Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Scratch my last idea. Picture this: Fantasy Shadow Cabinet

Scratch my last idea. Picture this: Fantasy Shadow Cabinet. It would work a lot like Fantasy Football. You pick your imaginary team (in this case MPs) and then get weekly points depending on how well each of the players have performed.

When you first sign up you start with X amount of influence so you can buy around 20 MPs and assign them positions on your Fantasy Shadow Cabinet. Each Labour MP will be worth different amounts of influence with Margaret Beckett (known for claiming £600 worth of hanging baskets during the expenses scandal and who has probably passed her career climax) being somewhere towards the cheaper end of the spectrum and Tom Watson, renowned for his ruthless opposition to Rupert Murdoch and already a member of Shadow Cabinet, being one of the most expensive MPs to buy.

Then each week your MPs will get points assigned to them for promotions, transfers, asking questions in parliament, and being a good egg in general. However your Fantasy Shadow Cabinet can be penalised for being demoted, resigning, getting bad press, or any general blunders (such as reading an autocue wrong, falling over, or eating a bacon sandwich in a funny way.)

You can go head to head with your friends, set up a league at work, or simply play for fun. Regardless of how you decide to play, with the turmoil in the Labour party currently and the prospect of a new Shadow Cabinet daily, this is the perfect time to play this game - as soon as it has been invented.

A mockup of summer 2016's hot new online game

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

8th Darlington Scouts' Garden Fete: an explainer video

A brief video explaining the 8th Darlington Scouts' annual Garden Fete on Cockerton Green.

100 Years with the 8th:

Credits: Edited by Liam Pape, maps by National Library of Scotland, Music by Guy Garvey (Harder Edges) & Dick Walter (Confidence Link 1), with thanks to Robert, Daniel, Ken, and Neil

Monday, 20 June 2016

Can the Brexit prediction polls be trusted?

A few months ago when politicians started stating their stance on Britain’s place in the European Union and it became clear that Cameron, Corbyn, Osbourne and May were in favour of staying in whilst Johnson and Farage were the political heavy weights wanting out, the referendum seemed done and dusted before it had began and Brexit was a mere fantasy. However, with only a few more days to go until polling day, for whatever reason, the Vote Leave campaign has grown in support significantly and the polls are now neck-and-neck. However, can the prediction polls be trusted?
The Financial Times 20/6/16

It is a general rule that you can expect a 2% margin of error with prediction/opinion polls however every poll in the build up to the 2015 general election was completely wrong. Up until the day before the election, it was predicted that no party would get a majority and Labour would end up forming a coalition with the SNP. In reality though, the Conservatives got a majority of 12! This has caused many to rightly take prediction polls with a pinch of salt recently.

In May 2015, although the prediction polls predicted the number of seat wins for each party wrongly, the vote share percentage was pretty much perfect – a fact glossed over by many in the aftermath of the general election.

It is very unlikely, but maybe the prediction polls are predicting the result to be close purposefully in a ploy to increase turnout and make the result one with a high democratic backing.

I don’t believe that the prediction polls are currently completely correct as I think what people tell the polling companies and what people actually vote will be different in many cases (like the ‘silent Tories’ in 2015). Britain will most definitely vote stay inside the EU; I predict, by at least a 7-point difference - however it is worth remembering that I predicted that Donald Trump wouldn’t win the Republican nomination. Regardless of whether I’m right or not, what follows the result – whatever it may be – will be very interesting.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Why Politics should be on the national curriculum

Politics can be a difficult topic to understand at the best of times. Being able to cut through the jargon, waffle, and spin, that makes up is everyday politics (especially during campaigns), is a skill that takes practise, knowledge, and lots of time. It is because of this inaccessibility to political understanding; many choose not to participate in politics.

In recent times, general election turnout in the UK hasn’t been higher than 66%. This figure can be partly explained by people feeling unrepresented by the current choice of parties and people having no faith in the political system. I think the largest proportion of people who abstain simply don’t feel politically educated enough thus are disinterested. This is a problem which can be addressed very simply.

Introducing politics to the national curriculum in secondary schools and teaching pupils the basics of government, sovereignty, and their rights would be extremely valuable to many. And teaching political processes such the legislative process and how to register to vote can only have a positive effect on society.

Politics in the national curriculum would make lengthy, complex campaigns seem more straight forward and encouraging young people to get their voices heard would make politics more diverse and less white, male, and stale.

However, there might be some drawbacks to politics lessons. For one, there is no guarantee that the teaching would be neutral. Everyone is entitled to their opinions however being introduced to politics in a completely neutral way is important in order to be able to recognise why people have fundamentally different ideologies. Additionally, how would the subject be taught? Putting an exam at the end of the course might be counterproductive and make even more people resent politics. But if there isn’t an exam, teachers and students might not take the subject seriously. Finally, would it be wise to encourage kids to share their philosophies (bearing in mind they will vary from far-left to far-right) in an environment that is so prone to bullying.

