Tuesday 23 December 2008

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Is parliament finished?

"...Parliament has entirely forfeited and lost its ability for independent decision making."

Dominic Grieve, Tory Shadow home secretary, Newsnight tonight.

Well that's it then. The end of democracy in the UK?

This is astonishing stuff. A Tory mole in the home office, posing as a whistleblower. The police failing to follow procedure, and Parliament unable to ask basic questions to protect its own privacy.

Sorry, we just make the law, don't expect us to understand it, too!

Ok, well nobody's actually said that yet, but...

The Speaker said he "had not been told the police did not have a search warrant". Did he not ask? What's the smiley for absolutely bloody astonished!? He also said "Every case must be referred for my personal decision, as it is my responsibility." So clearly he should resign.

Friday 14 November 2008

National Express top in online train ticketing

There are at least 17 different places you can buy UK train tickets on line. 15 of them are virtually, identical but National Express East Coast offer a better service and cheaper tickets. Here's how.

I've been looking at the different online ticketing schemes in the UK. There are 15 train operators, two independent retailers (thetrainline.com and raileasy.com), and Network Rail offering online ticketing services. They all offer timetable search, and will all sell you tickets - except Network Rail, who will find tickets and prices, but forward you to one of the other sites for purchasing.

The surprising thing is that actually, there are only four distinct applications available. All the train operators except National Express East Coast use the same application that thetrainline.com uses. I think the application was originally developed by Cap Gemini for Virgin, under the trainline.com brand. How can I tell? Well looking at the code, they all contain this text: <meta name="keywords" content="trains, times, tickets, timetable, fares, railway, stations, booking, travel information, reservations, trainline, virgin, cap gemini">

Now, there's not much to choose between all the Cap Gemini sites. They're all looking pretty tired now, the navigation is awkward, and the all suffer the same little stupid faults. For example, choosing an outward journey date, you don't have to specify a time, but when you choose a return date.

National Express East Coast make it much easier to choose the price that you want to pay, and find an available train. And, they make it easier to experiment with different dates, routes and so on. It's the only site that lets you do that on the same page that they display the times and prices.

On top of all that, they offer 10% discounts on Advance tickets, something none of the other sites do. So they're cheaper than any other site. The only drawback is that they don't make it easy to see which route the train takes - for example, they show the number of changes that you have to make, but not where those changes are.

Raileasy's site seems a bit wierd to me. It's a bit easier than the cap gemini sites, but offers less choice of outward and return options. One thing they do well is displaying routes.

Monday 10 November 2008

Astronauts, a breed apart.

Astronauts are extraordinary people, but I didn't realise thy were this special. The European Space Agency is selecting a crew for a simulated mission to Mars, and here's how they describe the medical screening:
The final eight candidates are all male, aged between 28 and 39, and come from Denmark, Sweden, Germany (2), France (3) and Belgium.

In Moscow they were put through their paces at the Central Clinical Hospital of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There, for several days, they underwent extensive medical examinations, including an ECG at rest and during exercise, X-ray of chest, spine and cervix, ultrasound of internal organs and blood tests.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Early voting

In the UK, we've been getting a lot more postal ballots in elections. But some states in the US have early voting in person, as well as "mail in", or "absentee", ballots. And the turnout has been phenomenal.

Not all states permit early voting, but still over 23 million have voted, accounting for 12.5% in West Virginia, right up to 66% in North Carolina. Note, these are percentages of the 2004 turnout, not of the electorate.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Population Density

A caller to Any Answers today was allowed to get away with the statement that the UK has the highest population density in Europe. That's not true. It's not even true of England. The UK's population density is 246 people per square kilometer, and England's is 392/km2.

These compare directly with Germany (232) and the Netherlands (395), and Belgium (341) is up there too. Of course, all the city states of Europe have much higher population densities. Here are the top nations in Europe, with their world rankings and population densities.

