Sunday, 10 March 2013

First’s response to my consultation comments

First Glasgow have responded to my comments on their consultation and I’ve included their response below.  As expected, there’s little there, but at least they’ve agreed to indicate when buses have differing termini.  Although you know you’re in trouble when something as minor as that is considered a victory.

Services with different terminii will now have a different prefix.

The vast majority of passenger journeys are to or from the city centre and due to the proposed changes to corridor services the waiting time for customers who wish to change services will be reduced.

Service 2 will continue to provide a high frequency link between the east and west ends of the city as will services 3 and 6 between the west end and the south side.

There are a relativley few number of withdrawals in the network and these have been taken as a result of the continuing poor financial performance of these services. Strathclyde Partnership for Transport are aware of our proposals.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Response to FirstBus SimpliCITY consultation

First Glasgow recently announced an major change to their service network in Glasgow.  Although I think that Glasgow’s bus network needs an overhaul, I don’t believe that First’s plan is the solution.  Below is my response to their consultation.

The first thing that jumps out at me in this proposal is the unwelcome extension of an existing problem — that of bus services with the same number that have different destinations (and, in come cases, different sources).  This problem exists at the moment — for me on the number 23, which goes to both Blairdardie and to Summerston — and would be exacerbated on the proposed new 19 service which not only goes to two different destinations, but has two different sources (Easterhouse or Robroyston).  A similar problem will exist on the proposed new service 6, which seems to just merge the existing 20 and 66.  The worst culprit seems to be the proposed service 38, which has no less than four different sources and four different destinations!

There is no current shortage of numbers available to us, or even letters, if you want to indicate that two services are related; there is a time-honoured tradition of appending an ‘A’, ‘B’ etc to the end of a route number to indicate a variation.  The only justification that I can see for this change is so that you claim a high headline frequency.  Of course, this is merely misleading window dressing — just because the service runs every 10, or even 5, minutes along some core part, doesn’t help anyone travelling from, or to, the extremities of the route.

Examining the proposed changes, it seems that you are also falling into the trap of designing a ‘star’ network, with a hub — the city centre — and spokes, similar to Glasgow’s rail network.  In my opinion, this is a mistake.  Forcing people to change buses in the city centre merely lengthens journeys and frustrates passengers.  Having longer point-to-point connections, some of which bypass the city centre entirely, would help to reduce city centre congestion and connect the city up, especially the somewhat neglected East End of the city.

The proposed changes seem to make no effort to connect the East End with other parts of the city, particularly into the West End, which also seems to be lacking connections to the South Side, at least without having to to along one of the spokes into the hub and change in the city centre.  I urge you to look again at longer routes that connect all parts of the city.

Finally, I am worried about the withdrawal of services in “unprofitable” areas.  This is something which is unconscionable as it will leave poor and/or elderly people stranded, with no way to get to their local shops or around to other parts of the city.  I am uncomfortable that you may end up creating ghettoes in areas that are not served by other forms of public transport.

I approve of this attempt to look at Glasgow’s bus network from a completely fresh point of view, trying to determine what the needs of a modern city are and I hope that my comments will help improve your current proposals and that we end up with a network that we can justifiably be proud of.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

The years sweep by
Like Leaves off a tree in autumn
Let this be one to savour

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Eastercon photos

If anyone’s interested, I’ve put some of the photos I took at this year’s Eastercon up on Picasa.  They’re mostly of the (very impressive) masquerade with a few other random shots as well.

Widening participation in fandom

I am a science fiction fan.  That won’t come as a surprise to most people reading this.  But beyond that, I identify as a fan, and the whole subculture of fandom.  It is a fairly large part of my personality and much of my free time is spent associating with other fans and with books and media within the genre.  I spent the Easter holiday weekend at Olympus 2012, the annual British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) and had a thoroughly amazing time.  Now, it’s not unfair to say that the genre and the subculture as a whole has a reputation for being overwhelmingly male and white, but one of the things I found exhilarating at Olympus was the feeling of a culture in the middle of change – it really felt like there’s a push to bring women and feminism into fandom and it was good to be part of that.  This year’s Eastercon could proudly boast that half of its 1300 or so members were women, and there was gender parity on panels as well.  While there’s still a long way to go — I did hear about incidents this year that no woman should have to put up with in the 21st century — it does feel like the idea of diversity is starting become part of fandom.