Overall, something needs to be done to dramatically increase turnout and participation. Getting people interested and engaged with politics at an early age might by the catalyst for that to happen.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

16 things wrong with the new Top Gear

A few weeks ago Top Gear relaunched with a new studio, new(ish) track, and new presenters following Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘fracas’ with a producer in 2015. I started watching Evan’s Top Gear without any preconceptions. Although I really did like the old Top Gear, I believed the new Top Gear could survive – maybe even thrive - without Clarkson, Hammond, and May. Sadly, it hasn’t lived up to my expectations and I have been severely disappointed. Here is a list of some of the things wrong with it:

  • Matt LeBlanc is too dry and straight for Evans' loud, shouty, child-that’s-ate-too many-E-numbers personality. They don’t complement each other as co-presenters.
  • The celebrity interviews for ‘Star in a Rallycross Car’ are stale and repetitive. In the interviews, there is lots of emphasis on rating the guests’ first cars and their best cars but Jesse Eisenberg (episode 1) doesn’t drive! So it seemed like a waste of time talking to him that much about his car history. In episode 2, Damian Lewis was one of four guests. Shame it wasn’t just him; would have made a better interview.
  • Whilst we’re on interviews, the combinations of guests have been weird. Ramsey and Eisenberg didn't go well together and although the interview lasted 10 minutes, no much was said.
  • Evans shouted too much.
  • Evan and LeBlanc were both too happy to drive Reliant Robins (episode 1).
  • LeBlanc is too monotone.
  • Sabine Schmitz is funny and a car expect. She seems underused considering how much she could add to the show.
  • There is too much audience interaction and opportunities for clapping, oohing, and cheering. It's a TV show, not panto.
  • The Reliant Robin challenge had no point to it. I thought it was Britain Vs America at first however they were in identical Reliant Robin only painted with different flags.
  • Who are the presenters again? In the South African challenge during episode 2 it was hard to tell if the presenter was Eddie Jordan or his celebrity guest, Sharleen Spiteri.
  • This has been said before and it will be said again: there are too many presenters. One of the best thing about Clarkson’s Top Gear was the camaraderie between the hosts but there are that many hosts now - and that many guests always with them – it’s hard for the audience to form any sort of bond with them when they can’t forge a convincing and genuine friendship between each other.
  • There are too many other people in each episode. In episode 1 alone, guests included the Brownlee brothers, a heavyweight champion, two Top Gun guys, people from the restaurant, and the Blackpool mayor. It would have been nice to have a bit more focus on the new presenters – especially in episode one.
  • Humour-wise, it was not edgy at all (with the exception of one comment from LeBlanc about "your mom’s G-string". There were too many jokes where the punchline was 'better cut that bit out in the edit' in a very PG fashion.
  • Too many references to stuff that only diehard fans who have followed the Top Gear news closely over the past few months will get (e.g. Evans being sick). This would be a good thing if there was already a cult established around the new presenters but they needed to make a good first impression rather than make inside jokes.
  • For a car show, there has been surprisingly little said about cars. The two main presenters are car fanatics rather than car journalists or experts. Therefore, the shows have been lacking car reviews with substance. Evans and LeBlanc seem to simply recited the basic statistics and then yell 'wooohooo' a lot before giving a superficial amateur conclusion.
  • It is too repetitive. There were two similar races in the Reliant Robin challenge (episode 1). We knew which one was faster so the second race with all the obstacles wasn’t necessary. Likewise, in episode two there were too many timed races.

Most of these problems could be easily resolved by cutting down on the number of presenters and guests and ensuring that the presenters are car experts who have a bit of camaraderie between each other (probably easier said than done, I know). I’d like to see Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz in a superior role to what they are now. However, I can understand why the BBC put two TV heavyweights in the driver’s seat instead. It might have proved even more fatal giving a show of Top Gear’s size and popularity to a YouTuber and a German.

Finally, to be fair, the episodes have been improving as they go along as Evans is adapting and everyone is growing comfortably into their roles.

Friday, 17 June 2016

WWDC 2016: the most boring Apple conference yet?

Highlights include: 3x bigger emojis, the native ‘Stocks’ app can be deleted, and OS X is now called MacOS!

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is the one of the most anticipated technology conferences every year. It is way bigger than Google I/O and it makes Microsoft’s Build look like a lame nostalgic reunion. The opening event at WWDC is iconic as it is when Apple shows off the next version of iOS to developers and the press. In the past, WWDC has been where products such as the iPhone, the redesigned Mac Pro, and the App Store have been announced as well as many significant upgrades to iOS. However the 110 minute opening presentation hosted by Tim Cook seemed extremely uneventful this year.

The main announcement regarding the Apple Watch was that apps will now load almost instantaneously (7x quicker than in the past, according to Apple) however that was expected in the first version of watchOS and it is embarrassing that it has taken Apple until version 3 to finally do it. This news was met with a surprisingly serious applause from the audience.

The main announcements regarding tvOS and OS X were that OS X is now called MacOS and Siri will be available on both. This isn’t exciting news though if you see Siri as a fun novelty rather than a useful tool - like what I expect most people do.

iOS 10: *yawn*
Apple had taken almost a hour to get onto iOS 10 and I was left with a feeling of disappointment when I learnt that the only major changes were that notifications have been redesigned so you can’t see as many of them on your screen now, and iMessage has turned into a complex multi-media experience with fireworks, scribbles, and emojis that are now 3x bigger.

Most of the keynote seemed to be spent talking about the newly redesigned Maps, Photos, and Music apps which were accompanied by awkwardly long demonstrations. It’s worth pointing out that most of the time when Google redesigns an app, they just release it without having to invite 5000 developers to gasp and applaud at the update in a self-indulgent display of hype building.

The most interesting news from Apple this month wasn’t even from WWDC; it was from a press release a week earlier which stated that they were restructuring the way apps can be purchased on the App Store. In the future, users will be able to subscribe to apps rather than buy them with a one off payment. This is something that will completely change how millions of people use their phones... yet it wasn’t mentioned even once at WWDC.

Maybe the problem is that Apple has just been too good. iOS is on its 10th version now and maybe Apple is running out of creative ideas to redefine smartphone software. So instead they are opting to refine what they already think is perfect and create as much hype about doing so as possible.