2 Monaco 16,754
5 Gibraltar (UK) 4,654
6 Vatican City 1,866
8 Malta 1,272
12 Channel Islands (two Crown dependencies) 766
22 San Marino 461
25 Netherlands 395
31 Belgium 341
51 United Kingdom 246
53 Germany 232

Other notable entries in the world list are
1 Macau 18,196
and, all with populations over 10,000 [edit:... 10,000,000]
11 Bangladesh 1,045
15 Taiwan 636
21 South Korea 498
32 Japan 339
33 India 336
39 Sri Lanka 316
45 Philippines 277
48 Vietnam 254

In fact, 26% of people the world (1.7m), and 35% of people in Europe (0.17m) live in countries with population densities at least as high at Germany.

Data source:wikipedia

PS: some local comparators:
Lewes District: 324
East Sussex County: 424
Lewes Town: 1,420
Brighton and Hove: 7,880
London: 12,331

Buddhists with Bottle, Green Religion

Ley found this article about a Buddhist Temple, made of a million beer bottles.

It put me in mind of this solar power project at the Vatican City - 2,700 solar panels on the Paul VI auditorium. Part of a bid to become the first carbon neutral state it the world - mostly through offsetting, though.

So, can we see similar examples from other religions? Well, yes we can. Here in the UK, Levenshulme, Manchester has an eco-mosque. And, there's a green guide for western Muslims, available for download.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois, USA has won a platinum award from the US Green Building Council for their eco-synagogue.

California has a solar powered Hindu temple.

The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (hi, mum!) has built the world's largest solar powered kitchennear Mount Abu, in India. It has an impressive array of parabolic dish concentrators.

Perhaps the ultimate comittment, though, is the designation [PDF] of Lao-tzu as God of Ecological Protection, but a group of Taoist temples.

More on this topic at http://www.arcworld.org/

Sunday 12 October 2008

Upgrades don't cost nowt

How daft is this, from the Apple store? They can't process my "payment" for a set of free software updates!

It turns out that the problem was that my debit card had expired. So, on entering details for its replacement, they ask:

Lessons from Alaska

"I grew up in Deal on the Kent coast - you could see France across the Channel from the end of our street". Antony Hook's manifesto for election to the Lib-Dems International Relations Committee.

There are other reasons to vote for him.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Missing consonants

One may be regarded as unfortunate, but two are worthy of a blog entry. From this week's Sussex Express:
In print:

and online:

Friday 10 October 2008

Pay cuts for the poor.

The lowest paid staff at the University of Sussex are being threatened with a cut in take home pay. It's a result of changes to their pension scheme, which will mean an increase in their pension contributions, and a reduction in the University's contribution.

Naturally, people are upset about this, so Amicus members were out on strike today. Unison are balloting soon.

So, while the city fat cats are still getting their bonuses, the poor are being asked to pay the price.

[Edited to add]:

What the University should do is allow all its staff the join the same USS pension scheme. Then the interests of all staff, including senior management, would be aligned.

Monday 6 October 2008

Independence for Alaska

Is it true that Sarah Pailin used to be a member of the Alaskan Independence Party? The claim is made at 2 minutes 4 seconds into the video, but corrected on their web site. Her husband has been, though.

Saturday 4 October 2008

Why so bloody miserable?

"Why's everyone so bloody miserable about the economy?"

"Because they're worried about losing their jobs, Mr Harris"

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Love her or loathe her?

Cameron's speech:

"Thank God we swapped [Calaghan] for Margaret Thatcher".

"For Labour there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between....no such thing as society... You cannot run our country like that."

Er, but wait a minute...

Saturday 20 September 2008

Boiler Juice

A while ago, I was talking to a colleague about rising heating oil prices. Some people apparently club together with neighbours to arrange group orders. This keeps prices down, and also saves some CO2 because the tankers have less driving around to do, and helps keep rural traffic down a little bit.

I suggested that a web site to assist with these group deliveries would be useful. Of course, I've now discovered that it already exists! BoilerJuice.com has price history charts, arranges buying weekends (they group online orders by postcode), has security tips and products (heating oil theft is rife).

