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Sally's Journal Below are the 25 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Sally" journal:

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June 28th, 2017
11:09 am


I was at a ceilidh the other week, which had attracted quite a few students who were bright, but hadn't done a lot of dancing before. After a few successful contras, the caller tried Fiddleheads and it, err, really didn't go well. I've been musing about why, and I came up with the following theory about folk dance move hardness.

Folk dance moves have (at least) four axis of hardness.

1) Simple to Complex. This is what people usually think of as 'hardness'. Walk in a circle is easier than walk in a figure eight.

2) Group to Solo. This is about two things, whether everyone else is doing the same thing as you, and whether there is some way to physically drag you through the thing. If four people dance round in a circle, that is easier than if the first person skips round the rest of the people who stand still, even though the physical move is the same for that person. Dancing is easier when there are people to copy and people to guide you.

3) Common to Rare. A do ci do and a mad robin are remarkably similar moves. But one happens all the time, and so people know what it is, and one is a rarer thing, so people aren't as immediately sure what to do.

4) Returning to Rearranging. Some things get you back to where you started. This is easier than having to be somewhere else, because if the (eg) reel goes completely wrong, you can get back to where you started and you are in the right place for the next bit. Some things progress you in fairely standard ways (eg move the 1s to below the 2s). Some things just Totally Rearrange the Set (eg tea kettles changing orientation, or turning four people in a square into four people standing in a diamond). This is harder than just getting back to where you started.

5) Short to Long. Things that start hard get easy when you do them for 16 bars, so half a ladies chain is harder than a full ladies chain not just because of the improvement in returning v's rearranging, but because you get longer before you have to worry about the next thing. (There's probably another thing about density of hardness, one hard move in a dance where everything else is circles and stars will fly more than 10 different hard moves linked together).

So you can now think about folk dance moves on these axes:

Circling - simple move, very group (everyone holds hands and does exactle the same thing), very common, completely returning, goes on for 16 steps usually - this is about as easy as it gets.

Circling three quarters - as above, except less common, and no longer returning, more rearranging, and just 8 steps, so harder.

Do si do - simple move, but a bit more solo (you're moving in the opposite direction to your partner, no-one is holding your hand or steering you, but you are mirroring what they are doing), very common, completely returning, not too rushed.

Reels - more complicated move, surprisingly solo (no-one leading you, or anyone you can directly copy), but fairly common, and returning, usually has quite a lot of time for it though.

Ladies' chain - more complicated move, quite balanced between group and solo (you are always holding someones hand, but not doing exactly the same as anyone else), fairly common, and returning.

Petronella - quite a complicated move (turning one way while moving the other), balanced between group and solo (you are doing exactly the same as everyone else, and can have a quick tug in the right direction from the circle, but you do your turn on your own), not that common in English ceilidh, and not immediately returning (until you do four), and quite quick.

etc etc.

So this is my theory about what went wrong with the start of Fiddleheads (1s cross over (passing right) and go left around one person into the middle of the set, lady facing down, man facing up, so you form a diamond, the first man with his original twos, but the first woman with the twos above) It's a fairly simple move - four steps across the set, turn left, come back to the middle of the set. But it's almost totally solo (if you're very leet and remember to look at other sets you can copy your mirror further up, but no-one else in your set is doing the same move as you), it's very rare (99% of the time if you cross with your partner you both turn together down or up the set, and you hardly ever stand in diamonds), it's ridiculously rearranging - half the people don't end up dancing with the same group of 4 they started with, you don't end up back in a longways set, you end up in diamonds, and it's pretty quick, you go straight into the petronellas without much time to catch your breath.

Of course, the real reason it didn't go very well was because the newest people turn up last, and are then dancing at the bottom of a set miles away from the caller (in quite a flat hall) with other new people. I don't know how you fix that.

I think this gives us a framing to think about which things will be hard for different groups. With complete newbies, the common / rare axis goes away completely, because everything is new (although over the course of an evening things that build on earlier dances help). With a mixed crowd of experienced and new people, you'll get through things that are very hard overall so long as they're a lot more 'group' and a lot less 'solo'.

Anyway, just rambling...

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May 2nd, 2017
09:48 am


So, I don't think I'm going to stop blogging (facebook just isn't the same), and my current plan is to cross post to both Dreamwidth and LJ. This isn't a very well thought through position, I definitely don't approve of LJ's T&Cs - 'no breaking Russian law or talking about politics' isn't my style, and I was even more disturbed by the 'we are bringing this in without any discussion with the user base, and suddenly cutting you off from your journal unless you accept it'. So I _think_ I'm on a trajectory of Dreamwidth as primary blog, but this is a) a bit sad, and b) requires a bit of admin to sort out friends groups and make sure I've friended people on dreamwidth etc. So cross posting should keep happening for at least a bit, and I'll put up a note if that changes.

