Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Avon and Somerset PCCs - Variety and choice!

I'm so glad that we have PCC elections coming up. The vast choice of different strategies and policies to choose from, against the array of wide demographics and local constituencies of candidates, will truly shake up the police service for the better.

Take for instance Sue Mounstevens, a woman...if you would believe such a thing, with only 20% of CANDIDATES for PCC roles being women, versus the 30% of women currently actually doing the job of helping to provide strategic direction to police forces!

She's an independent candidate, a magistrate from the Bristol area, and doesn't want politics to interfere with policing. She'll be making sure victims get more support, that offenders are cracked down on, that money is spent efficiently and that there are more police visible in your area! Ultimately she cares about anti-social behaviour, violent crime and burglary (especially against women).

Our next candidate couldn't be more different!

Ken Maddock is the conservative candidate from just outside Bristol. He wants to...and I think the other candidates have missed a trick by not being explicit in this... REDUCE CRIME. I know, right? Revolutionary thinking! He'll do this by having more police visible in your area. He also wants to make sure victims get more support, and that money is spent efficiently.

So we have two candidates there, already a real diversity of choice... one a man, one a woman. Who else? Can we be so lucky as to have even more choice?!

Actually, yes we are that lucky, reader. Meet Pete Levy, the Lib Dem candiate who is from...Bristol! Unlike the other candidates he is younger and has no hair. Also, in line with Lib Dem strategy he used to be a policeman!

Pete wants to reduce crime too, providing victims with more of a voice and more support, focusing on stopping re-offending, and ensuring that policing is visible in rural AND urban locations! He particularly singles out anti-social behaviour, violence against women..and in the "gold star for understandable jargon" award, wants to develop a "multi agency approach to effective integrated offender management"

Take that, Crime.

But wait, before you think our choices can't get any more diverse, there is another candidate! Dr (he's smart!) John Christopher Savage! He sounds like a super-villain, but he's not, he wants to fight crime too.

He's the Labour candidate, coming from the all together different location of Bristol, fighting for more efficient and fair use of funding, while listening to the victims of crime more. The aim from all of this is to reduce crime! Like the Tory candidate he doesn't feel that he needs to explain what his crime fighting priorities will be, probably because it will be ALL THE CRIME.

So there you have it, four candidates, each bringing a completely fresh and new angle to the PCC role. One is a woman, another is bald, one lives just outside of Bristol, and the other really stuck it out at university. Truly it should be easy to align ourselves with one of these people purely on their unique offering and how it aligns with our own priorities, and not to simply vote along party lines as we would in any other election!

Exciting times, I can't wait to see which of the huge variety of directions Avon and Somerset police will be taking.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Windows 8: Day two

OK, so I have slept on it... did Windows 8 really have all those niggles or was I just being apprehensive because of how I'm used to using things? In fact, was it as happy a move in strategy as I said it was yesterday?

Today's interaction with Windows 8 was basically getting it moulded to how I'm going to like to use it, as I did with Windows 7 only less than a month ago. I thought that I had been sensible in my planning. Oh not quite...

Files were installed on to a seperate partition thinking that if the two systems are so compatible, I should be able to run files installed under windows 7 on the windows 8 environment. For the most part, I was correct. Open Office, Filezilla, Winamp, Steam... all they needed was to have a profile set up on the Windows 8 drive.

Adobe on the other hand... ugh. Some programs (Muse, oh my) work fine, but others need a fresh install. The frustrating thing here is that it results in two versions of the same program duplicated on my system. But this is a minor niggle, and only something those with dual booting and a particular desire to save space will come across.

Meanwhile I've been playing more with the start screen. Having set up my messenger app to allow me to connect to facebook (an all around much more immerser and readily available way of keeping in touch with people through the day), I have now snapped it to the side of my second monitor. This has had a very welcome benefit.

(The right hand side is cut off, Photoshop is full screen in my primary right hand monitor)

While a fifth/sixth of the second monitor has this space reserved for messenger now, the rest doesn't revert to the most recent Modern UI app that I had open every time I click on a desktop app. Indeed, this means I can now have the desktop show in the larger portion of the second monitor!

This is almost perfect. If I want to get involved with any start screen apps it's a simple swipe/drag across the screen to make the small panel in to a large one, then by hovering in the top left of my screen I can cycle through all open apps by clicking.

Now. This isn't ideal; It'd be great if I could go back to the start screen but only within the portion of the screen reserved for the Modern UI, and there MUST be a better way to choose what app I want to switch to. For a start I don't see why hovering in the top left shouldn't make the small rectangle previews spread out along the left or top of the screen. Currently you can get the same effect, but it's a fiddly action of going to the top left and dragging your mouse downwards. Why make it two movements, Microsoft? Why the needless complexity?

But all this aside, suddenly the issue yesterday of having an almost redundant second deskop screen is solved! With there almost certainly being an app that people will happily have residing in the small column space, most "power users" must have very little to complain about now. At least that is my opinion as someone that has been using windows environments since Windows 3.1.

Sure, the start menu isn't there, but I still contest that such a change is very much pointless. If I hit the start button on my keyboard the startscreen pops up, I immediately start typing to find the application I want and... voila. If this is too much (tapping, and typing) then why not do what you would have done on Windows 7/Vista/XP anyway and put the application you want on your task bar, or as a shorcut on your desktop. You can do this here too, obviously, and so nothing is ever more than 3 clicks away, if you don't want it to be.

