Thursday, 30 July 2009

Testing out m'new ukulele strings - I feel a Prom coming on

Inspired by Alex Foster's blog post about his new uke and the upcoming Prom by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, I've restrung my uke and got down to some serious training.

  Ladies and gentlemen, our soloist tonight, etc, etc...

  Anyway: snippets from Stairway to Heaven and (for balance) Highway to Hell.

  Who else is in?


Download now or listen on posterous
Stairway to Heaven.mp3 (406 KB)

Download now or listen on posterous
Highway to Hell.mp3 (289 KB)

Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Liberty Street (contains font irony)

Liberty Street, London SW9, is an enviable address with a suitably distinctive street sign.
Unusually for London, the sign features The Village Font, (a derivative of Albertus™) which was used in the 1960s TV drama The Prisoner.
Bonus font fact: Liberty Street is just around the corner from the Type Museum in Hackford Street.
Tantalisingly, the museum is not open to the public at present. As with the Village in the Prisoner series, I'd like to know what one has to do to end up inside...

Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Have Microsoft bottled it?

Tastes a bit like Google juice...

Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

ÜberTwitter vs TwitterBerry

I downloaded ÜberTwitter to my BlackBerry recently - it does so many things that TwitterBerry can't.
These are the ones I like in particular:

  1. On the ÜberTwitter icon, the umlaut accent marks change from green dots to red stars when new tweets come in, without you having to launch the app
  2. Tweets are appended with your (approx) location on a Google Map - don't worry, it's optional but can be useful for campaigning, events, or just showing off when you're on holiday ;-) When readers click through, they see something like the above screenshot
  3. Photos are embedded in tweets without having to click through to them - although you can, if you want to enlarge or go to the hosting site
  4. You can take photos and post them directly within tweets. No need to set up a separate account anywhere, ÜberTwitter takes care of it all by posting an ÜberPic complete with the number of views
  5. You can look at a user's timeline in isolation
  6. There's a retweet command (TwitterBerry had me doing a lot of copying and pasting)
  7. Reply all - useful for when you want to reply to a tweet containing several usernames without keying them all in
  8. Reply to DMs as DM, not @ (to avoid those awkward moments - what Auntie used to call "showing your petticoat." We've all done it...)
  9. Hashtag search
  10. Trending topic search
  11. Search friends and followers (and your friends' and followers' friends and followers... Huge time-sink alert!)
  12. Look for twitterers near you: "Everyone near you"
  13. It updates differently. Whereas TwitterBerry automatically updates to view the most recently posted tweets, so that you have to scroll down and read the rest in reverse-chron, ÜberTwitter saves your place at the last tweet you viewed, then you can scroll up and read in order.
  14. Shows the bio of a user when you click on one of their tweets.
  15. Favourites: you can mark them and view them, plus those of your friends (encore huge time-sink!)
  16. You can delete your tweets
  17. There is an Unfollow command
  18. You can follow conversation threads
  19. You can select "load more" to view even more tweets from a selected timeline
  20. It shows which twitter client other twitterers used to post their tweets (I take a nerdy interest in such things and know others who admit to the same...)
Automatic URL shortening is promised for the next release - excellent!
It would also be nice to have:
  1. Umlaut accent marks turning a different colour when "@" replies or DMs are received, or getting an asterisk like the BlackBerry Facebook icon does
  2. Ability to view sent DMs as well as received ones
  3. Ability to post short sound files in tweets
Although I really liked TwitterBerry, I've taken to ÜberTwitter straight away - it's helped me find so much more information, and easily too.
Have you tried it yet?  Which features do you like/use a lot?
Download ÜberTwitter here.

Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

Monday, 20 July 2009

Chocolate, 70s nostalgia & avuncular humour

Treets are back!
I used to buy them with my pocket money.
They were the 70s forerunner to M&Ms and inspired an uncle to tell the following awful/brilliant joke, long after they'd stopped making them. (I don't think he'd realised).
Anyhoo, drumroll please...
"Once I got a peanut stuck in my ear, so I poured in some chocolate and it came out a Treet."
Best bit was the baffled audience. Now it's my turn to be baffled, as I've found Treets in a stub on Wikipedia:

Posted via email from Helen Duffett's posterous

Sunday, 19 July 2009

BikeTubes: 100 more guided rides for cycle commuting beginners

Following the success of Bike the Strike in June, the London Cycling Campaign announces:

LCC will be running 10 BikeTube rides a week for 10 weeks this summer in an attempt to encourage more novice cyclists to ride to work.