If you felt like leaving a comment to say 'I still read this, and I'm so-and-so on Dreamwidth' or 'I still read this and I don't have a dreamwidth account' that would help me a bit with my admin :-)

I am cross posting between LJ and Dreamwidth, there may be other comments there

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September 13th, 2016
11:17 pm


Clip n Climb
Cambridge now has a Clip n Climb! Ewx has reviewed this already, and I broadly agree with him, but a few notes for me…

It's a very relaxing way to introduce people to climbing. If you're going to a usual indoor wall, you either need to teach your beginners to belay, or you end up spending big chunks of time belaying people who can't belay you in return. Clip n Climb does what it says on the tin - auto belayers, so you don't need anyone competent on the ropes at all, that the staff clip you into.

Because of this, it's a bit relentless. I am clearly a lazy climber who is used to trying the hard bit, failing, hanging around on the rope and then having another go at the hard bit. This does not work on an autobelayer. You try to hang around, and you end up back on the ground. Also, it is so much quicker to just clip in than having to tie a figure 8, and you don't spend any time belaying, the amount of time you spend climbing in a hour is huge in comparison to usual indoor walls, and by half way through I was quite pumped.

It's also easy to end up a bit lonelier - at a usual wall, you're climbing in pairs, so someone is watching what you're doing and cheering you on. At CnC, you feel like you're wasting time if you're not climbing, so although I did some hanging around and watching, it was more 'getting on with my own thing'.

We were lucky - there were 7 people in our session, and their capacity is 30. So there was no queuing for anything, and there was always a huge range of different panels to choose from. I think if we'd been there with 28 small children climbing Slowly it would have been a lot less fun.

We were unlucky - it was swelteringly hot, and a lot of the routes are very plastic, which with no chalk means the major challenge is 'hmm, I am too sweaty for this hold to have any grip at all'

It is really quite good fun to go from being one of the worst climbers at Harlow to one of the two best climbers at CnC. I am a show off.

The staff were friendly without being pushy, and once they'd noticed we could climb, they were good at saying 'try this one, it's the hardest'.

Ewx said they'd let him wear climbing shoes, but the website says they don't let you, and they didn't let us. I am a bit too used to smearing and having my feet stay on the wall, smearing in trainers is not the same.

They have some lovely lovely gimmicky things that I really enjoyed having a go at climbing. These included:

- A racing wall, where you can time yourself, next to an identical racing wall, so you can have an actual race! Matthew won two times out of three. Including the time he climbed the colour that probably wasn't actually a route, and included an Epic Dyno. I managed 11 seconds, M managed 9. He's taller ;-)

- A spinning wall, with holds round a big circle that turned when you put weight on it, which was balancey, and technically interesting. I can climb it just on the holds on the spinning disks (there are some static holds on the sides), but I can't climb it just on the orange holds on the spinning disks. Yet ;-)

- A weird plant thing, which was actually just Difficult to climb. Matthew got to the top, but he was working pretty hard, and he couldn't do the top difficulty setting (I didn't even make the top)

- A see through wall, with the same holds on both sides in mirror, so you can climb by trying to copy exactly what the person on the other side is doing.

- The fake ice climbing wall, where you get little wooden pegs instead of ice axes. The dark blue route on the wall was made for someone both taller and less tired than me, and I still haven't gotten it.

- A big spiral, which for some reason I don't quite understand I really like climbing.

- A 'stairway to heaven', which would have been better if it had been included instead of another way to extort money from people, but was a very fun balancey step-from-post-to-post. I did it, feeling very wobbly (because you're on auto belay, the belay rope keeps winding in and can pull you off balance a bit) and then afterwards the chap said 'you know, the first time you do it you're allowed to use your hands'. I'm not sure that would have been easier though!

I feel like I tried most of it - by the end of the hour I'd climbed on every wall, gotten to the top of about 95% of them, and gotten to the top on the hardest difficulty on about 70% of them. So I'm not desperate to go back any time soon, but in another six months would very much enjoy going back for another play, I think.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

May 26th, 2016
08:56 am


So, I nearly ran my first ultra marathon! I thought it was interesting, so I've written Too Much about it, because what's the point of a blog if you can't ramble and navel gaze sometimes?

Long rambles about the apocalypse raceCollapse )

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December 1st, 2015
09:39 pm


In 'things I noticed but that wikipedia noticed first'...

