Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Minecraft


Some time ago, bought No3 Son (at his request) a licence (~£18) for the online game "Minecraft". The "creative" mode in the game is awesome and really allows ones imagination to run riot - for examples check out the creations here.

Meanwhile, the Danish government has sponsored the creation of a model of Denmark in Minecraft! Genius!

No3 Son isn't quite at that level yet, but BFTF was impressed to see that he had made a pretty groovy roller coaster, which can be seen below.

There are almost no words to describe how badly BFTF wishes he had a spare week to spend making stuff in Minecraft (sigh)

A roller coaster - in Minecraft.
BFTF wants to have a go!


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

GCC : Global Companies Challenge


Wednesday 28th May 2014 sees the start of the Global Companies Challenge 2014, a competition over 100 days involving over 57,000 teams from 1,500 employers around the world!

Companies that join the challenge can submit teams of of 7 people. Many companies submit dozens of teams from across their sites.

Each team member gets a pedometer and logs their steps each day into an interactive website (with conversion factors available for swimming and cycling too)- the more steps the team takes, the higher up the global leaderboard they get.

And all through the campaign, the GCC website offers tips on better diet and healthier living.

According to GCC, 90% of participants said that the competition had improved their overall health and wellbeing, with 4.5kg being the average amount of weight lost and 62% of participants reporting a reduction in their waistsize, of an average of 5.2cm.

BFTF participated last year and lost about 7kg in weight, walking a long, long way and cycling over 600miles in the process.

Below are a few screenshots from the BFTF's page at the GCC website

Website shows steps taken (as well as cycling and swimming conversions)
and also organisation and team averages


Virtual trophies are given for specific achievements


Not a bad cycling result in 2013,
but for 2014 BFTF is going all out to get all 4 shields,,,


GCC is a great programme, and BFTF is looking forward to the 2014 cometition enormously.

Bloggage will suffer however, so the number of postings and updates is likely to see a drop until the programme ends in September...

Monday, 26 May 2014

What propagates mass shootings ?


So far in 2014, there have been at least 19 mass shootings in the USA that have resulted in 3 or more deaths (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here)

There are a number of factors causing these killing spees, but Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, pretty much nails the role that the media plays in these comments highlighted by Charlie Brooker (back in 2009 !):

“We’ve had 20 years of mass murders throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”


Worth mentioning that the levels of gun homicides in the USA did, according to this data from the Economist, fall precipitously in the 1990s - although, rarer, mass killings show an upward trend.

Also worth listening to this debate on guncrime research (start 24:20 in) which has contributions from a number of stakeholders and highlights that research is needed to understand which gun control laws work as well as to understand how to reduce (for example) the number of gun related suicides.

And the example of Australia is very relevant. After a 1996 mass killing of 36 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania the government banned the sale and and possession of all automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. As a result, gun-related homicides dropped 59% over the next 10 years, while gun related suicides fell by 65%. There have been no mass shootings in Australia since the Port Arthur incident.

Also, some interesting historical background in this Berkeley Blog

Lastly, looking at the big picture, here are the homicide rates (all types: gun ,knife etc) for a selection of countries:
South Africa 31.8 per 100,000 people
Pakistan 7.8 per 100,000 people
United States 4.8 per 100,000 people
United Kingdom 1.2 per 100,000 people
Spain 0.8 per 100,000 people

A 3rd Generation Glock, popular in the USA

Links
Links from this Reddit list

Image sources
Wikipedia

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Savage Skills Bicycle Stunt Display Team

As part of the Milk Race weekend, Sat 24th May saw the Nottingham Market Square hosting (amongst much else) the Savage Skills Bicycle Stunt Display Team.

They were very good....















Related Links
BFTF loves Cycling
Nottingham - Tiltshifted

Friday, 23 May 2014

How to engage with the Political Process

BFTF was surprised by how much he learnt at a recent workshop about the British Political System.

Held at a local mosque the 3-hr event covered a lot of ground and provided a number of useful pointers on how to achieve results when engaging with the political process.

As BFTF is always keen to share the benefits of events as widely as possible, a summary of the key points is shown below....

How is Legislation Made?
A good initial resource can be found at the UK Parliament Website here and describes how legislation moves from being an item on the governments agenda, through Green/White consultation papers to being a formal Bill submitted to the House of Commons. In particular, BFTF notes that :

"The UK's European Union commitments can lead to new legislation. Campaigning by special interest groups, private citizens or other politicians - often through the media - may raise the profile of particular causes or problems. More widely, the media's reporting on issues, government and Parliament all inform and influence Britain's political agenda."

"No matter where a policy idea originates, it normally won't get far without the backing of a government minister. This is because ministers are in a position to champion an idea to government colleagues."

"Even a minister's backing, however, isn't enough to guarantee an idea will find its way to Parliament and become a law. Ministers normally - where time allows - shape and inform their proposals by consulting with experts, interest groups and people likely to be affected by the plans..."

For a short period in 1834,
 the House of Commons banned MP's from wearing trousers.