Of course, this is my view as a dual screen user. It's clearly a better experience with two monitors...but I'm not sure the "burden" of switching between contexts really exists when you get used to the concept even on one screen.

So if anything my opinion has improved over the last 24 hours...but it doesn't forgive the niggles that still exist. Being in the windows store and not having an easy and obvious option to go back to the home page of the store is frustrating. Even more frustrating is being able to search for apps by starting to type if you're on this home page, but not if you're in a search results page. Why the change in functionality, Microsoft?

As ever, it's going to be the small and needless poor choices that Microsoft have made that stop Windows 8 being even remotely accepted as a "Mac beater", if it ever had that chance in the first place. Here's hoping that some revisions and updates will be made soon!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Windows 8: First impressions

So... I didn't type my postcode in correctly? Huh? Oh... I have to put a space in the middle of it. Great.

This is, unfortunately, a sign of things to come with my first few hours foray in to the new Windows 8 system. Not of ground breaking issues that are going to cripple my ability to operate the computer, but idiotic niggles that aren't telegraphed properly...the sign of lots of thinking but not enough user testing with those unfamiliar with the system.

Starting with a tool to work out how compatible my new Windows 7 machine is, it's clear that the trend of making things super easy to carry out continues unabated; in it's overly-simplistic path cutting out the ease of doing things in the way that lets you maintain your system as you wish.

Not wishing to just upgrade my machine, but to keep the system "dual booted" so I can go back to windows 7 if I need to, the process was something I had to search out. The easy option of installing straight from a download would have ruined my plan to have the operating systems co-existing.

But once I got there the install process was a breeze, and it wasn't long before I was eased in to the new system. But then came the first sign of worries to come, during the install the repeated message of "move your mouse to the corners" was played, to signify that something would happen if you did.

Is this what Microsoft is relying on to deal with informing people of what is actually quite a fundamental shift in their user experience? It turns out, unfortunately, that it is. Those that most need this advice screen are, surely, the sort of people that will get people like me to install Windows 8 on their machine...or will buy it pre-installed from a generic PC selling store. Yet if they start their machine up for the first time with the OS installed, they don't get that prompt again. They are dumped in to a "start screen" and left unceremoniously with no advice on where to go.

Now...this isn't new. Windows XP, Vista, 7... they all left people with a screen and no instruction. However they did have a big (very big in Vista) start button. It invited you to click, and when you did there was a host of information for you to quickly learn. It was a step by step process to ease you in to the basic functions of the OS.

With Windows 8 and it's "Modern UI", previously called Metro UI, you get no such instruction. It's got pre-installed "apps" on the screen ready to click around, but even then that journey only leads you deeper in to the thorny shrubs of poor user experience.

If it sounds like I'm getting overly down on Windows 8, perhaps now I should say that this is all transitional. The fact is that with a bit of a web search, some help from a IT savvy friend or family member, or just some good old fashioned thrashing around with the mouse, you will find out how to work this system. Once you'll be fine.

If you want to go to the start screen (Hey...just call it the start menu, it is almost exactly the same in terms of what it is providing you with), then you hover your mouse for a fraction of a second in the bottom left of your screen. Alternatively you can just hit the windows key.

Can't find what you're looking for? Well, be proactive, more than ever you can really customise your "start" experience to help your own productivity. And simply starting to type will search through your apps and programs quickly...pretty much as it did with the windows 7 start menu.

"But where's the shut down option! This is a terrible system, no-one will ever use it now!" seems to be a cry from those that don't understand how user interfaces develop and evolve. Sure, it's nonsense to all of us that have had the "shut down" button right there in front of us...but this is an artefact of the time you got told never to directly shut the PC off. Now? Hitting the power button usually goes through the process of shutting the system down, or...if your preference is put it in to sleep/hibernate. On dozens of phones and tablets the idea of shutting the system down with an on screen command is laughable.

Is it really ridiculous for Microsoft to move in this direction?

Well, no...but it comes back to that original point of how it's a complete mismanagement of people's expectations. It's not unfair, I think, to say the system has been developed with new users in mind, not experienced ones. Maybe we should take that as a compliment, dumped in the deep end with all of our previous experience weighing us least Microsoft seem to think we're intelligent enough to adapt? Maybe not.

In reality there being a whole series of usability niggles throughout this new experience, and that can't be put down to simply catering for a market of new users, since it is they who will be equally as confused by such poor choices, mainly within the new aspects of the operating system.

Not being able to close or back out of an app to the start menu easily just doesn't make sense. In previous windows people will have minimised things, or hit a task bar icon to switch programs. Putting this out of sight puts an extra movement in their process to move between applications. But, of course, on a phone you'd just hit the back button. Silly me.

Sure, you can go to the start screen, but that process involves the same "go to the corner" that minimise used to do...but now you have to wait for it to show, and that's if you've put your mouse in the right position to show it.

This will only take time to master, but the question is whether this little thing is something people should be asked to learn. If the question is "how can we improve people's interaction with their computer" then this cannot be the answer...reverse engineering the only question that could have been asked to get such an interaction is "what's the shortest route we can make to tie touch screen functionality in with a mouse and keyboard experience, without compromising our key aim of 'immersive experiences'"

In short, it feels like decisions have been made with the wrong question in mind, but that they've made the best of that restriction.