Celestial Globes! Really cool! They draw all the stars in the sky, so you can learn the constellations! Except... You always look at a globe from the outside. And you always look at the celestial sphere (in as much as it exists) from the inside. So celestial globe makers have a fundamental dilemma - put the stars in the right place on the globe, and have all the constellations look backwards, or flip the entirity of the heavens inside out, so the constellations look right, but the more you think about it the more confusing it gets. Oddly, we don't seem to have converged on a standard - here's a 'each constellation looks right, so the globe must be wrong' one, and here's a 'stars in the right place so everything looks backwards' one.

If you like constellations, you could do a lot worse than the Digital Gene Constellation app, which is basically just a jigsaw where you can amuse yourself putting the stars in the sky until your sky has all the stars in it, but is gently pleasing, and taught me enough about constellations to get to the point where I went 'hold on a minute, that celstial globe must be wrong, surely?'

Also, we live in an age where you can put armillary sphere into Amazon and get lots of hits. Maybe capitalism isn't all bad.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)

October 17th, 2014
05:22 pm


Friday afternoon polls...

Knives as presents...

...I'd never do that because of the superstition
...I'd do that, but make them pay a penny
...are fine
...I know about the superstition
...I'd never heard of the superstition
...are a bad present for non-superstitious reasons
...ticky knives.

I used to be bad at remembering my Dr's name, but now I have a 'Dr Foo' it's easy! I just need a Nurse Bar...

I got that joke
I didn't get that joke
I got it, but it's not actually funny
Most people would get that joke
That's a really niche joke
You hang out with too many geeks

(30 comments | Leave a comment)

November 24th, 2013
10:56 pm


Mostly about Catching Fire
I have lots and lots of Things bouncing around in my head about Catching Fire. I want to write an intelligent, coherant review, but if I try to do that, I'll just fail to do anything. So have as many bullet points as I can think of before I go to bed.

Cut for spoilersCollapse )

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November 22nd, 2013
04:07 pm


Octonauts have been achieved, by, err, ordering 30 Octonauts. Ain't maths wonderful

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

November 19th, 2013
12:01 pm


A-level probability question, to bring joy to children at Christmas:

Tesco have an offer on Octonauts figures at the moment (that's true, so if you were hoping to buy some, now you know). The parents of an adorable 2 year old want 5 out of the 8 characters (he owns 3 already). However, the figures are not listed separately, just as 'one supplied.'

How many should they order into store to have a good chance (say >90%) of getting the 5 they want out of the random selection that Tescos send? There's no issue with taking any surplus back, so they could order vast quantities... but that would seem a little absurd.

Cut in case you're bored alreadyCollapse )

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October 20th, 2013
12:26 am


Right, I finally got my 50th park run! So I get a 50 parkrun t-shirt! And so I wander once more into the frustrating, unclear and gendered world of clothing sizes!

I have listed every t-shirt that I at least vaguely consider might be the right one to order in this poll, and All The Information I Can Find Anywhere about what that sizing means. (yes, that's sarcastic, there doesn't appear to be any)

Poll! Have an opinion on a dull thing! :-)Collapse )

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

September 9th, 2013
05:46 pm


Anyone got any recommendations / disrecommendations for cleaners in Cambridge? Looking for a big one day end-of-tenancy clean...

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

September 2nd, 2013
11:02 pm


Spartan Race! You'll know at the finish line...
So, what do we know at the finish line?

I enjoy these sort of things. It was a hugely fun day.

My good luck with the weather this summer continues to hold. It was a pretty much perfect day for it - sunny, bright blue skies, if anything a tiny bit too hot, but that was much better than the alternative, and made the 'run into this giant pile of icy mud' bits seem very appealing

Everything is more fun if you take someone with an excellent camera along. Particularly if they're good company.

Map reading by committee doesn't really work. If you're driving the car, know where you're going, or delegate this to a navigator in advance, and make sure you trust them.

On the other hand, if you take the back route, and end up with a left turn right in front of a giant queue of traffic waiting to turn right into the carpark, you can never ever ever criticise your navigators at all, because it was Absolutely Priceless.

Some obstacles are genuinely good fun. This list includes, but is not limited to: climbing over walls, crawling under walls, climbing over nets, leaping over haybails, walking through deep muddy water, running along narrow twisting trails up and down hills, leaping over logs, leaping through fire.