Working in partnership with Transport for London, who will be publicising the led rides through their website, LCC will provide experienced marshals to guide hundreds of new cyclists from the suburbs into central London.

Details of when and where the rides will go have yet to be finalised, so be sure to check back on the LCC news pages or the BikeTube website soon.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Laura Ingalls: From Little House to White House?

It's time to go public: I'm fascinated by Little House on the Prairie - both the books and the US TV series. I love the way that stories from the 19th century, published as books in the 1930s, were re-interpreted in a TV series in the 1970s, with all the hairstyles and political context that went with the time.

It can be watched in a cosy Sunday-evening, motherhood-and-apple-pie way, or more critically, in a "what's wrong with this picture?" way. (I'm thinking in particular of the portrayal of character sterotypes such as people with disabilities, tinkers, outsiders, strangers, the socially inept - there's a strong and stylised strand of "us and them" throughout many of the episodes.)

I watch it with my family, who like it on all these levels, and it provokes some great discussions.

Now Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls in the show, has published her autobiography, Prairie Tale.

Now aged 45, Melissa speaks to Newsweek about her child-stardom, her dorkiness, her alcoholism and whether she has political aspirations:

Watch the clip here.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Arrested for being tall?

Dismayed, but not surprised, that police are still arresting photographers for taking photos in public places - without reasonable suspicion that these are connected with terrorism or other illegal acts.

Last week Kent police arrested 5' 11" Alex Turner who had refused to show his ID after being challenged in Chatham High Street.

From The Register:

According to his blog, our over-tall photographer Alex Turner was taking snaps in Chatham High St last Thursday, when he was approached by two unidentified men. They did not identify themselves, but demanded that he show them some ID and warned that if he failed to comply, they would summon police officers to deal with him.

This they did, and a PCSO and WPC quickly joined the fray. Turner took a photo of the pair, and was promptly arrested. It is unclear from his own account precisely what he was being arrested for. However, he does record that the WPC stated she had felt threatened by him when he took her picture, referring to his size - 5' 11" and about 12 stone - and implying that she found it intimidating.

Turner claims he was handcuffed, held in a police van for around 20 minutes, and forced to provide ID before they would release him. He was then searched in public by plain clothes officers who failed to provide any ID before they did so.

Following his release, he further claims that the police confirmed he was at liberty to take photographs, so long as - according to the PCSO - he did not take any photographs of the police.

See Alex Turner's blog for photos and his copy of the Search record form issued by Kent Police.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Cllr Milton Martin defects to Waltham Forest Lib Dems

A Labour councillor in Waltham Forest, north-east London, has defected to the Liberal Democrats after he and five colleagues were deselected by their own party last month.

From the Waltham Forest Guardian:

Cathall member Cllr Milton Martin made the switch after he was spurned by the party in a major cull, it has been confirmed.

He said: “It's true that I've crossed the floor and I'm no longer part of the Labour group.

“It's to do with the deselection but it's a long story and it's also to do with a catalogue of things that have taken place over the last 12 years I've been a councillor.”

Cllr Martin has not yet given the full reason for the shift but has said a statement will be released in due course.

Forest member Cllr Faiz Yunis confirmed that he too has been deselected but has said he will not yet comment on reports that he is set to follow Cllr Martin's lead.

He said: “As far as I've heard, the process has been suspended. There's an inquiry by the regional Labour party."

Councillor John Macklin, leader of the Lib Dem group, confirmed that the party had been approached by "a number of Labour Councillors... the circumstances surrounding the deselection of sitting Labour councillors have obviously generated a lot of anger amongst many members of their group."

The Liberal Democrat group now has 21 councillors - their highest total to date - while Labour have 24.

Neil Woollcott comments over on his blog:
I am not necessarily convinced that is a true defection. Does the Liberal Democrat values really reflect Councillor Martin's values or is it a point scoring exercise against his old guard?