There are other niggles too. I use a dual monitor set up, and this greatly enhances the Windows 8 experience...but I have no way of locking the start screen "on" if I want to, something that might really aid productivity. Instead if I use anything on the "desktop", which will be most of my applications for my job of web development, both screens automatically drop to desktop.

Looking at it like it's just an oversizes start menu, the choice here makes sense...but with such rich functionality it seems a shame to not have that be my choice. Especially since that choice doesn't even seem to work! Open an app on the Modern UI and then go back to the start screen. Now click on your desktop on the second screen...oh, we've now gone back to that application.

Again, this could be useful at times...but in other circumstances I may want the flexibility that comes from using the start screen to quickly navigate back and forth from a large number of applications both on desktop and in the Modern UI.

Another specific example of poor choices is their own Windows Store. It works pretty well, don't get me wrong, it feels to me like it may well end up being the best App store of any of the big three operating system providers. But stupid choices get made that take me out of feeling like this is a slick and well developed system.

If I click on the star rating for an application it doesn't do anything when the application isn't installed. My expected reaction? To go to the reviews that provide that rating. Instead, nothing. Now go to an application that you can't install through the store, the same action now provides a rating for the app!

Except now I can't take that rating away. Shit. Better rate it "3" just in case I never get around to using it and influence it's standing. I feel bad now, and completely out of control because I can't take back this mistake, Windows is forcing me to now choose between lying about how I rate the app in order to not negatively influence this person's work, or to just be "fair" and give an average rating to something I'm not sure of.

Add on to this technical choices that just frustrate, such as the inability to grab POP3 mail through the default mail application, and we have layer after layer of small issues that will take a while to get used to.

I have no doubt though that we will get used to it. Those who are "power users" will, I feel, end up putting many of their programs on the task bar in desktop mode, or as shortcuts on their desktop. It takes a matter of minutes to get yourself back in to the way you used windows 7, just without the start menu...and let's be honest with ourselves...which true "power users" actually used the start menu anyway?

Meanwhile the "Energy saving users" will have a quite immersive, albeit imperfect for now, experience that makes it easy to check (non-POP3) mail and catch up on the news, share some of it on Facebook or Twitter and see how the weather is doing. As the type of people that will rarely have more than one window open the switch from desktop to start screen will barely even be registered.

And at the end of it we have the only OS that will offer a seamless experience between the desktop and the mobile, no longer making people feel like they are taking a "cut down" experience on their portable device. I think Microsoft deserve some applause for the bravery in taking such a step, but they also really need to sit down and solve some of these basic issues too, starting perhaps by doing some proper unprompted usability testing and at the very least understanding the need for better instructions for first time Windows 8 they new to PC, or as old as Windows 3.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Why you shouldn't vote for Police and Crime Comissioners

I recently wrote a longer post in response to Stephen Tall that went in to detail as to why I dislike Police and Crime Comissioners as a "democratic" model for police accountability and direction. was LOOONG. So let me try and give you a brief explanation of why you should not vote on November the 15th:

Imagine that our parliament, where MPs from all over the country come together to discuss and debate issues on our behalf, and make laws through a democratic system of voting is replaced. Instead, we still elect MPs, but they aren't involved in our law making process. Instead we elect a single president who will make all of the decisions, and have sole responsibility.

Do you support that change, from MPs around the country making laws, to a single person making laws?

If yes, go ahead and keep on voting for your Police and Crime Comissioner with a consistent purpose. If, like most I would imagine, the answer is no...then what are you doing even endorsing such an autocratic change? Don't vote on November 15th!

Police and Crime Commissioners: Democracy, how?

Stephen Tall has just posted an article about why he, as a Liberal Democrat, supports Police and Crime commissioners. Unfortunately he focuses on so many logical fallacies to make his point. Let's count:

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with elected police commissioners. I know they were a Tory manifesto idea and that the Lib Dems are opposed to them (while reluctantly agreeing to vote for them as part of the Coalition Agreement). But I’m just fine with them. My support for directly elected police commissioners is paralleled by my support for directly elected mayors:

First, I'd just like to least it's a principled stance. If you're happy for the sham of democracy that is directly elected mayors, then being happy for the sham of democracy that is PCC's makes sense. It's still crazy if you actually care about democracy though....

For too long, city council politics have been in the hands of amateur part-time leaders:

Boom, instant strawman. Amateur, really? Well then, why do we even have part time representatives at local level, the amateurs! Hell...a third of our parliament have never been an MP before...why do we hand these people such power?!

What I find really interesting about Stephen's argument here is the complete counter-intuitive nature of it. On the one hand Stephen will say here these people are amateurs, that they can't be trusted to de-facto be on the ball when it comes to providing the right direction. Yet on the other, as you will see, he claims that we the public need to be trusted to elect people to do the job.

So which is it Stephen? Are we to trust out local councillors as they have been handed power by people, or to mistrust them as amateurs that don't have a clue about what's going on?

some have been very good, some not so good. But all have been ham-strung by a political system that grants them responsibility without power, allows them to be in office but not in government.

What does this even mean, Stephen? Ham-strung? Responsibility without power?