One feature that it's missing, though, is energy efficiency tips. Well, it has user comments on the blog.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Clegg trounces Brown and Cameron

In a Newsnight focus group of 27 floating voters, 3 said they'd vote for Gordon Brown, 4 for David Cameron, and 17 for Nick Clegg - after being shown clips of them talking about the economy. Unfortunately, only one of them had anything to say about him before being shown the clips.

The most effective clip was Clegg talking about how the rich pay less tax than the poor - proportionately to their income of course. For example, the Chief Executive of Northern Rock got a £30k golden handshake, and it wasn't taxed at all!

Saturday 13 September 2008

Changing At Southampton

Well, this seems ok. I'll not be boring my reader with too many posts here. But, I'm also trying out twitted. So check for regular conference updates at http://twitter.com/ianeiloart/

Geolocate this post

Posted with LifeCast

Testing Lifecast

Lifecast is an iPhone application, which allows me to easily blog from my phone. I'm going to try it out while I'm at conference. At he moment, I'm on the train to Brighton.

Geolocate this post

Posted with LifeCast

Thursday 11 September 2008

Day of Paine

Tuesday was something of a day of Paine.

First, I went to the Mayor's "Keep Lewes in the National Park" event. I learned that a new objective for national parks is to preserve cultural heritage. Of course, Lewes having been Tom Paine's home for a while, that cropped up. In fact, a big issue for the campaign is whether Lewes is "embedded in the South Downs". Now, Lewes was built in a gap in the Downs, through which the river Ouse flows (well, one of the many!). That was for two reasons. As a defensive position, it's the site of Lewes Castle and hence the Battle of Lewes. As a trade crossroads (paths along the Downs, and the river), and a port, it became the home of Tom Paine, who was a excise officer in Lewes. So, two of Lewes' most important contributions to national and international history happened because Lewes is embedded in the Downs.

So, that was my first encounter with Paine for the day.

Next, I attended Lewes District Council's cabinet meeting. They discussed an offer by a member of the public to commission a statue of Tom Paine by Marcus Cornish, for display in front of the Library - on district council land. Of course, we Lib-Dems were keen to accept the offer. Two of the Tories though launched into vicious attacks on Paine - calling him a traitor to the country. He wasn't, of course. He may have anti-monarchy, but that's not the same thing. He was also instrumental in the American Revolution, but that was essentially civil war. Anyway, it's all water under the bridge now, and I don't think anyone today would seriously advocate a return to the virtually absolutist monarchy of Paine's time. Or, maybe they would.

That was my second encounter with Paine.

The third, and very welcome encounter, was at the launch of the Lewes Pound. Tom Paine's head is depicted on the Lewes Pound Note. Ironically, or perhaps deliberately, in the place you'd otherwise expect to find the Queen's head. Yay!

Sunday 31 August 2008

Royal harvest.

Here's our harvest of late spuds. 34 pounds of King Edwards. That's
about 15 quids worth.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

ESCC's annual report

East Sussex County Council have just released their annual report. For the first time, it reports carbon (or "environmental') footprint targets.

There's a table of baseline emissions for 2001/2. Unfortunately, it doesn't state the units, but I think they're tonnes of CO2. The total is almost 38,000t, with schools accounting for 61% of that. Street lighting (17%), social services (12%) and business mileage (5.3%) account for most of the rest.

The good news is that their CO2 emissions have dropped by 20% since the baseline year. Unfortunately, they don't give a comparable breakdown, or say how they've achieved this - though they do give some examples.

Friday 15 August 2008

Stuart cutting the cake.

Cutting the cake into 100 trillion pieces.

100 TB Club

The University now has 100TB (100,000GB) of storage on our Storage Area Network, and Dot Hill (our SAN supplier) gave us this cake to celebrate.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Slow travel

An easy no fly option for foreign holidays from Lewes is the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry. The crossing takes four hours, and the scenery can be somewhat uneventful. But what better way to fill the time than brushing up with French lessons? That's such a fantastic idea. OK, so you're not going to get very far if you've never learned any before, but it sounds like a great way to get into the flow and boost your confidence before you arrive.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that Hazel Blears has approved LDC's Planning Application Committee's decision to permit Glyndebourne to build their wind turbine. Not only that, but as an added benefit to the environment the minister has added conditions that Glyndebourne should close their helipad (except for emergency flights), and take action to reduce the number of people arriving by car.

