Caroline Lucas and the All Female Cabinet

Caroline Lucas and the All Female Cabinet

This week Green MP, Caroline Lucas, made a rather unpopular suggestion of creating an all female cabinet of cross party MPs to prevent a no deal Brexit. To say it fell flat is an understatement. I’ve had a couple of discussions on social media about this subject, but social media can get heated so I want to make clear my thoughts on this subject.

Women

On the surface I quite like the idea of an all female discussion because having sat in many board meetings over the last 10 years, I have witnessed first hand, time and time again, that women don’t engage as actively as men. Men are generally very confident in their own beliefs and opinions and have no fear of sharing them with an air of authority. Women tend to listen, take on board the opinions and views of others and understand where their opinion has come from. Often they hold back on sharing their own opinion because it feels unlikely that it will be understood in the same way and there’s a chance they’ll be argued with or patronised in some way. The feeling that if we don’t agree we must be wrong, is enough to keep us quiet. I am not speaking for all women at this point. It is definitely what I feel and I have observed many women in meetings, holding back from sharing their views. On the flip side I’ve been in all women meetings where everyone has felt able to talk, we’ve shared our opinions, even if they differ, we listen and understand each other’s position and we find ways to compromise. So my initial thought when someone told me that Caroline Lucas had suggested bringing together female MPs from all parties to discuss preventing a No Deal Brexit was “What a great idea that is”.

Shortlist

Of course, at that point I hadn’t read the article or the letter that had been sent out and I hadn’t seen the list of women who had been invited. To say it’s not the most diverse group of women would be an understatement and I’m sure in hindsight Caroline Lucas will look back on this as a huge error of judgement. It’s shocking that in putting together a list of women to represent the UK, it doesn’t doesn’t appear to have occurred to her to include BAME women. While in some cases she invited the leader of the party or the only female MP of the party, that explanation doesn’t hold up in the Labour representation. Alongside Emily Thornberry, she could have invited fellow shadow cabinet members; Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Valerie Vaz or Shami Chakrabartit, all of whom are much more senior than Yvette Cooper.

Anti-Corbyn

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has said she won’t enter into a coalition with Jeremy Corbyn. That’s a whole other subject, but I mean, come on, Labour is Labour, the leader is just one person who is answerable to the members. People need to stop getting their knickers in a twist about Jeremy Corbyn and come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of Labour members believe in the policies and direction Corbyn has taken the party. If you want to work with us, that’s what you get. If Jeremy Corbyn steps down, the membership will vote in another leader with the same values and principles because since becoming leader, since unveiling the transformational manifesto, the party membership has more than doubled.

But I’m not convinced that this is just a cynical move to prevent  a general election and a Labour Government. Jo Swinson may not want to work with Jeremy Corbyn but I doubt anyone on the left much wants to work with her either… And while I don’t particularly like the idea of working alongside austerity enablers, they do represent their voters and any proposals to prevent a No Deal Brexit, should take into account all sides of the debate… which incidentally means including socialist MPs which Lucas seemed to have also overlooked.

It took a teenager, Greta Thunberg, to make us sit up and realise that climate change has reached the point of an emergency that we need to do something about. And now we’re 2 months away from leaving the EU with no deal in place and a new unelected Prime Minister who couldn’t care less about it. This feels about as catastrophic as it gets and I welcome any bold ideas to find a way through this mess rather than continuing to repeat the same old dance we’ve witnessed since the Withdrawal Agreement was first presented to the commons.

Obviously, Caroline Lucas doesn’t have any authority to bring together a cabinet to lead on Brexit and any strategies such a group might come up with would have to be voted on. So in that sense, the idea is a bit daft. But I do think that bringing together women from all parties to have a discussion is a good idea – maybe not the specific women that were listed and definitely with better representation of all women – because I do think that given the freedom to speak, debate, listen to each other and understand opposing views, women can change the world.

The Great Hack: AI algorithms and the power of illusion.

The Great Hack: AI algorithms and the power of illusion.

Hands up who watches Derren Brown and thinks “I don’t care what he says, he’s definitely got magical powers’?

I’ve heard so many anecdotes from people leaving his live show, overhearing such comments from attendees.

Why are we so committed to believing the unbelievable despite the evidence?

The thing I admire the most about Derren Brown is that he shows us the trick. All the way along he reminds us that he’s not psychic, it’s just an illusion. In his TV programmes, he explains in detail the tricks he’s using and how they work to manipulate people into believing the unthinkable.