Let's remember that the local police authorities must:

  • Set budgets
  • Charge money through council tax (if necessary)
  • Set the strategy for the police authority area
  • Get feedback from local people
  • Encourage and nurture diversity and equality
  • To deal with complaints

By comparison, a police and crime commissioner must:

  • Set budgets
  • Charge money through council tax (if necessary)
  • Set the strategy for the police authority area
  • Hold the chief constable to account (and appoint them)

So I guess the sum total of the things that "ham-strung" those local authorities was the need to consider equality and racial diversity, and to actually listen to the public as part of their legal obligations, rather than through political expediency.

For those that don't know, by the way, local police authorities were formed by members of local councils for the area, roughly in line with the political allegiances in the region. This ensured that views from people in Cornwall (for example) were considered alongside views from people in Devon, and that different political priorities were measured up against each other in accordance with the views of the local people. Other "lay" members were also appointed, including magistrates that had real experience of dealing with the outcomes of criminal investigations.

To use my Devon and Cornwall example, the independent members vary from members of boards for charities or schools, to private business people (piano teacher, PR). They are real people like you and I, offering real, direct input from a variety of locations around the region.

I understand and respect those who oppose the idea and the principle of commissioners, those who cleave to the collectivity of committees known as local police authorities. But it’s an argument that all too often spills over into that least attractive mindset: the elitist liberal fearful of too much democracy.

Strawman number two, and an appeal to emotion...maybe we should throw ad hominem in there too. Stephen clearly doesn't respect those who oppose the idea, otherwise he wouldn't play on the emotive description like "elitist" or the idea that they are "fearful of too much democracy".

You see now by arguing against Stephen's point, I am an "elitist" and "fearful of democracy"! Drat, sussed out! Or rather not so much, such "bullying" tactics tend to spur people on rather than shut them out...

Many liberals are openly fearful of a right-wing hang-em-and-flog-em nut-job winning power.

Strange, I thought liberals were fearful of the person that the general population didn't want to represent them getting the job? Hang on. I remember being told time and time again that it was liberals and their annoying propensity for STV (and the lesser AV) that would have the BNP swarming to power in 2015!

But sure, liberals probably don't want an illiberal in power...goes without saying. Does that mean that they are against this system simply because that could be the end result? That's right, people... STRAWMAN.

I get the concern. Come to that, I’m pretty appalled by the idea of Lord Prescott’s return to public life in Humberside.

Who wouldn't be...

But you know what? That’s democracy for you.

The end, simple as that, and they all lived happily ever after! It's such a "genetic" fallacy, this idea that different applications of democracy cannot be criticised, indeed the flaws of any democratic system simply have to be ignored because...hey...that's democracy for you!


Campaign in favour of what you want and against what you don’t want. Despair of the electorate’s judgement. But respect the voters’ right to make the wrong decision.

Unless the voter is voting for a local councillor, of course. They're just amateurs.

There are legitimate concerns that vesting a commissioner’s power in just one person might lead to corruption or limit debate.

Sure, if you want to paint opponents (strawman) of simply being paranoid about evil forces infiltrating our beloved democracy. Thankfully the views of those like me who stand very much against these plans have a little more depth.

Our concerns are rooted in the fact that the police and crime commissioners have LESS duties to maintain the police force in their area, not more; That the very nature of the "democracy" that is electing them threatens to leave entire communities unheard and left to rot in areas of demoralising, but not high-electoral-priority crime; That tying the power to control strategy to a single party, rather than a broadly representative group, lessens the ability to prevent poor planning in the future; That the electorate fundamentally do not understand enough about the nuance of organising the police forces in this country, and therefore being asked to decide between a set of people with broadly the same ideas (less crime, more police, more victim support!) isn't providing democracy to anyone; And with every election of this type...the danger of personality rather than ability becomes to reason that someone gets power. The list, I'm sure, goes on.

Our concerns are far more legitimate and far more important than the not too unreasonable limited views of the tin-foil hat brigade.

Such concerns will, I believe, be outweighed by the vast scrutiny and direct, personal accountability that will come with these powers. You can bet their every move will be watched with greater care than is currently focused on the authorities they’re replacing.

It is surely true that they may be watched more. The great tragedy of the police authorities is that it wasn't clear how they were important in shaping the role of the police. Victims, perhaps, of the turn of the century and new ways of communicating, their structure and process was stuck in the mid 1900's style of minuted board meetings and commissioning statistical research.

Oh how easy it would be, how cheap too, to start gaining public opinion in a more effective manner, and to be more transparent in what they do. But no. We shall not try these simple changes, we will throw the baby out with the bath water.

But scrutiny? Accountability? Boris Johnson was just re-elected to London Mayor. Why? Personality. Dislike of Ken. Was it because of what he did? He himself admitted that he had FAILED to deliver his promises. On the campaign trail it was shown that he was lying to the public about what he had achieved. "Crime down" according to boris, when actually it was up...the London Mayor IS the police and crime commissioner for the London Metropolitan area...and we're supposed to believe that scrutiny and accountability means anything?!

Certainly I hope the new system will put a stop to the tendency for committees to be captured by chief constables, for there to be a greater equality in the power dynamic at the top of the force between the professionals and the people’s representatives.