The bad news is that Network Rail have decided that reopening the Lewes to Uckfield line would be technically feasible, but not economically viable. A particular shame in view of the above decision - which would have benefited the economic case for reopening the line.

Legion Parking Services

One way to make an intrinsically unpopular service more acceptable is to appoint a respected organisation to manage it. NCP probably aren't that organisation.

A while ago, I heard that Cambridge City Council use the British Legion to manage their parking scheme. I've repeated the claim a couple of times, but can't remember where I heard it. So, I decided to find out for myself.

A Google search for "Cambridge parking enforcement" found this page, which refers to a contract with "Legion Parking Services". So, is this the British Legion, or has someone been misled by the name? Well, Googling for "Legion Parking Services" turns up their web site at http://www.legiongroup.co.uk/. Sure enough, "Legion Group plc is a subsidiary of the Royal British Legion Attendants Company Trust (RBLA), a registered charity with the aim of promoting employment opportunities for ex servicemen and women. "

Whether you see this as an opportunity to support and reward servicemen and women who have risked their lives for our country, or an way to turn swords into ploughshares, it seems like a pretty good thing to do.

Interestingly, they've been providing parking management services since 1928. Blimey - I guess the job must have changed a lot in that time!

Saturday 3 May 2008

The BBC are reporting that the Lib-Dems won only one council. In fact, we won four, and lost two. Liverpool was also reported as a loss, but we won exactly half the seats, and would have a casting vote. Technically, the result was no overall control, but then an "Independent Labour" candidate joined the Lib Dems, so now we have a majority of two.

I'm particularly pleased about that, having met a couple of our city councillors at conference in Liverpool. I stayed with a cabinet member (as part of a fund-raising B&B scheme), and we went out for drinks with Warren Bradley, the council leader on the Friday night. Here's a photo of me (left) with Warren. We exchanged stories about how exciting politics was in the 80s - his campaigns against Hatton's army sounded more hairy than my efforts at the peace camps.

Working for the enemy

Before the election results were announced, Ken Livingston offered jobs to his three main rivals. His losing the election shows us why he did that. It's easy to make the offer, the electorate think you're being reasonable.

But, if you take the job, then you can't really campaign against your employer at the next election. It's said that you can't win elections, you can only lose them by doing a bad job. Well, in that event, poor performance reflects on the whole team. So, in this example, Ken was invited back into the Labour party a few years ago. He accepted that invitation, and Gordon Brown's cock-ups have reflected on Ken.

Sunday 27 April 2008

Doctor Who's peak oil moment

Doctor Who explains why some solutions to Climate Change won't help with Peak Oil:

The two problems are closely related, and responses need to be carefully evaluated in terms of both (oh, and with land use, too)

Here's a quick list of some possible solutions, with their impacts (+ positive, - negative, = neutral) on the three problems.
Peak Oil Climate Change Land Use
2nd Gen biofuels + + -
Solar Arrays + + -
Wind Power + + =
CO2 Scrubbing = + =
Reduce meat consumption + + +
Coal to liquids + - =

Saturday 26 April 2008

Free our bills

Those nice people at theyworkforyou.com are having a hard time persuading parliament to catch up with the 21st century version of the web. Not surprising really, since for the most part they've got about 150 years of catching up to do. It's a fairly technical campaign, but if you click on the platypus, they'll explain it gently.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Peak Oil - case proven

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has effectively announced that peak oil is upon us (Reuters), also reported by evworld with extensive commentary.

All the speculation about when peak oil will occur has been made with certain assumptions about what Saudi Arabia can do. Now, they've effectively said "that's your lot". They're not going to increase production capacity after next year, and they're going to keep about 10% of their capacity in reserve.