Challenging Legislation
In order of increasing "height" challenges could go to the County Courts, High Court of Justice, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and then, ultimately, the European Court of Human Rights.

The British Electoral System
Incredibly, there has not been an election since 1935 in which a single party has managed to get a majority of the vote! Even in the famous 1983 Conservative "landslide" where the Tories won 61% of the Parliamentary seats, and they did it with just 42% of the popular vote.

Why voting matters
In May 2002, the BNP won 3 seats in Burnley, one of which was only by FOUR VOTES !
2014 Local Elections : Kingstanding (Birmingham) Conservatives beat Labout by 32 votes (out of a total of 4421 votes)
2014 Local Elections : Shard End (Birmingham): Labour beat UKIP by just 37 votes (out of a total of 4606 votes)

Think Tanks
Conservative : Adam Smith Institute, Centre for Policy Studies, Policy Exchange
Labour : Fabian Society, IPPR, Compass
Lib Dem : Centre Forum

Not hard to figure out which party the Centre for Policy Studies supports


The left leaning IPPR also wears its Euro heart on its sleeve


What do MPs do?
Parliament : Engage with Ministers and Government, debate and vote on laws, sit on select committees.
Constituency : Weekly surgery, attend functions, address constituent concerns
Party : Election canvassing, party fundraising.

How do I know what my MP is doing?
Check them out on : www.theyworkforyou.com

Contacting your MP
Write a letter (typically viewed as representing the views of 80 constituents who could not be bothered to write).
Meet them in surgery (better if you can do this as a group).
Ask them to forward a concern to a Minister (you should get a response eventually)
Ask them to sign an "Early Day Motion".
Ask them to ask a question in Commons (e.g. at PMQs) [BFTF had never considered this one!].
Ask for publicity for a cause/issue through the 10 Minute Rule Bill.

Why local party associations are powerful
It takes tens of thousands of voters to vote in an MP - but it takes just a couple of hundred votes in the local party association to choose who the candidate is.....
Incidentally, worth reading this article on the expense and work required to become a PCC.

Image Sources
Wikipedia (and here)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Nottingham Citizens : A Summer of Action starts here!

BFTF was chuffed to be able to be part of the Himmah delegation attending this weeks Nottingham Citizens Delegates Assembly, where over 200 delegates from 37 of Nottingham Citizens member organisations met to decide which actions to focus on for the coming months.

It was great to see so many churches (and organisations from other faiths), charities, schools, unions and even university departments at the event - with each one part of the decision process and each one contributing to Nottingham Citizens training, event and staff costs.

Before describing what Nottingham Citizens are going to be tackling this year, it is perhaps worth looking at what they have achieved over the last year or so:

1) Taxi Driver and Passenger safety : Taxis equipped with Citisafe CCTV will start to roll out in June 2014

2) Mental Health Needs : Every org on the Notts Health and Wellbeing board will now have a mental health champion

3)Superstrength Alcohol : A major supermarket has offered to meet with Notts Citizens, and the Council - a big step forward

4) BME Police Officers : A mentoring programme has resulted in 32 BME candidates going forwards to interviews and, of these, 17 have passed through the process and (pending some admin) will become Police Officers soon

But, for BFTF, the most impressive achievement was to persuade public sector employers including Gedling, Mansfield, Ashfield and Newark and Sherwood District Councils as well as Nottinghamshire County Council to pay a Living Wage to all their directly employed staff - resulting in a pay rise for around 4,000 people! And an additional 900 people at the City Council got a pay rise to £7.45/hr, close to the Living Wage.

Delegates from many civil society orgs in Nottingham

To decide what topics to tackle for 2014, Nottingham Citizens talked to, well, Nottingham citizens, and asked them what they felt was important. As a result of this, and following much discussion and further research, the following five areas were targeted:

a) Jobs: Looking at significant opportunities for inward investment and job creation.

b) Living Wage: Hoping to crack major retailers as well as both Universities in Nottingham to urge them to do the right thing and pay their staff a Living Wage.

c) Hate Crime: Continuing the Citizens led research into Hate Crime

d) Social Care and Isolation: Aiming to train hundreds of "dementia friends" to champion and understand the needs of those with dementia, as well as demanding higher standards from the care sector in the region.

e) Homelessness & Housing: Seeking to ensure more "joined up" provision by encouraging local government housing and social care organisations to develop a joint protocol of provision.

Great Stuff, and if their past record is anything to go by, Nottingham can expect to see improvements in services for its Citizens over the coming months.

Related Links:
Nottingham Citizens Founding Assembly 2013
Nottingham Citizens
Interview with Milton Keynes Citizens
Hope and Homlessness Commission Report
Tips on Community Organising

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Tunisian Soukh Market, Nottingham Market Square

Loved the Tunisian Soukh Market in Nottingham Market Square today! Great to see so many artisans showing their skills! BFTF and Mrs BFTF certainly spent some money!