Well, when the system is now tailored so that political types can sack chief constables that stand in their way, and appoint a sock-puppet chief constable that'll do their bidding, it's not too high a hope is it?

But just a second... is the option here really black and white? We either have police authorities, regionally representative of the public, with direct public interaction and real experience in crime and punishment, but without any power over the chief constables....or a single unrepresentative individual elected with a huge £100k salary that can sack and appoint chief constables at will?

Of course not, it's an insult to our intelligence that we should sit here and accept this new system because it is a route to ensuring public control of the police, rather than police control of the police. It's one route, yes, but the best route?

There is one argument with which I have no truck: the mealy-mouthed complaint that elected police commissioners will ‘politicise’ the police. What is policing if not political? Was ‘kettling’ peaceful G20 protesters a non-political act? Was the Hillsborough cover-up something politicians should have ignored?

Proper appeals to emotion here. Fact: Police and Crime Comissioners will have no operational control over the police. Kettling? These changes make no difference there. Not, of course, unless the PCC decides to sack their chief constable and bring in a more liberal one... but then there you go, that's not the police controlling policing matters, and the public controlling direction and strategy...that's a single elected person controlling a professional to do as they wish. That is, ultimately, corruption.

Hillsborough is a particularly low blow by Stephen. It is clear from the reports so far that there is nothing that any police authority would have been able to do with police simply lying about what went on, asking/intimidating people to falsify reports. A PCC would similarly have no effect on this.

What's the point to bring these issues up? This "reform" won't alter them, but they're being presented as if they are the reason we need Police and Crime Comissioners.

Is it actually a liberal stance now to say "Hell yeah we should have someone who will run a police force like a mob family, and fully politicise operational decisions!"?

This is what people are complaining about when they talk about politicisation of the's not that politics are in place, since the way policing operates will always reflect society and that in itself is political. It's when policing STOPS reflecting society, and starts reflecting an individual, that it is no longer an impartial service.

Besides, if policing should truly be non-political, why do those who oppose the new system stick up for local police authorities which have a majority of elected councillors?

See above...

I have the suspicion that the worry of ‘politicisation’ is really code for ‘we’d prefer the public not to be too involved in how they’re policed’.

Ah, a new logical fallacy for the mix (if you're still counting, keep up!) tu quoque, to add to the ad hominem and strawman.

Our complaint about politicisation is that the public won't be involved when a single person, representing what will ultimately be a small area within a larger one, most likely focused on a very loyal voter-base that need to be nurtured. A single elected individual is extremely unlikely to take a broad range of views on board and treat them all with equal weight, especially when they are elected either through their own biases with a political party, or with the political pressures of the funding that has been given to them to achieve their new found power.

By comparison, police authorities had true scope, they took from all sections of the region, and even directly involved the public from around the region.

How the hell can you have the audacity to stand there and claim that it is we, questioning why a simple and small reform of local police authorities, authorities that already have much tighter democratic legitimacy, and a greater guarantee of minority voices being heard and represented, are the ones that are trying to take the voice of the public away from how the police do their policing?

I remain hopeful that elected police commissioners will, probably not to begin with but in time, lead to better policing.

Based on what, Stephen? What makes you hopeful? The misplaced notion that around a quarter of the country voting between two or more candidates promising pretty much the same thing will suddenly spur on dramatic changes to the way the police do their job?

Why do I believe that? Because I’m a democrat who believes that greater transparency and clearer accountability improves decision-making.

Except there are no guarantees of that. Even with AMS, we will have regions that may well fall in to the same cycle we have with FPTP, where only one party wins. That's not democratic accountability, it's just inherited autocracy. Transparency? Pah...I point once again to pretty much every vote I've ever seen and the sheer amount of lies and manipulations that are thrown around, completely tricking honest and trusting members of the public.

It's the reason that real liberals will support TRUE democracies, that being bodies of people to collectively represent. The closer you can get to one person one vote on an issue, the more people will be getting what they actually want. Deferring your vote to an individual so that it is one person, all the votes...that's not transparent...there's no debate, there's no discussion. You can't see why that decision has been made or what influenced it.

For too long, the liberal approach to crime — to have a tough but fair system which makes offenders face up to the consequences of their crimes, punishes them proportionately, and aims for their full rehabilitation into society — has been easily, cheaply derided by our opponents as ‘soft on crime’ when it is anything but. As The Economist found on a recent visit to Jersey, an island which already has elected police chiefs and isn’t usually regarded as a bastion of liberalism:

There is a great emphasis on keeping offenders, especially young offenders, out of the criminal justice system, and avoiding anything that looks like public humiliation. Young tearaways and petty offenders will be sent to perform community service, but there is no question of putting them in bright yellow waistcoats emblazoned with the word “offender”. All Parish Hall Enquiries are confidential. Islanders use the word “paternalist”, a lot, to describe their approach to justice. Those who offend repeatedly will face tough justice in the end, the home affairs minister, Senator Ian Le Marquand, told me: “but we like to take our time getting there.” So is justice tough or soft on Jersey? Locals call the distinction rather empty. What counts to them is trying to get justice right.

Anecdotal fallacy. Jersey is a community island of around 100 thousand people, it has a population smaller than some of our smallest cities, on an island with a handful of towns alone. Compare that to Devon and Cornwall where a single person would have to represent 1.65 MILLION people. Comparing how a large town, or a small city, would police itself, to how entire counties, in some cases more than one county, would be directed by a single individual, is an absurd concept.