That's huge news, given that they have 25% of the world's oil reserves, and are the largest oil producer and the largest exporter. Russia, second, have already announced that they can't produce more. The US is third in production, and have been in decline since the seventies. While large reserves have been found in Canada, the Canadian government has said that production there must be CO2 neutral, and in any case that oil is going to be very expensive to bring to market.

What this means is that there's no doubt in my mind that oil global oil production has now peaked, or will do so next year. The good news though, is that this economic prudence means that the decline in production will be slow. Whether this will be economically disastrous depends on whether the world can manage its oil consumption properly.

Sadly, none of this will necessarily help with climate change. The danger is that coal fired power stations, and coal to liquid technology will take off. Oh, and of course there's plenty of coal and gas left to ruin the climate.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Peak Oil - lib-dems list

At the suggestion of John Hemming, MP, I've set up a mailing list for Liberal Democrat activists who are interested in peak oil. Any member of the Liberal Democrats can subscribe to the list at http://lists.libdems.org.uk/wws/subscribe/peakoil/. You may need to register your email address - and you'll need your party membership number to do so.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Lewes win the league

Congratualations to Lewes FC! Their 2-0 victory over Dorchester today wins them the Conference South competition. Next season, they'll be playing in the Conference, which means that their results will be reported on TV. They'll be playing against the likes of the mighty Histon, and maybe Cambridge United (teams from my home town).

Local rivals Eastbourne finished second. That puts them in the playoffs, so they could join Lewes in promotion.

Thursday 17 April 2008

The US Army on peak oil

The US Army has published a report "Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations". On page 8: "Oil production is approaching its peak; low growth in availability can be expected for the next 5 to 10 years." They don't say what will happen next, though.

Encouragingly, when talking about security implications, they're not lobbying for more work, but say: "A more equitable distribution of resources is in our best interest for a peaceful future"

Russia hits oil peak

The FT reports that Leonid Fedun, vice-president of Lukoil says Russia's oil production has peaked.

Why does that matter? Because Russia is the world's second largest oil producer, just a shade behind Saudi Arabia, and a shade in front of the USA. All these countries produce more than double the amount that Iran, placed fourth, does. It's also the second largest oil exporter, way ahead of Norway (yes, Norway) in third place.

The USA's production peaked decades ago, and Saudi Arabia is notoriously secretive about its reserves and future production capacity, and there's been a notion that we're going to increasingly rely on Russia for energy in the future. Well, not now, we're not. Basically, the future of oil is down to whether Saudi Arabia can turn up the the pumps, or whether some new reserves will magically appear.

Sunday 6 April 2008

Buffey the snow cat

It doesn't snow much in this part of the world. Today we had the heaviest snow fall that I've seen in the past decade, though. Buffey came out to play.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Race across London

I don't normally do this, but I just found myself watching Top Gear.

It was pretty cool, though. They arranged a race from Kew Bridge to the London City Airport. Richard Hammond cycled, James May drove a 4x4, The Stig took public transport (bus, underground, and light railway), Jeremy Clarkson took a power boat down the Thames.

The boat was restricted to 9mph for part of the journey, but finished the journey at 70mph - there's no speed limit below Wandsworth Bridge. Nevertheless, Richard Hammond won the race on his bike, and the car came dead last!

You can watch it on BBC iPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/ Search for "top gear", the race starts about 40 minutes into episode 5.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Clive James on Privacy

Clive James expounded a great defence of privacy on Radio 4's A Point of View today.

He says: "Most of us are capable of grasping that if everyone could suddenly read everyone else's thoughts then very few people would survive the subsequent massacre…

To live in society at all, we have to keep a reservoir of private thoughts, which, whether wisely or unwisely, we share only with intimates. This sharing of private thoughts is called private life… 

You can still keep your thoughts to yourself - nobody has yet invented a machine that can get into your head and broadcast what it finds - but if you try to communicate those private thoughts to anyone else you run an increasing risk that they will be communicated to everyone."