Having said that, it would nice to have some confidence that the people in Tunisia who were actually making some of the artifacts (e.g. basket weavers, pottery painters) were being paid a fair wage, so asked Notttingham Council this exact question.

Lots of artisans showing their skills


Loved the bright ceramics for sale


Carpets!


Lots of choice and prices often very reasonable


Mrs BFTF bought some fragrances in lovely bottles


And a rather lovely bag


BFTF got this wooden spoon for cooking,
made out of olive wood


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Libraries around the world

BFTF is interested in how public libraries differ around the world, so is asking people who are in foreign cities a few questions about the libraries in their localities are like:

1) How close is your most local public library?

2) At your most local public library, roughly how many book are on display about the following topics:

i) Cars (Makes e.g. Ferrari, History of Cars, Technology) - but NOT books for academic study.

ii) World War 2

iii) Astronomy and Space

3) Are the books adequately recent?

4) What kind of people are using the library? (e.g. kids, students, old people, all of the above)

Thanks, in advance!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

European Election Hustings - May 2014

BFTF attended a European Election Hustings today and found it a very interesting experience.

Organised by Himmah, Engage and Radio Dawn 107.6FM, the hustings had representation from the Labour(Linda Woodings), LibDems (Bill Newton Dunn) and Conservatives (Brendan Clark-Smith). Ukip were invited but did not attend and, unfortunately, a communication error meant that the invitation to the Green Party was not sent.

The event started with an introduction to the EU political process, trends in voting and how the proportional voting system means that minority (sometimes far-right) groups can get elected with a relatively small part of the vote. The best defence agains this disturbing trend was said to be for more people to vote!

Then each candidate gave a three minute introduction to their policies - which was genuinely interesting, as it turned out.

And then it was time for the main event, a series of "Question Time" questions and answers - with Engage's National Director for Communities, Azad Ali , very capably fulfilling the role of "Dimbleby" and keeping the candidates - and the audience - to time and to order.

L-R : Brendan Clarke-Smith(C), Azad "Dimbleby" Ali,
Bill Newton Dunn(LD) and Linda Woodings(L)

The discussion covered a lot of topics, raging from "human rights" to "job protection", with a strong focus on foreign policy and hate-crime. BFTF could write at some length about the questions and answers that were given, but isn't going to, for the following reasons:

i) Not sure notes are 100% accurate.

ii) It's unfair to quote comments that the candidates said the heat of the moment and which were not carefully considered statements of policy - although BFTF will say that the candidate who thought that the EU should be "less about justice" may want to reconsider that, rather startling, comment.

iii) Issues are often complex, and can't be dealt with properly in the space of a sound bite or two.

But, make no mistake, this was a valuable event to attend, and the questions and answers really brought our the differences between the parties and the candidates - far more so than is ever the case in TV, radio or press coverage. The candidates made a number of points and described aspects of EU legislation (both postive and negative) that really gave BFTF pause for thought and lines for further inquiry.

Certainly, BFTF's views of the candidates, and their parties, changed during the course of the event.

Just in case it provides ideas for others, here are a few questions that BFTF had prepared (a couple of which BFTF actually got to ask!)

The current TTIP treaty may make it impossible for the NHS to resist aggressive marketing from US healthcare firms, with the potential for a race-to-the-bottom, lowest-bidder-wins healthcare environment. What are the parties doing to prevent this happening?

Has the EU stopped another major European War happening over the last 60 years?

Can the candidates say something complimentary about a policy from one of the other parties?

Before the last General Election, David Cameron said that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS - and then proceeded to do exactly that. If a senior political figure can lie to the country in such a way, why should people trust a single thing any of the candidates have to say?

Penultimately, BFTF was touched by a closing comment from one of the candidates who said that they hoped we would not have to wait five years for the next hustings and that this dialogue was something that "should continue".

Almost lastly, BFTF has had some dialogue with MEPs on the issues of The Anti-Money Laundering Directive and also Food Labelling.

And genuinely lastly, here are all the candidates for the East Midlands Region in the 2014 European Elections on 22nd May. Ask them questions, make your choice and make sure you vote !!!

Labour
Glenis Willmot, Linda Woodings, Khalid Hadadi, Nicki Brooks, Rory Palmer

Conservative
Emma McClarkin, Andrew Lewer, Rupert Matthews, Stephen Castens, Brendan Clarke-Smith

Lib Dem
Bill Newton Dunn, Issan Ghazni, Phil Knowles, George Smid, Deborah Newton-Cook

UKIP
Roger Helmer, Margot Parker, Jonathan Bullock, Nigel Wickens, Barry Mahoney

Green Party
Kat Boettge, Sue Mallender, Richard Mallender, Peter Allen, Simon Bales

BNP
Cathy Duffy, Robert West, Bob Brindley, Geoff Dickens, Paul Hilliard

English Democrats
Kevin Sills, Dave Wickham, John Dowle, Oliver Healey, Terry Spencer

An Independence from Europe
Chris Pain, Val Pain, Alan Jesson, John Beaver, Carl Mason,

Harmony Party
Steve Ward