But take all that aside, so Jersey has a system going that liberals would enjoy. What does that prove? That Jersey perhaps isn't quite as "hang-em" as Stephen seems to think we believe them to be? Great! Does that mean that the rest of the UK will be the same? Maybe, maybe not. Does that matter? No, because the successes and failures of individual areas based on our own perception of what "works" or not is independent of the frailties, risks and weaknesses of the system that still manages to produce any positive results.

Will that approach find echoes across the country after 15th November? I may be a liberal, but I’m not that much of an optimist.

And indeed polling would agree, people are vindictive and blood thirsty.

However, elected police commissioners who want to be re-elected will need to show that their approach works

No they won't, at least not to everyone, only to some people, and only on issues that affect them. Got the silver-fox vote sowed up? Well then, show them that hoodies hanging about on street corners and home burglaries are getting priority funding. Never mind the assaults that happen in that area where they don't vote for you, or the car thefts in the other area that doesn't vote at all.

that they can actually cut crime

Unless they do a Boris and just massage the figures, or outright lie. Again, they can ignore that crime is rising, as long as their core voters feel crime is falling where they care about it.

working with the police, working with the communities

More like getting the police to work for them...and there is no mandate for PCCs to care one jot about actually engaging with whole communities if they don't wish to.

I have enough confidence in a liberal, evidence-based, humane approach to justice to believe that even those elected police commissioners who preach lock-em-up-fire-and-brimstone will repent when they realise that prevention and rehabilitation are the best ways to crack crime.

We can but hope, because that kind of nation-wide revelation is probably the only thing that can save this flawed idea from cutting large swathes of the public out of how their police are run, and worse cause their relationship with crime to actually get worse as entire communities are ignored in order to help re-election chances.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

IE9, :focus and a strange bug

So earlier @laurakalbag posted about a problem she's having on her site...

When you first visit the site on IE9 it looks as such:

But if you put focus on to something (it's hard to see, but I've applied focus to the first of the thumbnails) it returns to look like this:

What's worse is if you click on a div, it ends up like this!

Seems like a very odd one, and worth keeping a note of.

First of all, you need to realise that IE9 (and probably IE8 and IE7 at least) all allow you to "focus" on most elements, not just on those that should be able to receive traditional focus such as links or inputs. This is different from how webkit and mozilla seem to operate.

Next, IE9 automatically puts focus on the body when the page is loaded. In the case of @laurakalbag her site had a css rule for ":focus", which is naturally applied to any element that the browser deems to have focus...including the body or divs.

This is where the weirdness properly starts though. The reason for the change in state is because when focus is applied somewhere, the body element obviously loses focus. This allows it's background colour (a purple) to return, no longer over-ridden by a semi-transparent black (looks light grey).

Now it's understandable that where a css property hasn't already been defined, it being defined in the focus attribute will make it change (such as the box-sizing attribute, that causes the div to contract in the third screenshot above). What is truly strange is how IE treats the order of importance of CSS attributes.

Put simply, using this case as an example, if you define the background-color of the body and of :focus eligible elements (which, in IE9, is most things), then you must put the background-color value in your .css file.

This makes no sense, as anything in style tags in your .html file, defined AFTER the .css file, should take precedence. But it doesn't here. In fact you can define you :focus values AFTER you've defined your body values within either the .css file, or in style tags in the .html file, and it'll respect the values of the physical element over the :focus values every time. It's an entirely inconsistent practice.

Check out these link to see the same type of action occurring (you need to use IE9 or IE8, obviously):

:focus and body background-color defined in .css file

:focus defined in style tags in .html file, body background-color defined in .css file

:focus defined in .css file, body background-color defined in style tags in .html file

:focus and body background-color defined in style tags in .html file

You'll see that the first two links are green, while the second two are red. The first two are as we would expect it to work as we designed it, but actually probably work counter-intuitively to how priority is given to CSS values. The last two links display contrary to how we would like, but probably follow the rules properly

So... what should you do in this situation?

First of all, define your :focus with more specific scope. You probably don't care about focusing on your divs, so why not use "a:focus, input:focus"?

If this isn't an option, the only way to deal with this is to exploit the way IE9 interprets the priority of css values, and to use classes to define the background-colour that should be used, or to put specific inline styles on to your elements.

Class added to body (with body.class in .css file)

in-line style added to body


When dealing with :focus for Internet Explorer, be careful, and be specific! If you can't be specific, then the next best thing is to get all of your themes and styles in to a .css file, again being more specific with your selectors than using the class as a simple object variable, and to ensure that where your pages need different styles to use those classes, not to try and use styling through <style> tags!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hypocritical Histories: Votes at 16

Labour and political opportunism, will it ever end? This time it's on the issue of Votes for 16 and 17 year olds. @WayneDavidMP today laments that Nick Clegg "declined" to give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

I think he's got a bloody cheek. Shall we just look at the history of Labour's 13 years in power and what they did to further the cause for votes at 16?

1999: Labour stand in the way of Votes at 16 amendment by the Lib Dems

2003: Tory peer, and Lords, agree to votes at 16. Labour declines to timetable commons portion of legislation, killing it off

2004: SNP call for vote to extend franchise to 16 year olds. Labour vote against as does Wayne David MP.