Some obstacles give me a huge sense of smug achievement. This list is probably headed by Climbing the Very High Rope and ringing a bell at the top, but doing the monkey bars gives it a good run for its money (I have never been able to do monkey bars, and wanted to ever since I was small)

I am still a wuss, and obstacles involving any upper body strength are hard work. This includes carrying boxes of ammo, carrying buckets of water, dragging tires, and lifting buckets of concrete into the air by pulling on a rope. The worst obstacle on the whole thing was the walk-along-parallel-bars-on-your-hands-with-your-feet-off-the-ground one, which I failed completely at. [And we'd _practised_ it on the trim trail, and I knew I couldn't do it, and I could have practiced, but didn't, so really, my failure was my own fault]

There was a lot of trust involved in the system. I failed at the walk-along-parallel-bars one, but quite a few other women were falling down and getting back on at the same point and keeping going. And no-one was counting how many burpees you did or whether you did them properly. Also, there was a bit where you had to pick up a rock, and there was huge variation in the size of the rocks, and I did not pick a very large one. In fact, I picked quite a small one and then felt guilty about it. I guess at the end of the day you're only racing yourself so you're only cheating yourself...

There was probably actual genuine Mild Peril involved. Cat fell off the monkey bars when training and broke her elbow. Vivek sprained his ankle during the race. There was a bit where we were crawling under barbed wire and it pinged down and I was petrified it had gone in Naath's eye, but it hadn't (I'm not sure if it was special safety barbed wire, but it looked real to my out-of-it racing state) Naath fell off the evil-parallel-bars and gave herself a bad jolt. When I was at the top of the rope I had a sudden 'hmm, I can see how far away the bottom of the rope is from here' moment. There were less dramatic but probably also present risks like small cuts and lots of runners and lots of mud.

Races with groups are differently fun from just going on your own. The Team Thing! is fun, with matching t-shirts and people to cheer for, and people who you recognise running past you. But the faff factor is greatly increased - if you're on your own you can decide you're going to just go to the bag drop, or go and watch people finish, whereas with a team there's the 'what are we doing now' and the co-ordinating lifts, etc etc. I don't think I quite understand the ettiquette yet either. There was definitely a bit where Neil was Waiting For People, but I wanted to know how fast I could do it and Race. On the other hand, Naath and I were pretty evenly matched, and so ended up keeping each other company round. She definitely waited for me at the tire drag, and I definitely waited for her at the parallel-bars-of-pain so maybe that was more like Teamwork and less like racing. But maybe if we were doing that I should have waited for her at the end so we could cross the line together, rather than sprinting off after the last obstacle. There is a 'me' in team, but it's a bit backwards and broken ;-)

For a course trying to get hundreds and hundreds of people through it, I thought the organisation was pretty good. The course layout was nice, with the racers coming in to the spectators at the start, about a third of the way through, about two thirds of the way through, and at the end, always with some fairly interesting obstacles to watch. Obstacles that needed a mcguffin were designed to flow really well, with people finishing with the mcguffin leaving it at the place the next people picked it up from. There were definitely bottlenecks though. Quite a few of the running bits were very narrow (top of a ridge, or through a wood) which limited overtaking (not a problem for me, but a problem for the people behind me ;-) ) There were a few obstacles where you had to wait for your mcguffin (a bit of a queue for the buckets-on-ropes, for example) And the worst bit was the rock carrying, where there was really no way to overtake, so everyone inched round at the speed of the slowest person with a rock. So I think if I'd been time obsessed to the second, I might have found odd patches briefly frustrating, but I thought it all flowed really well.

There was clearly Big Money to be made out of us all. It was expensive (my 10K last summer had been 15 quid, whereas this was 45). Some of that is justified by the complexity of the course - a 10K needs a few signs and a waterstop, whereas setting up fire pits, monkey bars, ropes, ammo boxes etc etc must add to the costs - but with 5000 entrants there must have been a quarter of a million pounds worth of entry fees sloshing around in that field.

There was excellent people watching on the field. The two most common groups were charity teams, and single men racing (usually with a support team of wife and kids enjoying the spectacle). The race itself was definitely male dominated - I'd estimate 80/20, but it'll be easier to count once the results are up. They didn't look vastly different from your typical parkrun, but I think tended to snip off the bottom end of the bell curve a bit - there were a few people looking as though it was part of their 'get fit' plan, but most people looked like they had gotten fit already and were now showing off and enjoying it.

The one thing that really surprised me was the get outs in the course for women. The weaker sex had a shorter wall with better footholds to climb, a lighter bucket-onna-rope, a lighter sandbag, and a lighter tire. Now, on one hand this filled me with joy, because usually when I approached one of these obstacles I would be in pain and tired, and my brain would relish the relief. But it felt _wrong_, somehow. If I run 5k, I run the same 5k as the men, just slower. If I sit a maths exam, I answer the same questions as the men. Discussing this later, it's interesting that I probably wouldn't have noticed this as an 'unfairness' quite so much if the weight had been done, eg, proportional to height or bodyweight (of course, that would be a logistical impossibility). I almost wish I could go back and do the Slowest Spartan Race Ever, just using the Man Stuff. However, it is worth noting that I accidently started dragging a Man Tire rather than a Lady Tire at the tire drag. I could barely move it, and Naath (with her ladytire) vanished off into the distance. About half way round I found a Man dragging a Lady tire, and managed to persuade him to swap - and oh, it was a blessed relief! [Also, it was an interesting reminder of how 'man' doesn't have any of the connotations that 'lady' has, when they were divvying us up into 'manbags' and 'ladybags']

