be marked by a state funeral. I sincerely hope that it will be some years to come, but it is right that the Government address the issue now. The sacrifices made by their generation should be marked in a proper way and I believe that there can be no more fitting tribute.

Is it just me... because I really don't get Twitter

Am I alone? Everyone else seems to be 'following' all sorts of people. They range from the great and the good - Stephen Fry - to politicians and political commentators - such as Dale - to mates.

I suppose I can vaguely see the idea of following a mate. It would tend to be someone you know very well. You know their personality, their likes and dislikes and you can get the jokes they will inevitably make.

But strangers? Nope - bypasses me completely.

And despite having read his blog for a few years and met him a couple of times, Iain Dale still qualifies as a stranger in this regard. I like his blog and will continue to read it. He has arguments which he is able to develop in a blog post and, like them or loathe them, they are something I enjoy reading. But half sentences on the minutiae of his life - simply not interested (nothing personal Iain). Even today's news that he is off to live blog Cameron direct is not interesting. I'll happily read the blog, but I don't need to know it's on its way - and I suspect that few really do. The same goes for most political acquaintances. I like talking about politics with them but political thought is not a subject that can be truncated to a few words (save for the greatest of soundbites).

Even with the maginificent Mr Fry, I have no desire to latch on to his every tweet. I'm an avid viewer of QI and all things Fry on the TV - even the shamefully truncated America. I even read his gadget column in the paper (before it got binned). But I can't imagine that his Twitterings will do anything other than disappoint in the long run.

Dr Pack will no doubt cast me into utter darkness, but I cannot get why voters would want to sign up to follow a candidate. It strikes me as just too, well, stalkerish.

So here's another of those Downfall mash-ups (and even these aren't as good as they used to be).

Am I getting old?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

On Prince Harry

Prince Harry is all over the papers and media today after the News of the World published quotes and the video of him referring to his colleagues in racist terms.

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have made strong comments on the issue.

But to me it seems that the media have blown the issue up far beyond its worth. I have no doubt that the comments were both stupid and offensive. The terms used are derogatory and racist. I don't think it matters that the 'Paki' comment was used as a nickname for a friend - that perhaps even makes it worse. And the twisting and turning by St James' Palace to imply that 'raghead' was simply a reference to insurgents does Harry no favours.

But these comments were made three years ago. Since then Harry seems to have cleaned up his act. He has apologised for his comments and if we take that apology at face value and accept that he knows why his words were wrong then that should be the end of it.

The public should be looking instead to the News of the World to apologise for some of its borderline racist references and for stirring up hatred of all kinds in its pages week after week.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Meerkats and markets

Thanks to Peter Black for reminding me...

Great site - visit.

Following a meerkat on twitter anyone?

Does God exist?

It is one of the most contested discussions in the history of mankind. It has pitted clerics against philosophers for many centuries. Does God exist? And if so, what form does God take? Is it Allah, the Christian God or should we be talking about gods plural? (Note: other belief systems are also available)

Well, the good news is that there will shortly be a decision on the matter.

And who better to take it than the Advertising Standards Authority. They have received a complaint from the organisation Christian Voice (firmly in the Yes camp) who object to the atheist bus campaign and their slogan 'There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'.

For those who don't know, the bus campaign was put together by the British Humanist Association (No camp) and leading supporters such as Richard Dawkins.

Christian Voice claim that there is a God and that this can be proven via peoples' experiences and beliefs. So they have reported the campaign slogan on the grounds of truthfulness.

So the ASA must decide whether the statement 'There's probably no god' is true or not.

Good luck guys...

Psst - wanna win some dosh?

Ladbrokes have become the first bookmaker to try to tempt political punters into the fray by offering odds on a range of seats for the General Election.