Now, he wasn't explicit about this, but we use our private thoughts and private conversations to explore ideas. It's most important when we have important or difficult decisions to make. And, people in all walks of life need to be held accountable for the decisions and actions that they take, not for the options that they consider.

Our surveillance society makes it harder and harder to trust people, not because our confidants are more likely to reveal our private indiscretions, but because fewer and fewer of our actions really are private.

There was an example in the news yesterday: 'Cat confession' man not guilty. Now, you'd think that you'd be able to share a confidence with your cats, but this guy was being bugged by the police, when he told his cats "I miss my Joyce". Unfortunately the recording wasn't clear - maybe he mumbled, but he was just talking to his cats - and the police heard "I hit my Joyce", and this appears to have been a pivotal piece of evidence. Fortunately, the jury had a different opinion. So, this leads us to another objection to surveillance - it's inaccurate because it's piecemeal, and it's necessarily lacking in context and clarification.

You can read Clive James' full script, or listen again.

Sunday 24 February 2008


It really irritates me when "environmentalists" speak out against technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It seems like some people think we should just all stay in bed all day, instead of workout ways of doing what we do in better ways.

Today, for example, Virgin Airlines proved that it's possible to fly an airliner using 20% biofuels. Now, the flight itself didn't do that, as only one engine was using the biofuel mix. It's also true that biofuels don't have zero emissions, so the real saving on this flight was quite small. But, it's important to demonstrate the possibilities.

Biofuels are getting bad press from some quarters right now, because (a) they use a lot of land, and (b) farming biofuels uses a lot of fossil fuels. Of course, all those fossil fuels could be replaced with biofuels - at the price of using more land of course.

But, there's good news in PNAS, and in Scientific American this month. Switchgrass, which is a native North American perennial, can produce five times as much energy per hectare than maize, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 94% compared with fossil fuels. Perennials are also much better for soil condition, And, the root systems become extensive thereby locking CO2 into the soil. Switchgrass requires less fertilizer (remember, organic fertilizer production requires lots of land) and less irrigation than maize.

Now, that 94% figure is from a full lifecycle analysis, and hammers any claim that biofuels don't really save CO2 emissions. It doesn't, though, address the land use problem. However, my view is that this just means that we really need to work out how we're going to use land in the future. Most agricultural land, for example, is used to grown meat and dairy products for the developed world. There is some spare agricultural land, that's currently not in use. However, all the remaining productive land is forest, and it would be insane to cut that down in an attempt to save CO2 emissions.

Maybe we should only let vegetarians fly!

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Hard to get

The European Space Agency is reporting findings of gas fields that are Titanic in size. Forget Alasaka, though - these new gas fields add new meaning to the term "hard to get"!

Hard to get

The European Space Agency is reporting findings of hydrocarbons that hugely exceed all known reserves. Forget Alasaka, though - these new gas fields add new meaning to the term "hard to get"!

Friday 8 February 2008

US Elections - environmental outlook

With Super Tuesday over, and candidates dropping out, I thought I'd take a look at what the US presidential elections promise for climate change.

Mitt Romney has dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, leaving three candidates for each party: Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama and Mike Gravel for the Democrats, and John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul for the Republicans.

CNN have a good election web site, and summarise the candidates environmental policies. I've not had time to look a lot deeper than that, but these are my conclusions:

Romney was second in the Republican race, so I was surprised that he dropped out. In fact, John McCain has a good record on the environment - so my worry was that Huckabee and Paul would drop out and put their weight behind Romney, who doesn't look very promising. It seems unlikely to me that either of them could mount a serious challenge to McCain now, but hey, I'm no expert on this.

Anyway, suppose I'm right. What does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with three contenders for the presidency, and every single one of them appears to be committed to developing a nationwide cap and trade system which has the potential to make serious cuts in US CO2 emissions. How committed? So committed that John McCain introduced the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, and Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton are co-sponsors of the Act.