2005: Lib Dems make a vote for a lower voting age. Tories vote against it, Labour barely turns up, certainly Wayne David MP doesn't seem bothered to come and vote for it.

2006: Lib Dem lords table amendment for votes at 16, Labour peers vote against it.

2008: A Labour (shock!) private member's bill is talked out of the commons by Tories.

2010: While Lib Dems reiterate for the third election running they would support votes at 16, Labour merely offer a "free vote" on the issue, without even the conviction to whip such an issue to pass.

So.. let's not have any of this nonsense about Lib Dems denying 16 and 17 year olds the vote. History tells us that if it goes to a vote Labour and the Tories will simply vote against it, as Wayne David himself has already done. Perhaps if this MP wants progress on the issue of extending the franchise, he should take the first step of personally not standing in the way of progress.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Why we should be getting outraged about Matthew Woods

Matthew Woods is an unfortunate soul. Thinking himself the comedian he posted, from what I have been able to find out, a slew of jokes that would have found any mortal comedian on stage booed off.

Booed off stage that is, is the case in Matthew Woods' case... imprisoned for 3 months with a judge cursing the system that didn't allow him to be jailed for longer due to the fact that Matthew pled guilty to the "crime" of posting an offensive message on an "electronic communication network"...otherwise more nefariously known as Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

Matthew is unfortunately not the first, nor will he be the last; despite the seemingly PR motivated moves of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK trying to find a more reasonable way to react to people's outbursts of bad taste.

Perhaps the highest profile case, certainly due to it's eventual collapse with the conviction being overturned in the high court, was that of Paul Chambers and his "Twitter Joke Trial". We celebrated that day thinking that never again would the authorities be able to risk abusing what is ultimately a flawed law to secure flimsy convictions against people simply speaking out of turn.

But then came Azhar Ahmed, Neil Swinburne (Warning, Daily Mail), and on a different law Barry Thew.

Azhar Ahmed is, by all accounts, simply an angry young man. Are we doing the right thing by making him both angry and motivated to further hatred of the state? Barry Thew is, reportedly, someone suffering from mental health problems...who's son died in the custody of the very police force that he was protesting tastelessly against with his t-shirt. What part of his attitude towards the police is to be forced out of him by subjecting him to the full repression that the state can put on him?

Maybe some people need to reacquaint themselves with the notion behind "First they came...", because quite frankly it is not enough for us to sit here and claim that it is ok for people to get locked up for saying things that we don't like, or expressing views that we are not comfortable with. When that expression turns to action, or when it is actively used in the purpose of brainwashing and motivating other people to commit crimes, or where it is negligent to the direct effect it will have on people's safety, that is when expression in itself becomes a crime...but not before.

It may be cliched, but can you imagine if we were having the discussion about equal rights for homosexuals, women or black people during a time where twitter and facebook existed? How offensive to the populace would some of the comments and arguments presented by those fighting for their equality seem, and how much would their causes have been hampered by a state so readily able to lock them up for their non-conformist views?

I think it's a stretch trying to say that Matthew Woods has anything meaningful to say, of course, but it is the underlying principle that is important...are we happy to scare the general public in to not speaking out against the social norm? Are we happy to force conformity on people with the threat of jail time? When laws are based on what is "reasonable" and "offensive", measures that can only be sized against what the majority of the public feel at that time, how can we protect those who have something to say even if we don't want to hear it?

Maybe it's a lack of understanding in modern society about what we almost lost in World War 2, but I for one get a little terrified by the prospect of any nation "needing" a law like s127, or even of the section 4a of the Public Order Act 1986, for these incidents.

We need a distinction, and we need it sooner than later now that the world has been brought so close together with it's communication networks. Harassment, bullying, intimidation and attempts to create public disorder are not crimes that we should allow to go unpunished. Speaking your mind in a manner the majority wouldn't be comfortable with? Punishing such things is an unacceptable practice.

What's worse is that this is a liberal issue at it's core. Where someone is saying something that brings no detriment to another (and no, hurt feelings may be something unpleasant, but no-one should have a right to never hear anything that offends them), their right to say that thing needs to be protected. For a few years now this has been a very real issue. What have the Liberal party of the UK done about this, the Liberal Democrats?

The answer is nothing, unfortunately, which leaves me wondering why it is that they should be voted for. If the Lib Dems cannot stand up when laws are being abused to silence opponents of the norm, and while in power make those laws go away, to alter them to be much more specific to expression that is used to commit crimes, then they simply aren't fulfilling their role.

I expect Labour to keep these laws in place...state control is their mantra. And despite Tories being "small state", I also expect them to keep these laws in place, since they are ultimately terrified of anyone who isn't them. I also expected Lib Dems to make liberalism a priority, so am utterly confused why this isn't happening.

Right now we're letting people get locked up for their emotions having boiled over, and for extraordinary poor taste in comedy. That is the base level of using the powers the state have. What we do not need is conferences and discussions on how the police are to determine whether or not to charge against that law or not; we need the laws that allow such a process to be gone, so that the police do not have the option of charging people for unpopular sentiment.

I'd like to just end with this, from Wikipedia, on the Gestapo...