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Nick Clegg in Twitter-only interview: 4pm today

From the Independent:

Twitterers and readers of the Independent are to interview Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on Wednesday, in a question and answer session delivered purely through Twitter. It will take place live on Wednesday July 15th at 4pm (BST).

So we're looking for Twitterers around the world to join with us to help put questions to Mr Clegg - we are working with Tweetminster, the estimable company that focuses on UK politics and brings news and commentary together with its Twitter service (of which, more soon), and we will launch the first ever (well, so far as we know) Twinterview with a major political figure. The idea is to bring politicians and citizens closer, using the mechanisms of the web to open up new channels between them. So please ask your questions and get your followers and fellow twitterers to do the same.

To ask Nick Clegg a question simply tweet your question to @IndyPolitics with the hashtag #tweetclegg . Questions will be filtered by @IndyPolitics and answered by Nick through his account @Nick_Clegg. Tweetminster (@tweetminster) will be re-tweeting all the questions and answers too. To follow the Twinterview make sure you’re following all the accounts involved (@IndyPolitics, @Nick_Clegg and @tweetminster).

You can start sending your questions in now and also tweet them in live during the interview.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Nick Clegg at Reuters: the highlights #askclegg

Nick Clegg received hundreds of questions yesterday during his "Ask Clegg" event with Reuters. It was an online version of the Lib Dem leader's Town Hall meetings, where members of the public were invited to ask Nick any question they liked.

These were received in a variety of ways, including via the Reuters website, on Twitter and even from Christian Payne (aka @Documentally) in the back of a London cab:

Lynne Featherstone was fielding questions from Lib Dem grassroots members, from the HQ at Cowley St, and has written about it on her blog. Jo Swinson was interviewed on her use of social media in politics.

You can see photos from the day and there's even a caricature by Matt Buck.

Looking forward to getting the on-demand version of the videos, and when those are ready I'll post them here.

The verdict overall was that Nick answered a good variety of questions, if in a little too much detail for the genre and sheer number of questions submitted. Many of those who'd put questions via Twitter also tweeted afterwards that they were pleased with the answers, and the hashtag #askclegg was trending in third place yesterday lunchtime.

An interesting experiment, another way to engage with voters, and worth doing again in the future.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Brian Coleman was wined and dined before awarding contract

Such hospitality - it's astounding!

Not only did Asset Co treat Brian Coleman (London Assembly Member and Chair of the London Fire Authority) to three dinners and a Harvey Nicks hamper before the LFA awarded it a £12 million contract - but also Mayor Boris Johnson continues to give him house room at City Hall.

After his huge taxi bills and refusal to publish his expenses at the same time as the other Assembly Members, Coleman has outstayed London's welcome - but when will Boris do something about it?

Adam Bienkov at Tory Troll has the story:

The London Fire Authority have awarded a £12 million contract to a company that lavished hospitality on its Chairman Brian Coleman.

Asset Co and its chief Executive Mr. John Shannon took Brian Coleman to dinner on three separate occasions.

On a fourth occasion, Brian Coleman accepted a Harvey and Nichols hamper from Mr Shannon at an estimated value of £350.

The relationship between Coleman and Mr Shannon only came to light because of a Freedom of Information request placed by this blog earlier this year.

Unlike the London Assembly, the Gifts and Hospitality registers for members of LFEPA are not available online.

The Asset Co contract is for a force of reserve firefighters, to be used in the case of industrial action and major incidents.

Members of the authority say that the contract was awarded on a purely competitive basis, and that Asset Co were agreed upon on a cross-party basis.

However, London's Fire Brigade union are not convinced.

A LFBU spokesperson said yesterday:

"AssetCo’s wining and dining tactics might appear to have paid dividends for them, but I have no doubt that many of the volunteers, being ex-firefighters themselves, will refuse to participate when they realise how they will be used."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Open sewer cover is texting teen's downfall‏

Every now and again you come across a blog post that has everything. Lucky finds - I love 'em. No such happy happenstance for Alexa Longueira, 15, who fell down an open sewer cover in New York while texting on her mobile phone. Workers had removed the cover before going back to their truck to get cones to put around the hole.