There was a big warm up speal at the start of the race. [There's a similar one on Youtube here] A man yelled at you lots of things like 'You will face things no-one has ever faced before' 'You have trained your mind and your body, failure is not an option' 'History will remember you, today is your day' and we all shouted back in chorus 'I AM A SPARTAN!' It turns out I am cynical enough that I don't switch my brain off entirely during these things, and sort of notice the pretention and the religion-alike and the mass-histeria side of it, while, err, also getting quite hyped up by it. I wonder if these sort of things do fill a religion gap, in a weird way?

My attitude to the spartan race was, err, not very spartan. I packed - two books, a water bottle, a flask of coffee, a change of clothes, a change of shoes, two towels, a chocolate bar, dried mango, and nuts. All of these I promptly dropped at the bag drop and forgot about, but sheesh, you'd think I was going on a three week expedition, not a 60 minute race.

At the end they gave you three things. Today, the t-shirt seems like the most useful, as it's a nice technical t-shirt and I can wear it to other running things. Yesterday afternoon I was best pleased by the Totally Gratuitous Medal, which I doubt I will ever wear again. But in the first 10 seconds after the race the most amazing thing they had given me was a plastic cup of cold, clear, delightful water. Ah, water after exercise, one of the most joyous things in the world.

I am still confused about sponsorship, but we are Very Near the Target, and I Leapt Through Fire, so your chance to give money to Epilepsy Research UK remains open here

(22 comments | Leave a comment)

November 12th, 2012
11:19 pm


Themic life
Last night, on the coach back from Luton, I read squid314's post about a guy asking him for money for train tickets. It's a nice discussion of 'is this a scam, did he really want train tickets, did I do the right thing / wrong thing, it's all a bit finely balenced, I'll never really know'

On my way back from hashing tonight, a homeless person came up to me and said 'please can you help, I need some money for somewhere to stay tonight'. Now (embarressingly) probably only because I was with someone I wanted to impress and who I wanted to think I was nice, I didn't mumble-and-dash-off fast enough, and Scot's post was fresh in my mind, and so I said 'err, I don't give money, sorry, do you want me to walk down to Wintercomfort with you and pay'. And they said 'oh, Wintercomfort is full, I was going to get money for a B&B', and me, embarressed and drawn in now, said (with sinking heart) 'oh, what B&B were you thinking of', and the story was vague and unconvincing and not like someone who wanted to be in a B&B, and so I briskly said 'I'm sorry I can't help' and walked off. And, again, am left with that niggle of 'if I was homeless, I probably wouldn't be able to rattle off a tourist board list of B&Bs'. And that interesting niggle of how much is this nice, middle class, 'I won't give money if you say you want it for X, but I will buy you the X' get out of jail free card really just the same patronising and humiliating 'I won't give you benefits, but I will give you food stamps and pay your housing costs' that so many people on my fiends list are so against?

Anyway, then I got home, and found out that pavanne had posted yet another similar story, in which she had actually been able to help the person in question out by buying the X.

Not sure what the point is. Things happen in threes, or people over pattern spot, or life is full of choices where the only choice is be taken advantage of or be heartless.

(22 comments | Leave a comment)

June 6th, 2012
10:19 am


On asking me to call a ceilidh...
This is starting to happen a bit more, so I thought it might be useful to jot down a FAQ. On the other hand, I tend to be a bit conflicted, so this FAQ might not make a lot of sense.

Sally rambles about ceilidh callingCollapse )


(32 comments | Leave a comment)

March 21st, 2012
03:53 pm


Number of times you have been to the top of Snowdon

11+ (Comment to say how many!)

I got up Snowdon by

Crib Goch
Y Lliwedd
Snowdon Ranger
Rhyd Ddu

I got down Snowdon by

Crib Goch
Y Lliwedd
Snowdon Ranger
Rhyd Ddu

(33 comments | Leave a comment)

February 1st, 2012
05:41 pm


I broke a Billy bookcase a long time ago, and kept the shelves, because I thought spare Billy shelves would be useful. I don't know, maybe I thought I'd fill an entire Billy with paperbacks, and so want the extra shelves, or maybe I thought I'd saw the shelves in half longways, and make cute minishelves so the books behind the books in front could peep over their heads.