The experiment where he made a young man believe he’d murdered someone was one of the most thought provoking programmes I’ve ever watched and made me question everything about my own emotions and how they’re triggered.

I think Derren Brown is both terrifying and utterly brilliant at the same time. I love watching his shows but I’d absolutely hate to be in the same room as him because I think I’d go insane with paranoia. There was a period of time, after watching the experiments, when I would notice things: words on posters, graffiti, adverts and think “that word again, am I being Derren Browned?” I suppose more than anything Derren Brown alerted me to something very important: we are incredibly gullible and easily manipulated.

This fact has made the marketing industry billions. When radio stations flood the airwaves with the same song, it tops the charts, but who decides which songs get played? Whoever spends the most money.

I recently watched The Great Hack, a documentary about Cambridge Analytica and how it influenced the outcomes of several high profile political events across the world.

With digital and social media, data analysis and artifical intelligence we now have something far more sinister than marketing.

Like cold reading on steroids, algorithms collect and analyse all kinds of data, building up an accurate profile of a person: their character, likes, dislikes etc.

Then social media posts, adverts, and memes are targeted at individuals, subliminally giving them information to influence their opinions.

We’ve all had a conversation about something and then an advert pops up on Facebook about that same thing. We’ve paused outside a shop and looked in the window and then adverts for that shop started appearing in our newsfeeds. And we acknowledge that it’s a bit creepy, or we think it’s a random coincidence, sometimes we even make the link between our data but still, we fill in those pointless personality quizzes, giving faceless tech giants more information to help their algorithms send us content that will influence us to do what they want us to do.

This isn’t just for fun, it’s not light entertainment, it’s not something they do and then reverse the trance so the target stops clucking like a chicken every time someone says “breakfast”.

This goes beyond mainstream media’s biased reporting and companies paying for more advertising than their competitors.This is tech giants selling our data to be analysed. This is people losing their ability to think for themselves. This is the people with the most financial power, rigging elections to ensure they retain their power.

This is an infringement of our democratic rights.

The Great Hack follows a whistleblower who explained how it worked, they exposed the con and showed us how entire nations had been manipulated into voting one way or another, or in one case they created a targeted campaign to convince young people not to vote at all.

There is something fundamentally wrong when people are being discouraged from exercising their democratic right.

Technology continues to evolve at a rate that most of us can’t comprehend and it stands to reason that it takes a while for legislation to catch up. But something has to be done to safeguard our democracy and protect the global population from being exploited.

There has been so many head scratching moments in recent years and I fear we’re on the precipice of an apocalyptic catastrophe. And I can’t shake the feeling that the only way we can stop it is if Derren Brown clicks his fingers and we all wake up.

Proud to support Liverpool Pride

Proud to support Liverpool Pride

Bit of a cliched title, but last weekend I took part in my first Pride march. To be clear, I fully support everything Pride stands for, but I have something of a fear of crowds so I’ve always avoided anything that attracts large gatherings; I’ve never seen the giants, I didn’t see any open top buses carrying LFC silverware and I don’t go on marches.

But this year, as part of my efforts to push myself out of my comfort zone and stand up for things I believe in, I decided to join the Labour Party Red Bloc for the Pride march.

It was fun. My friend and work colleague, Cllr Patrick Hurley met me beforehand for a coffee and a catch up, before heading to St George’s Hall to join everyone. I immediately spotted members from Walton CLP, Alan & Pauline, the Mersey Socialist Club crew, alongside Cllrs Ann O’Byrne, Paul Brant, Fraser Lake, MP Dan Carden, and Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham. I met lots of other members from other CLPs and our MEP Theresa Griffin.

I volunteered to help carry the new Walton CLP LGBT banner and quickly realised that despite losing 3 stone over the last 9 months, my muscles could use some work. Thankfully, Alan and Pauline demonstrated their vast campaigning experience, each holding up their ends of the banner single handedly and I managed to carry it from start to finish… Four days later and my arms still ache!!

I couldn’t see anything in front of me other than the banner, but  looking either side at the crowds of people lining the streets, cheering us on, standing in solidarity with the LGBT community, made me feel immensely proud and a little overwhelmed to be there.

It was my first taste of community activism, except for the Iraq war protest in 2003 – I was living in London at that time and my friend, Collen, traveled down from Liverpool for the occasion.

We live in strange times and I’m fed up of sitting on my sofa worrying, and complaining about it. It’s not enough to shout at the TV. I had been apathetic about it, didn’t believe activism made much difference, but Extinction Rebellion and the schools strike for climate protests have shown that it does make people take notice. The fact Liverpool Council held a full council meeting on a that single subject and declared a climate emergency in the same week, is proof that peaceful but disruptive protests do work.