And so it’s obvious that the next logical step to diversifying fandom is minority ethnic representation.  Just looking around the con, there were probably more BME fans that I’ve ever seen at a con before (not that that is saying much, given that I’ve only made it to about half a dozen of them so far).  Partially I imagine this was the “London effect”, and partially a function of just how big Olympus was, but I also attended a panel on widening minority representation in fandom which indicates that it’s something which is starting to be discussed within the culture itself, which I’m glad about.  At said panel, I was intrigued to hear one of the panel members, the actress Ruby Sahota, state that Indians really love SF.  That’s a very general statement, and one that I’d love see more analysis on.  However, I can’t even provide any anecdotal evidence evidence, given that I actually don’t know many Indian people.  I grew up in a small town in the heart of Northern Ireland where the Indian “community” consisted of two families.  Then I moved to Glasgow, where my friends were almost all met through science fiction, and, well, you can see the flaw in that plan :-).

Actually, on that note, I joined Io in my second year at Uni and remained active in the society for about a decade.  In that time, as far as I can remember, there were, in addition to myself, two other non-white active members (and one of those was my sister, who I introduced to the society, and would probably not have otherwise have become involved, so I’m not sure she even counts for this purposes of this discussion).  In that time, I very much noticed the lack of BME members, especially in a University with a fairly decent non-white student population and embedded in a city with a large Asian population.  University seems like a great time to bring people into fandom, with students trying out new things, but Io remained stubbornly mono-coloured during my decade’s involvement.  Perhaps I could have done more to change that, bringing it to the attention of the society as a whole, trying to appeal outside the traditional market, but I never did, which I somewhat regret now, although I’m still not really sure how to go about widening the appeal of the genre in that way.

Anyway, the point that Ruby was making was that although Indian people may love the genre, most of them would never think about about coming to a con or getting involved in fandom.  The panel didn’t really come to any solid conclusions or make any suggestions on how to change that (to be honest, it could have done with some stricter moderation and cutting off some audience members who had a tendency to ramble and go off-topic) but it’s definitely the beginning of a new conversation within my fandom.  It’s inspired me to look for new writers beyond the traditional (an appeal over Twitter has given me several leads which I intend to follow up on this year) and I’m certainly going to continue to follow the development of minority representation in fandom over the next few years, in the leadup to Satellite 4 and London in 2014.

Monday, 23 January 2012

A Modest Proposal Regarding the West Lothian Question

There was a discussion on this week’s The Week in Westminster on Radio 4 regarding the West Lothian Question (i.e. the ability of non-English MPs to vote on matters regarding only England).  Since this discussion is now being set in the context of huge constitutional change (that is, Scottish independence) then why not think big when it comes to creative solutions to the Question too.  Assuming that Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom, my question is: why is nobody discussing a possible federal structure for the United Kingdom?  Scotland already has its own Parliament, we just grant it some more powers and upgrade the Welsh and Ulster Assemblies to full Parliaments and set up one for England as well.  Westminster would remain the ‘Federal Parliament’, with a much reduced number of MPs (and possibly even peers) and a remit to cover only those issues relating to the UK as a whole.  The most obvious of those are defence and foreign policy, but no doubt there are others.

Obviously it would be More Complicated Than That (© Ben Goldacre) but it’s a good starting position, surely? Is the fact that such a discussion isn’t happening at all purely inertia and conservatism (with a small ‘C’) or are there more serious objections to a federal UK that I’ve missed?  That is very likely since I don’t have a political science background and haven’t thought through all the implications, but surely there are many models throughout the world that we could look to, the US being the most obvious, but also Germany, Russia and India spring to mind (and there are more on the Wikipedia page).

As I said above, I’m discussing this purely as a side-issue to that of Scottish independence, so issues specifically relating to whether such a state would satisfy the demands of Nationalists are irrelevant to this discussion.  I’m interested purely in the thought-experiment of a federal UK.  I’d love to hear thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

After the turbulence of the last year
May the tides of history subside.
Wishing you peace and happiness
For the year before us

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Improving the new Google Reader

Google recently updated the look and feel for several of their web applications, including Reader (the one I use the most) in a way that I find makes it uglier and less usable.  A quick google web search reveals that I’m not alone in this but unlike some of the other apps there’s no way to revert to a “classic” look.  The new UI is unnecessarily large, with lots of wasted space, which is especially bad for netbooks, smaller screens and those of us who like making the most of larger screens.