But I clearly haven't done any of that. So I think I'm going to throw them away. Before I do, do any of you want them? It was a dark grey Billy if that makes a difference.

(25 comments | Leave a comment)

November 22nd, 2011
07:52 pm


Things I like that I may have to decide are bad...
This article claims the sleeper train is subsidised by £17,000 per departure. This is a ludicrous sum of money. [I did a quick google, and can't actually find out where they got the figure from]. As far as I can tell, the sleeper is already generally more expensive than flying, and is mostly used by people wanting to go on holiday, visit family, or commuting for work. These are all things I don't disapprove of, but I'm not sure they're worth 17,000 per train.

In other news, the RSPB are running this strange campaign. It turns out there is the Landfill Communities Fund, where landfill companies give money to Good Environmental Charities, like the RSPB, and get 90% of it back as tax relief. Obviously, this results in landfill companies losing out to the tune of 10%, so there is a clause that an independent 3rd party can make up the 10% they've lost, presumably to encourage landfill companies to do this 'good thing'. So the RSPB are encouraging people to donate money to the Nature Trust (Sandy). This is a charity that is, in the words of the RSPB, "an independent charity set up to help unlock money from the Landfill Communities Fund for RSPB conservation projects". Sigh. I'm sure most of you know that I don't like gift aid and other tax-back schemes at the best of times, but this just feels like the ikkiest sort of playing the system...

(54 comments | Leave a comment)

October 12th, 2011
10:27 pm


I have a set of 11 pretty old Dickens's I'm trying to ebay at the moment. Thought I'd blog about them here just in case anyone was interested...

[For the avoidance of doubt, they are pretty, and pretty old]

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

October 2nd, 2011
07:04 pm


Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Who should I vote for? There are four candidates:

I am mostly ignoring Abdul Arain, because while I fully respect his right as a small business man to protest about big businessmen, I'm not sure 'supermarket chains are evil' is the key priority I wish the chancellor of the university to be focussing on.

I am quite divided on Michael Mansfield. On the one side, he is highly educated and highly lefty, both things I should approve of. His election statement makes all the right noises about being anti-fees and anti-privatisation, and in favour of access to education and free education. He marched in March, he's anti-cuts, he's pro-AV, and what's not to like about someone who gets Legal Aid lawyer of the year? He keeps a blog, and I agree with him on things like the punitive sentences against the riots. Then again, while I'm very much in favour of improved animal rights, I'm not sure whether overly rhetorical quotes like 'This is massacre, this is genocide', really move the debate forwards... and I would see the election of a raving right-winder to the chancellorship as a divisive and political statement, so it might be a bit hypocritical to vote for a raving left-winger.

Everybody loves Brian Blessed. Not only does he have a great sense of showmanship, his entire response to 'wouldn't it be cool if Brian Blessed was chancellor' has been warm and engaged, yet wise and professional. Stephen Fry thinks it's a good idea. And he's a coal minor's boy from Yorkshire, the romance and rags-to-riches aspect is adorable. His video is very convincingly full of the sort of love for Cambridge that I have and think the chancellor should have. It's quite rambly and name-dropping though. He has climbed Everest and been to the North Pole, which is Cool. And he is running on an Better Access card, which I approve of. Still, I'm not sure I think the 'we are all unique' and 'there is nothing in the world we can't achieve if you set your mind to it' rhetoric is actually true, although it's gloriously uplifting. Although anyone who puts 'don't let the bastards grind you down', and reads poetry in their election speech has style. And my husband and lots of my friends nominated him.

[Oddly, he finished his speech with what I thought was a pretty good rousing cry of 'The chancellor should be a guy with huge vision, a love of life, and a love of people, and a deep appreciation of people. He must sweat blood to help people who are under-privileged.' Sadly, I thought it was a better description of Michael Mansfield and what he has chosen to do with his life than Brian Blessed...]

And where does that leave us? David Sainsbury. If you had said to my 15 year old self 'there's a guy with lots of money who wants to be the chancellor of Cambridge, should we give it to him' I'd have been outraged. Also, it is quite telling that of all the candidates, he seems to have hidden the 'why I want to be chancellor' and 'what I would do if I was chancellor' page quite deep on his website, and even then it's a bit content free - 'I would stay out of policy and champion Cambridge at home and abroad' is really a rather weak statement. On the other hand, he is the only one of the candidates who actually went to Cambridge, which while it shouldn't be a prerequisite for the post at least suggests a meaningful connection with the place. And... this is a very embarrassing thing to write, but now I am old and reactionary, I actually find myself trusting the establishment. Things are hard for universities at the moment, and they convened a panel of very educated and thoughtful people to try and work out who to nominate as chancellor. The panel even had Dr Cowley on it, and while I do not always agree with him, I think he is thoughtful and wise and principled, and entirely not the sort of person who would go along with nominating a rich useless person just because we want their money. I think if you're going to select some very clever people to think very hard about a problem, you have to be really careful before just disagreeing with them because you've thought of something cooler[1]