From POPFi:

The sewer is a horrifying/fascinating place. On one hand, everything we flush down the toilet ends up there, which makes the sewer horrible and gross. On the other hand, everything anyone else flushes down the toilet ends up there, which makes it a fascinating haven for alligators, giant pythons, and ninja turtles. Personally, I would never want to explore the sewer, but Alexa Longueira got the chance to when she fell down an open manhole in New York this weekend while tapping out a text message on her phone.

Now, maybe we should cut Alexa some slack because she was preparing for the world texting championships, but I kind of doubt it. Odds are she was like everyone else who texts while walking, completely wrapped up in the message she was typing out with her thumbs. It’s so easy to take things for granted (like the fact that there won’t be a giant gaping hole in front of you) while texting that it’s not a surprise she fell through the sewer grate.

I hadn't even realised there was a world texting championship (Might just limber up me thumbs in time for next year...)

Better still, I hadn't realised that New York has its own manhole cover abbreviation language.

UK readers be warned, however: studying sewer drain covers too closely can get you into deep, er... water...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Nick live online now in virtual Town Hall Meeting #askclegg

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg is taking questions live now at an online social media event at Reuters.

Watch here, but most importantly, put your questions to him!

You can do this at the Reuters website, or via Twitter - remember to include the hashtag #askclegg in your tweets so that they will be picked up and passed on.

I'm at Lib Dem HQ with Lynne Featherstone MP, chair of the Liberal Democrat Technology Board, and we'll be passing on questions from grassroots activists gathered here.

You can also ask questions in the comments thread below - until 2pm today.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Friday, 10 July 2009

UPDATED: Facebook disables Tom Brake's account

Tom Brake has now managed to get in contact with Facebook who have advised him that his account was automatically suspended when their system detected an unusually large amount of traffic to and from his account.

Clearly, a social network originally set up for networking amongst university peers needs to evolve to cope with new types of users and their networks, balancing communications amongst large groups with safeguards against spam.

Facebook say they are working hard to get Tom's account back up.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, has had his Facebook account disabled just hours after he used it to organise a large public demonstration in his constituency.

Tom, who last year became one of the first MPs in Britain to offer his constituents regular online advice surgeries, is widely noted in the media for his use of the internet to engage with the public.

Hundreds of people gathered last night in Wallington town centre to protest against the axing of the N213 night bus service. They were mobilised largely through the Save the N213 Facebook group which had grown to over 2,000 members - Tom Brake was one of the administrators.

This morning he found that his account had been disabled and that he had been removed as admin from several groups, including "Save the N213."

Tom said:

“Much of my casework now comes through Facebook – the bizarre and heavy-handed decision to disable my account only hours after a protest organised through the social-networking site, severely disadvantages my constituents who rely on the net to contact me.”

“I’ve sought to use Facebook to keep local people informed about my work on their behalf, and I’ve seen an overwhelming response to this way of engaging with people.”

“I’m surprised and disappointed that in this high-technology era Facebook believes it’s appropriate to delete the accounts of elected representatives without warning, who are seeking to engage with the public.”

“The N213 protest illustrates the power of social networking sites to mobilise people quickly and effectively as part of a campaign – the event was a huge success, but Facebook’s decision to withdraw my account is a setback to the campaign, and to my constituents.”

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Join Nick Clegg online for The Great Debate

News from Nick Clegg of an exciting online event next Monday:

On Monday we can change the way we do politics. Every week I travel around the country to meet people in their local town halls and listen to their views. Anyone can come along and ask me (just about) anything and in return I get a pretty good picture of how people across the UK feel about politics and how they are being affected by the recession.

Next week I am going to do another of my public Q&A meetings, but this time it is going to be live and online so that you can ask me your questions from home, your work or wherever you happen to be online. There will be no script and no special invitations - just get in touch and ask a question on subjects that concern you.

The one thing that keeps coming up again and again is the state of our politics and how we can clean it up. Many people say they would like to see action taken against MPs who seriously abuse the system. But currently voters have no power to sack those MPs who have been found guilty of serious wrong-doing. I want to change this and make politicians more accountable and politics more transparent. I am keen to hear your ideas.