I’ve heard lots of people complaining that buses were delayed, affecting people right across the city region, people asking why it can’t take place in a park instead of closing roads. Of course, it wouldn’t be a protest if it didn’t disrupt things. But maybe also, a lot of people think pride is a celebration rather than a protest. I had naively thought we had moved beyond discrimination against people for their sexuality, but the recent homophobic attacks, show us that there is still a long way to go, and now more than ever we need to stand up and say we won’t tolerate hate crime. #PrideIsAProtest

Now that I have my first protest under my belt, I’m certain it won’t be my last.

Adventures in Coding: Javascript

Adventures in Coding: Javascript

Following some successes with the Bet Generator in both Python & C I turned my attention to the project work with the kids from Little Sandbox. The key elements that would be needed for the Kerbinator project, as far as I could tell were:

  • A map,
  • a database that stored the drop kerb locations in the form of coordinates,
  • the means to collect the coordinates and add them to the database
  • markers added to the map from the database

All sounds pretty complicated.

I’d been advised to use MongoDB to store the data and NodeJS as the server. So I found a tutorial to create a simple form based app using Node and Mongo and followed it. And then a few weeks later i followed it again because I couldn’t remember any of it.

The key things I learned here was the way different javascript files relate to each other, how to install node and a variety of other services such as Express, Mongo and Mongoose and even how to do some validation and check for logged in users. All useful stuff and i’d highly recommend the tutorial as it was very thorough and easy to follow.

Now I’m not about to create the Kerbinator app for the kids, but I was aware that in order to support them with their project and set them tasks to help them learn what to do, I needed to know how to do it myself. I wanted to give them the skills to help them work out how to bring the project to life.

One of my favourite things to do is find TV and Film locations. This started when we went to New York in 2015 and spent 12 days wandering around Manhatten getting photos of ourselves outside all kinds of obscure locations – the house from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Leon’s Apartment and obviously the Ghostbusters’ Fire Station. Since then, wherever we go in the world we check out any TV or Films from the area and watch them so we can go scouting for their locations. It’s become something of a game for us, trying to find the exact camera angle to recreate a particular shot.

Google maps is great for storing locations but it has so many other locations also added so I decided I would make my own Movie Locations App.

I’m not going to go through all the code here as it’s still an ongoing work in progress, however if you’re interested, you can view the files on GitHub.

So for the Movie Location App I wanted to have the following:

  • An online form on which I could input the coordinates of the locations along with the title of the film or TV show and a description of the location itself.
  • A database to store the information
  • Map markers.

I followed the instructions to get the basics set up, the required node modules, MongoDB and the initial structure of files, which consisted of:

  • config.js
  • moviemap.js
  • package
  • package.json
  • package-lock.json
  • public
    • index.html
    • style.css
    • scripts
      • moviemap_map.js

And using the same format as before I adapted the form and the mongoose schema to change the database and form fields to store longitude, latitude, film, description.

The form worked, I could complete the form and see the data being added to the database but I couldn’t get the map to display markers.

I called in some help from Joe, our volunteer at Little Sandbox. Or to put it another way I cheated..!

What I learned is that there’s no set way of doing things, there are all kinds of ways to achieve the same thing. Joe had been working with the kids on Kerbinator and already has the map markers and database set up so he gave me access to the files and I was able to incorporate his code with my code to finally get my map working the way I wanted. To this day I don’t know why my marker code wasn’t working, but Joe’s code was much more elegant than mine so I went with it.

So at this stage, I have a map, with a form for inputting location and film info. A database that stores the information and markers being added to the map from the database.

That feels like a good place to pause. Now i want to either work on adding information windows so i can easily see what each location is, or in the interest of understanding Kerbinator, add in a geolocation function for writing device coordinates to the database… but that’s for another day.

Make your own: Brookside board game

Make your own: Brookside board game

In 2017 my other half (OH) and I, started watching Brookside from the beginning. We are currently at the tail end of 1986 – one of Brookie’s finest years, featuring storylines such as: Tracey Corkhill’s affair with her teacher, Sheila’s rape, Gordon Collins coming out as gay and Heather’s husband dying from a drug overdose.

My OH picked up the Downton Abbey Destination board game from a charity shop and we played it several times over Christmas, enjoying the style of play.

Having undertaken some research I discovered that there is a whole range of destination games, including New York and London and that the original game was created by a taxi driver.