Because of the boundary changes there are many unknowns out there. Detailed study will pay dividends but real inside knowledge will shine here. I suspect that Ladbrokes have actually been quite clever. Few punters will want to go the whole hog on a bet this far out when just about anything can happen to swing the result before a polling day which may well be 15 months away. But the spread of bets and the amount bet by known shrewdies will steer the firm so that they are able to avoid making any gaffes come the election campaign proper and the time that the big money flows.

So where is the value?

Watford is the best three horse race in the country. You can take your pick from the usual arguments but the 6/4 against Sal Brinton winning for the Lib Dems looks good. I would want a whole lot more than 9/4 to tempt me into backing Claire Ward to hang on.

Martin Tod is 5/6 to hold Winchester for the Lib Dems - the same price as the Tories. I know that there will be a decent fight there, but the Lib Dems have to be the favourites.

In Leeds North West, Greg Mulholland is only 4/6 to hold on. Having seen him at work I would think he is a fair bit safer then that.

Bridget Fox will be a fantastic MP if she is elected for Islington South and Finsbury, but having her at 1/2 is too short - it will be a tougher battle than that. That makes the 6/4 against Labour good value (before anyone starts on me, betting is about value, not about who you want to win or lose).

And finally, the market on Brent Central is simply barmy. Having two sitting MPs battling it out should make it close. How they have Dawn Butler as short as 2/5 and Sarah Teather as long as 15/8 I do not know. It will be close, but this is a great chance to win stacks of cash even this far out.

Thanks to Political Betting for pulling together the odds

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Political Games - or should that be gaming

This article about a computer games publisher is interesting. He is offering a free copy of his game to MPs and Members of Congress as well as to candidates for 'real' elected office. He wants them to practice governing before they do so for real.

Yes, it's publicity for his game and yes, the outcomes depend on the prejudices inherent in the game (as one commentator wrote - if a communist wrote the game then anyone playing as a capitalist would lose). But it might be fun for the political anoraks among us. (Hint, if you are reading this then you probably qualify)

Will any Lib Dem MPs be up for giving it a go?

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Well worth the effort

You might say that the efforts to get the game on were worthwhile. The Cornish All Blacks beat Waterloo by 103-5 and scored 16 tries in the process - it's only worth a single bonus point though!

Only three games made it to kick off in the league and Redruth drew and Mounts Bay lost, so we gain lots of ground on the Reds.

An added bonus was that the Rugby Paper rang me at half time begging for photos - so more coverage for the club an more cash for me.

Almost everyone seemed to score a try and new boy Jason Luff got a hat trick with his first three touches of the ball. Waterloo never gave up and I hope they manage to overcome their financial woes.

Magic Arrers

We went to the pub last night and watched the Spurs game. After it finished, the pub switched over to coverage of the darts world championship - the Sky version. It was totally enthralling. I'm not a massive fan, but the match between Raymond van Barneveld and Jelle Klaasen was incredible. It was played at such a huge pace as to be hypnotic. And as for Barneveld's 9 dart finish - perfection.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Trying to keep the game on

Inspired by the efforts of Exeter Racecourse (see below) I spent this afternoon with a group of others trying to make sure that tomorrow's rugby match between the Cornish All Blacks and Waterloo goes ahead.

As you can see from the pictures, we've had a bit of frost in the last few days and if it reoccurs tonight then the match will be called off. As the club makes most of its income from match days - the tickets, the bars and so on - we need the match to go ahead. This is particularly the case as we haven't had a home match since December 6th.

So we used huge rolls of thick brown paper as well as large carboard sheets and a silage tarp to cover up the areas of the pitch most susceptible to frost and we now have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for cloud cover.

Racing again

I had an interesting day at Exeter races again yesterday working for the Racing Post. For those who do not know, Haldon Racecourse is sited on top of a hill and so the temperature never made it above freezing. Quite how they managed to keep racing on (albeit just hurdles), I don't know.

Today's paper brought a couple of my images to the general public, a shot of conditional jockey Harry Skelton (son of famous showjumper Nick) and one of horses racing past a frozen bit of birch.

The photos here are some of the other shots from the day.