According to Canadian historian Robert Gellately's analysis of the local offices established, the Gestapo was—for the most part—made up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations by citizens for their information.[35] Gellately argued that it was because of the widespread willingness of Germans to inform on each other to the Gestapo that Germany between 1933 and 1945 was a prime example of panopticism.[36] Indeed, the Gestapo—at times—was overwhelmed with denunciations and most of its time was spent sorting out the credible from the less credible denunciations.[37] Many of the local offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper load caused by so many denunciations.[38] Gellately has also suggested that the Gestapo was "a reactive organization" "...which was constructed within German society and whose functioning was structurally dependent on the continuing co-operation of German citizens".[39]

It's all too easy for us to say "Oh, don't be absurd, the times we live in now are nothing like what the Nazi's did", but to say that is also wrong. We are now listening in on each other on Facebook and Twitter, with the same curtain twitching level of anonymity that allowed Germans to pass on information about their fellow nationals to the authorities and get them punished. Whether they did this out of genuine concern or because they aligned with the Nazi's views is barely relevant...what is important is that their society fell in to the worse kind of way because they let the differences between one another become more important than what bound them together, because they assumed that some people had less rights because they were different.

I look at our society and I don't see one that is any morally superior to that of the German people that allowed Nazism to take a grip and poison the world, and the fact it is allowed to continue while we have a party in power that is about as well poised to help stop that kind of society from developing, through it's inaction, is unforgivable upon that party.

Some people don't like the police, some people don't like the army and our foreign operations, and some people don't know when a joke isn't funny. They also go to work, enrich their friend's and family's lives, maybe they support charities and their local communities. Why are we so happy to steal away the latter part of what a person gives to the world because we aren't comfortable with how they express the former? To me, it's that brazen disregard of the complexities of individual opinions and views that is the most offensive thing of all.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

After November 15th...

The ads will tell you you need to vote for your Police and Crime Commissioner on November 15th. Why? Because CRIMINALS will HOPE YOU do NOTHING!

Utter, insulting, nonsense.

It says something about the desperation of those behind the new policy, the policy of taking the power of policing budgets across multiple forces, spread over two entire counties in some cases, and putting it in the hands of a single person, that they are ALREADY resorting to the politics of fear.

The insinuation is sickening. If you're not voting, you're essentially some kind of criminal loving bastard then, aren't you!

If you haven't already, please read what I put online when there was the chance of defeating the policy from becoming law, and why this is the wrong fix for a non-existent problem.

The outcome of the elections, with likely turnout figures, is predictable to see. Towns or areas that vote more readily than others will get increased budgets spent on them (or at least the crimes that those areas suffer from will), meanwhile areas that don't bother to vote won't get as much support. This is because rather than it now being a responsibility spread across representatives for all regions, the single person will act as parties do in government.

How many pro-student, pro-youth policies do you see getting implemented versus pro-pensioner? Look at the Tory Conference... "we will cut housing benefit for the under 25s...we NEED to cut the welfare bill...Don't worry winter fuel allowance and bus passes will remain universal regardless of wealth!"

The youth don't vote, so they don't get any help. The same will happen to crime ridden areas that are apathetic about the abilities of the police. What is someone who is from the east of Devon going to give two shits about when it is a problem of those in West Cornwall?

So, don't bother. Everyone stay at home (at least there is less chance of you being burgled that way). Don't legitimise a process that is intended to make it easy to play politics with your lives. Don't accept the abandonment of true cross party, and multi-region, oversight and control of the police force...and certainly don't accept one person being in control over what does or does not deserve polices attention across entire counties.

Don't vote for your Police and Crime Commissioners on November 15th, the criminals couldn't care less either fact they might just like you to vote, as it may help to continue a system that provides "weak" areas that are rich pickings for criminals.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Are you thinking of voting Tory in 2015?

Do you have any family? A son or daughter? Maybe a brother or sister even?

If so, how would you feel if they were able to be sacked from their job with no reason? How would you feel if they couldn't afford to live away from their parental home, if they're lucky to not be forced to be homeless, due to high rents, a housing bubble kept inflated by the government and an almost complete reduction in housing benefit for the under 25s?

How would you feel if, while in this period of unemployment, chasing the same job as at least 2 or 3 dozen other people are going for (if you're lucky), they get deemed to be "workshy" and are forced to do community service instead of carrying on the job search?

How about being forced to work for a company with no relevance to their career path, for a third of the income that they'd be paid if they were officially given that job, having their morale sapped from them as they are passed from company to company to do the work that they would have only a few years ago paid a fair wage to get done?

How would you feel as their hopes are raised for a possible interview to find a trainee position out of these enforced labour sessions, only to find that they are over-subscribed and the chances to getting such a job is nigh on impossible.

How would you feel if they had an accident, seriously injuring themselves, but then couldn't get any benefits because government targets force people to be told that they are able to do work, despite a now limited scope of jobs available that they are physically capable of doing?

How would you feel if they fell pregnant, had a child, but couldn't afford to have both the heating on and food on the table, without going to handouts arranged by charity, not by government, never guaranteed to be there the next time they need help?

How would you feel that if they then finally managed to find a job, they'd be promised a measly £2k to give up further rights, leading to them once again being sacked for no good reason?

If you would feel pretty good about all this, and think this is a fair and understandable way to deal with your family in this situation, maybe you should carry on with your plan for voting Conservative in 2015.