So, I think my gut feeling is that I will vote Sainsbury, Mansfield, Blessed, Arain, in that order. But I'm very keen to be told why I'm wrong in the comments

Cut for poll!Collapse )
[1] The rant about government advisory bodies has been elided ;-)

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June 4th, 2011
02:03 pm


I've lost my copies of Only You Can Save Mankind and Johnny and the Dead. Anyone borrowed them from me years ago?

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April 27th, 2011
04:55 pm


Musing on Ben Parker's blog post, I came up with an interesting thought experiment about the AV/FPTP debate.

Parallel run the next set of elections, letting people vote twice, once under AV and once under FPTP. Announce the results under AV, and the results under FPTP. Then in every constituency where the outcome was different, let everyone vote for whether or not they wanted the candidate elected under FPTP, or the candidate elected under AV, in a straight fight between the two candidates.

I think, trivially,[1] that the majority would vote for the candidate elected under AV over the candidate elected under FPTP when these were different, because that's what AV does better at finding. Which suggests to me AV is a better system for finding the people we want to represent us.

[Not to mention that it's better for increasing information on voter preferences, avoiding tactical voting, etc etc etc. Let me encourage you all once again to read Prof Gowers' fabulous article on AV]

[1] assuming conservation of voters - if you suddenly got lots of people turning up to vote the second time who were too apathetic to vote the first time then things might jump around a bit.

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March 26th, 2011
07:33 pm


I have marched. It was awesome. It was exhausting. There were students, and teachers, and NHS staff, and firemen, and social workers, and medics, and theatre people, and disabled people, and... hundreds of perfectly ordinary yet unique and awesome people, all giving up their time because they believe (as I do) that what they do makes the world a better place. It was both amazingly inspiring (because the world has people like that in it, and we can come together and be heard) and petrifying (because this is what's at risk, and it's bright and brilliant and good)

[If you were hoping from anything from me that requires more brain power than this LJ post, it's not going to happen until tomorrow afternoon. I have to cook a roast dinner for four now, and run Sunday school tomorrow morning. Ah, life, always busy, always fun.]

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March 18th, 2011
08:07 am


I know other people's dreams are dull, but I had a great sort-of-anxiety dream last night.

In real life, I really want to go to the Alcester contra dance, but I didn't want to strong-arm my parents into it too much, so was going to leave it and see what we all felt like on the day. Then Nicky texted me last night to ask if I'd be going, and strongly hinted it was going to be a sell out (which I'd have realised if I'd thought about it for more than 6 seconds)

So I had a dream where I was at the hall for the contra helping everyone to set up, and trying to buy four tickets, which I managed. Then I had the strangest realisation that this was just an anxiety dream and I hadn't actually bought any real tickets and solved my problem. Upon realising that, I 'woke up', desperately hoping that the laws of physics would bend and let me really have bought tickets by my strange out-of-body experience and sheer power of will, and was utterly surprised to discover I still had the tickets, slightly dog-eared but definitely there. I was well chuffed!

Sadly about 10 minutes later (having gleefully shown the tickets to all the family) I woke up again. Wow, dreaming's weird if you think about it too much, and the brain is turtles all the way down.

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February 24th, 2011
11:11 am


I've been thinking about the AV referendum, and one of the things that I've been pondering is why people might be against AV.

andrewducker posted a link to the arguments people are using against AV, and I think it's fairly clear Paperback Rioter is right, and they are mostly rubbish arguments.

So what might actually change under AV, and why might people think that was bad? I think there are [ETA] two three major things:

1) Some people under the current system cast their vote for a party they are fairly certain can't win in their constituency. It's hard to estimate how many votes this is (well, it's easy but lengthy, as there's lots of constituencies in the UK) but 6% of people voted for a party that didn't get a single seat, and I'm sure some of the lib dem voters are in areas where the battle is tory/labour[1], so guessing it's about 1 in 10 voters seems approximately right.[2]

Moving to AV effectively gives these people a vote that counts. Now, putting my cards on the table here, this is the major reason I'm in favour of AV. Every election I am faced with stressing about whether or not to vote for the party I actually want to support, or whether to be pragmatic and pick the best of two evils. So far I've tended towards idealism, on the grounds that maybe everyone is just like me and if we all wake up and vote idealistically the Good Guys will get in[3]. But it would clearly make me more comfortable to have a voting system where I can say 'this is who I want to vote for, but pragmatically A are better than B'