This has never been done before so, on Monday 13th July post your questions and let’s discuss how we can clean up politics and fix the British economy.

Nick Clegg

For full details, see the Reuters website.

At the same time, Lynne Featherstone MP (chair of the Lib Dem Technology Board) will be holding a discussion with grassroots activists at Lib Dem HQ, and feeding their questions back to Nick. I'll be there throughout, covering the event for Lib Dem Voice.

Jo Swinson MP (who regularly offers the finest twitter coverage of Prime Minister's Questions, and has campaigned for coverage of Parliament to be available on YouTube) will be taking part over at Reuters, discussing her use of social media in her work.

Join us online on Monday 13 July at 1pm!

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Brian Coleman in "mad, bad and sad" expenses smokescreen

London Assembly Member Brian Coleman is refusing to publish details of his expenses, despite the Mayor, his advisors and the other 24 members of the Assembly agreeing to do so voluntarily.

Apparently a graduate of the Anthony Steen Charm School for Politicians, Coleman has blamed bloggers for being interested in how taxpayers' money is spent:

"I won't do it voluntarily. It's none of the public's business. They have coped well without knowing this kind of detail for more than 75 years. They are not entitled to drool over our personal lives. I'm not going to help the mad, bad and the sad, the bloggers on the internet. I'm not pandering to mob rule. It undermines democracy to suggest that all MPs, all politicians are the spawn of Beelzebub.

“Politicians with lower expenses tend to be the politicians who do least work. Those with higher expenses are the ones who do most work.” [London Evening Standard]

Hard to see how "the most work" extends to running up a £378 taxi bill, mostly as a result of asking a cab to wait from him with the meter running while he attended a banquet.

Even Mayor Boris Johnson is said to be "disappointed" at Coleman's lack of transparency.

See Adam Bienkov's analysis at Tory Troll on why Brian Coleman is an expensive liability for Boris.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Ashdown method: MP in 14 steps

How do you become an MP?

MP also stands for Military Precision, so it's no surprise that Paddy Ashdown's campaign to become MP for Yeovil was long on discipline and short on creature comforts.

The Guardian Politics Blog reviews Ashdown's autobiography A Fortunate Life, or at least chapter 10 of it:

If you want to become MP you should get a safe seat. But if that doesn't happen, and your only option is to campaign in a constituency where your party doesn't seem to have much chance of winning, then you should definitely take some inspiration from the remarkable story in chapter 10 of Paddy Ashdown's autobiography, A Fortunate Life.

Ashdown was enjoying a successful career as a diplomat (and spy) when, in the mid-1970s, he was afflicted by the desire to become an MP. Nothing particularly unusual about that. But Ashdown wanted to be a Liberal MP, and he wanted to represent Yeovil, a seat where the Liberals were third in the October 1974 election, more than 7,000 votes behind the Tories, who had held the constituency for most of the 20th century. Any normal aspiring MP would have given it a wide berth. But Ashdown gave up his Geneva-based job, moved to Yeovil in 1976 and set to work. He was eventually elected to the Commons in 1983. Chapter 10, which describes how he got there, is the longest chapter in his book and the best description of a successful grassroots campaign I've read in any British political biography.

How did he do it? See here for the Guardian's précis (including the roles of technology, rhubarb wine and "Clarissa"); you can also order the book here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bercow: deputy speakers should be elected

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, today told the House that his new deputy speakers should be elected by MPs.

From the BBC:

In a statement, he told MPs he wanted two deputy speakers from the government side and one from the opposition side.

He is believed to be concerned that following his own election by secret ballot last month the three deputies should also be elected.

Mr Bercow indicated he had consulted party whips, who normally appoint the deputy speakers, about the plan.

It is thought that Mr Bercow is looking to implement the changes - or to start the process of change - after the summer recess.

Electing the deputy speakers could raise a question of political balance - traditionally the Speaker and his three deputies have been chosen to reflect the strength of the various parties in the Commons.

The three current deputy speakers are Conservative MPs Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Michael Lord, who were both among the MPs defeated by Mr Bercow in the contest to be Speaker, and Labour's Sylvia Heal, who did not stand."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.