It looks like a serious proposal, and if implemented effectively it could really make a huge difference to US emissions. It also looks at technology transfer barriers, so it could make a difference in the rest of the world, too. There's a short summary you can read. I'm impressed with the imagination that goes into this - for example, there's a requirement to examine barriers in the patent system. One word of warning: if you're anti nuclear power, then you won't like items 10 and 11 of the 20 or so measures proposed.

The other candidates? Well, Mike Gravel is even stronger on the environment, but has picked up no delegates so far. Ron Paul seems pathetically apologist on the environment, but has 16 delegates to John McCain's 714.

Mike Huckabee doesn't seem as bad as Ron Paul, but his web site doesn't even list the environment as an issue. He does talk about energy independence and "oil addiction" in a positive way: "...we have to conserve, and we have to pursue all avenues of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass", but unfortunately the statement opens with "We have to explore, ..." - and that means fossil fuels. So, my hope is that one of the Democrats gets elected, but if the world has to live with another Republican US administration, lets hope they stick with John McCain.

Monday 4 February 2008

Fame at last!

I'm chair of Lewes District Council's Traveller's Working Group. As chair, I attend meetings of the East Sussex Gypsy and Traveller Forum, which last met last Thursday afternoon in Hastings. The start of the meeting was filmed for the Politics Show, South East. My colleague Councillor Carla Butler and I are shown briefly at about 4:48 into the piece -that's us in the centre of this picture. We're on camera for about a second. No speaking. So, a modicum of fame at last!

More importantly, the piece is quite sympathetic to the problems that Gypsies and Travellers face, and the problems that councils face in trying to find land for them. You can read an article about the search for land, or watch the show - at least until Sunday 10th Feb.

Councillor Tom Jones, who represents Ditchling ward on Lewes District Council, does a good interview alongside Emma Nuttall (also very good) of Friends, Families and Travellers. Between them, they describe why it's essential for local authorities to find enough sites for Gypsies and Travellers to rent or buy - currently about 25% of travellers are homeless.

I should clarify a couple of points. There's a suggestion at one point that we're to find 47 pitches. The context implies this is 46 pitches in Lewes District, but in fact that's the figure for East Sussex (including 14 in Brighton and Hove). There's also a suggestion that problems are caused by a "small minority of the Gypsy community". In fact, travelling groups in England fall into at least three quite distinct categories: Romany Gypsies who arrived in the fifteenth century probably originating from India; Irish Travellers who date back to the Cromwellian era; and "new" or "new age" travellers who are a more modern group making a life-style choice which is partly political and partly driven by soaring house prices. Each of these groups contains minorities that cause problems, but all three communities suffer prejudice and opposition to almost every attempt to find somewhere to live - even when it's on their own land.

The most shocking example in the film is that of Linda Smith, who was told to get back the the concentration camps! What's her crime? She bought a plot of land to live on with her daughter and grand-children!

Friday 11 January 2008

Smarter electricity consumption.

There's a story on Ars Technica about smart appliances, which work with smart electricity meters to move your electricity demand to times when overall demand is lower.

It works fairly simply by detecting small changes in the frequency of the mains supply. These occur when the grid is working harder to deliver electricity. They're also likely to be the times when the most polluting generators are switched on to cope with the demand.

By switching off non-essential devices, the system smooths out peaks in demand. In fact, peaks can be reduced by up to 50%, which is huge because those peaks are the most expensive to supply. So, for example, the system might switch off your fridge and freezer for the ten minutes at the end of the world cup final when everyone is making tea.

There's a long term advantage to this system - it means that we can focus our future development on providing base load, rather than peak demand. Given that we're in process of introducing variable supply (with wind generators), it's a good time to be smoothing out the variable demand, at least somewhat.

I should comment on the fact that the article talks about electric water heaters. Of course, we know they're less efficient than gas heaters at the moment. However, given that you can't capture the CO2 from domestic heaters, electric heaters might become the greener option before long.

One of the schemes is described at http://www.thewattspot.com/. You're notified of price variations during the day, so you can choose to do your ironing, for example, at a cheaper time of day. The company sets hourly rates a day in advance.