I'm not sure what we can say about these non-pragmatic voters as a group. But I am sure that lots of right wingers probably see them as a group of greens / socialists / lib dems / communists / respect / unions / 'people who will want pretty much anyone, especially labour, before the tory party, except possibly the BNP'[4]. From that point of view, enfranchising these people with a meaningful vote is something that will make your party less likely to win. Now, there's an idealistic question about whether it's better to make democracy more democratic even if it means you're less likely to get the government you want running the country. And I think it is quite common, and even defensible, if not very politically correct or palatable, to actually not want some people to have the vote. I'm not a big fan of democracy myself - I think there are lots of things that if we put them to a straight referendum the Bad Guys would win them (gay marriage, the death penalty, europe) - so I'm glad that we have an elected body of clever people to keep us from our own excesses. Which means I do think that there is a defendable position saying 'look, if a grown adult genuinely wants to cast their vote for the Lincolnshire Independance party I want them as far away from influencing the outcome of this election as possible', (which is more subtle and idealistic than 'this system makes us less likely to win so it's bad', although the two things probably get muddled up)

And if you want to keep these people disenfranchised while on paper giving them the vote, FPTP is much better than AV.

2) Secondarily, there are some people who do vote pragmatically, ie they vote for one of the two parties they think have a chance of winning even though they would prefer to vote for a less popular party. I think these are the great unknown - we can see how many people vote non-pragmatically, because they turn up counted next to the Pirate Party, but as far as I know there isn't very good data on how many people were voting pragmatically and would vote differently under AV. [That surprises me, as it seems an incredably interesting and incredably topical question, and you'd think someone would have done a poll to try and quantify it.]

Anyway, with no numbers, that just creates a lot of fear, uncertancy and doubt that under AV everyone will leap out of bed on polling day, and think 'oh, I've always wanted to vote for the monster raving loony party, now I can do it without wasting my vote' and we will see a huge swing towards fringe parties who aren't actually very good at running the country.

I can see how if you were one of the current major parties a voting system that might encourage a giant swing away from you probably doesn't look like a good thing. But that gets back into 'I don't want to give the people what they want, I want to give the people what's best for them, which is me'. A valid position, but one worth being honest about.

I think I don't actually think this will happen. I think a lot of people honestly think the middle of the road parties are best, and don't secretly want to be ruled by Peace or the Communists. Also, even for those pragmatic voters that are about to jump to their True Love under AV, I think they will jump in too many random directions to actually rock the boat. And also I think if it did happen it might be a good thing. A parliamentary term isn't very long. Give the people what they want, teach them that their vote can make a huge difference (not necessarily a good one) and maybe people will become more engaged with politics.

3) Finally, first past the post is a system that's better for ideologies / political positions that don't tend to split, and AV is better for those that do. If you have the Blue party versus the Crimson party, the Scarlett party, the Maroon party, and the Pink party, then first past the post is going to work better for the Blues, whereas AV is more likely to get a red party in power.

Now, you could argue that political positions with a tendancy to schism into lots of parties should be gently skewed against by our voting system. You could say that if they can't even play nicely together and agree when they're just working with people who broadly agree with them, they're not going to be very good at running a country without falling out and disagreeing and and generally bickering a lot.

I think (although I haven't thought very hard) that political positions that involve the government Doing Stuff [5] are by their very nature more likely to schism than ones that want the government to Butt Out and let the free market do its thing. Because if your policy is 'Give all the forests to the free market' there is fundamentally less room for dissent than 'Manage all the forests ourselves', as that will inevitably lead to the question 'how'.

So moving from FPTP to AV probably means we're more likely to get parties in power whose supporters have historically been split under FPTP. And these might be more left wing.

So there we go, the main three reasons I can think of of why people might actually be against AV. These don't seem to be the debates people are having though.

[1] I can be sure because I'm one of them ;-)

[2] If any of my intelligent readers wants to actually work this out, then I'd be very interested and very grateful.

[3] This is not the place for a diversion on the relative Goodness of the Good Guys.

[4] Lots of these non-pragmatic voters are actually BNP, UKIP, the Christian Party, so it's very unclear whether they're actually more left wing or more right wing. Again, I'd love to see someone do the maths. But my gut instinct is that the right is right and there are more lefties in the non-pragmatic pool.

[5] I wrote 'left wing' positions originally, but then you get into the whole liberal v's socialist thing again.

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April 9th, 2010
09:55 am


Going, going, gone!
Well, we're off to Scotland! Which might mean I stop having 'he-ey, we're going to Ardgo-ur' stuck in my head!

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