So naturally, I decided to make a Brookside one for his birthday.

The board

Obviously I needed more locations than just the 5 houses on Brookside close so I added places that had provided the setting for various storylines over the first 4 years:

  • The Swan (The local pub)
  • The Woods (Behind the close)
  • The Bookies (Edna and Ralph like a cheeky bet)
  • The tool hire shop (Barry & Terry set up)
  • The train station
  • Gav’s Shed (which he builds from old doors in his back yard)
  • The Union (Where Bobby works as an elected Union rep)
  • Church
  • University (Where Karen Grant studies)
  • Hospital (Where Sandra works)
  • The DSS (Where Damon signs on)
  • Court (Where George Jackson is found guilty)
  • Brookside Comp (The local high school)
  • The Park (Where the summer carnival takes place)
  • The Pier Head (Where Karen interviewed Paula Yates on a boat)

I sketched a design on paper before creating it in inkscape. I used the grid settings set at 25mm wide and made each square a potential space. I didn’t want it to be too easy to get around, so I threw some obstacles in the way.

The most important thing was the layout of the 5 houses and the T junction at the end of the close, as well as the distinctive bend in the road.

After that I took artistic license with the location of places on the board.

You can download the file here:
Game Board

I used 4 sheets of 3mm plywood 300 x 400.
Once cut and etched I attached the top pieces together using strong gaffer tape. I then attached the two bottom pieces together. I the attached top to bottom but only on one side to allow for easily folding down to A3 size.

I printed off a sheet of icon stickers which represent post and RPA cards (see below) I placed these at random locations on the board. I had intended to engrave these but I completely forgot.

The playing pieces

I chose cookers for the playing pieces as a nod to Gav and Petra’s arrival on the close.
I designed them using tinkercad and printed them on the 3d printer.

Tokens

I decided the currency in the game would be bevvies. So I cut a load of beer tokens.

Download the pdf file here. I cut 200 tokens which took about 4 hours in total.

Download the dxf and stl files (board game, beer token and playing pieces)

The cards

The point of the game is to travel around the board visiting locations and earning tokens for completing a task. Naturally I wanted these tasks to be in some way relevant to Brookside so for example one of the tasks at the courthouse was “Free George Jackson”, one of the tasks at No. 8’s Garage was “Catch Sinbad stealing food from Annabel’s freezer.”

Tasks / Location cards would be worth 1, 2, 3 or 4 bevvies. I wanted to make sure there was a good mix of each number and a spread across the locations. Although, I may have been slightly biased towards No.10 given that so much exciting stuff happened there, it got more 4 bevvy cards than the others. I largely stayed within 1982 – 1986 but where I knew about future events I did make reference to them occasionally, for instance, “Help lay new flagtones” at number 10 – as a small nod to the later body under the patio storyline.

In addition to the location cards I wanted chance cards. If you imagine the community chest and chance cards in Monopoly, the Downton Abbey equivalents were “Carson Cards” and “Post Cards”. I maintained the Post cards but named the other cards Rate Payers Association Cards (in fact, one of the Number 8 location tasks is to join the rate payers association – worth 1 bevvy!).

I created a spreadsheet with 6 tabs for each of the cards – with locations divided by reward value.

I then created a mail merge with 16 cards per sheet, taking the data from each tab. I also added in a image file on each sheet, whether that was 1, 2, 3 or 4 bevvies.

I printed the RPA cards on green card, the locations and post on white.

I created back designs for each too – the location cards displaying the Brookside Close street sign, the Rate Payers Association cards using an adapted Brookside logo and the postcards using a Liverpool post image.

You can download all the merged files or the component parts if you want to make up your own

1 bevvy
2 bevvy
3 bevvy
4 bevvy
Location backs
RPA tasks
RPA backs
Post tasks
Post backs

My final task was to make a box. I ordered a couple of sheets of A1 card and used the following dimensions:
base rectangle width 41cm x 31cm

I made the sides 5cm high – so i doubled this up so the sides could be folded over to make them sturdier. I also added wings to the longer edges which could be stuck down under the flap of the short edges to maintain the structure.
For the lid I made the box larger by 2mm.

(Sorry – I forgot to photograph this process and I did it all by hand with a pencil and ruler so I have no design files to link to).

Finally I created a collage of Brookside images annd placed the logo on top. I stuck 2 A4 sticker sheets together and fed it through the A3 printer and then placed these on the lid.

And there you have it. A Brookside board game.

We have played this so many times already and we love it.