This annoyed enough that I spent some time with SeaMonkey’s DOM Inspector to help trim some of the wasted space.  If you’re using Firefox or SeaMonkey, you can add the following rules to your userContent.css file:

@-moz-document url-prefix("") {
   #lhn-add-subscription-section {height: 50px !important;}
   #viewer-header {height: 50px !important;}
   #sections-header {height: 50px !important;}
   #entries.list .entry .collapsed {padding-top: 0 !important;
   padding-bottom: 2px !important;} #nav {width: 230px !important;}
   #chrome {margin-left: 0 !important;} #entries {padding-right: 0 !important;}
   #search {padding-top: 10px !important;}
   #top-bar {height: 45px !important;}

Tweak as required. I hope someone else out there finds this useful.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A family wedding I actually wanted to attend

I’m a little late with this (this whole Twitter thing really does distract one from real blogging) but my little sister got married a few weeks ago and I should probably record something about the whole affair. Yes I had to deal with Family overrunning my home for several days; yes getting people down to the park for the photographs was harder than it should have been; yes the ceilidh band were more aggressive than I would have liked, but ultimately my baby sister had a wonderful day and looked amazing, and that’s what matters.

The lead-up to the wedding had me dealing with a few sets of relatives who were staying with me as well as dealing with people stressing out over the logistics of getting the rest of the family to the wedding, but ultimately, that was a good thing, in that more members of the family came than I was expecting. On the day of the wedding, I was probably more nervous than I had any right to be, given that I wasn’t doing anything, but eventually family were organised, everyone was where they were supposed to be and my parents and I arrived at my sister’s house as requested. She disappeared upstairs with her bridesmaids pretty soon after that (although not before giving me a present – a USB pen that’s both a USB stick… and a pen! I was most delighted :)). I don’t know why, but I was expecting a fairly slimline, figure-hugging dress from her, but instead she arrived back downstairs in an amazing red dress that was pretty huge (red since that’s the traditional Indian wedding colour) but she looked fabulous.

While the ceremony itself was a purely civil one (rather than, say, a Humanist one) and as such fairly impersonal (something I noted about the only other civil ceremony I’ve attended, last year) there were enough personal touches to make it sweet. My cousin’s flute playing; the readings (especially the hilarious poem read by the mother of the groom); and the tea and scones afterwards – not to mention the exit to the Star Wars theme – all made a great event. I hadn’t actually realised how emotional I had become about the whole thing until Sam asked me how I felt afterwards and I completely choked up and had to take a minute to collect myself!

I also got to meet my cousin’s partner and their new baby, my nephew1, for the first time at the wedding as well. The baby is only a month or so old, so I wasn’t actually expecting them to make it at all so was awfully pleased that they did. There’s even photographic evidence somewhere of me, looking rather terrified, I must confess, holding the bairn2.

Much ceilidhing was done later, and I’m pleased that both my aunts were up and giving it a try. I’m pleased that I also managed to persuade my mum to do (half of) one dance as well, although a more spinney one might have been more fun than the rather sedate one we got. Mind you, I must confess I felt the ruse used to get people on the dance floor for the second half of the ceilidh was a bit of a dirty trick.

So to sum up, it was a wonderful day (even the weather held marvellously) and my sister was so happy all day that I was happy just watching her. And to cap it all off, I’ve got a thoroughly good chap for a brother-in-law.

My photos from the day are up on Flickr, as is a group to collection all of them.


1 Technically not a nephew, he’s my cousin’s son, but by Indian tradition cousins are treated more or less like siblings, so if he’s my brother, then his son is my nephew. QED.
2 No, this isn’t going to become a regular occurrence, I’m not getting soft on babies, Family has responsibilities


Friday, 11 February 2011

Corrupted Podcasts on iPhone/iPod Touch

I’ve had a few times now when something has happened while I’ve been copying podcasts to my iPod Touch from iTunes and it’s got corrupted and doesn’t show up on the device.  Each time this has happened, I’ve spent ages trying to get it fixed, so this is a guide to myself for the next time it happens and to try and save anybody else pulling their hair out. Note: this only applies if you’re managing your podcasts and music manually.

  1. In iTunes, find the file in your Podcasts section that isn’t appearing on the device. Right-click it, select “Get Info” and select the Options tab.  Set the “Media Kind” to be “Music”
  2. The file will now move from the Podcasts section in iTunes to the Music section.  Find it again and drag it over the iPod/iPhone.  The file won’t be copied, but its meta-data should be updated
  3. Go to the Music section on your device and find the file (where it should now appear!) and delete it
  4. Back in iTunes, change the Media Kind back to Podcast, find the file in your Podcasts and drag it to your device.

With a bit of luck, that should have fixed it and the file should appear correctly under the right podcast.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate iTunes and the whole locked Apple ecosystem?

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