Monthly Archives: October 2013

  • Bristol Post Balls – the pick of the best

    There are annual events that pepper the year providing easy copy for the media. One of these is Bonfire/Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November.

    As 5th November is less than a week away, most media outlets are publicising local fireworks events. Here’s today’s offering of that ilk from the Bristol Post.

    As usual a screenshot has been taken, just in case authors Rachel Gardner and Alex Cawthron realise they’ve posted a half-finished article. Additional black marks to Rachel and Alex too for a lower case start to the headline.

    screenshot of Bristol Post article
    What’s the best that Bristol has to offer?
  • Open data still not open enough

    open data stickersIn the week of a major international summit on government transparency in London, the Open Knowledge Foundation has published its 2013 Open Data Index, showing that governments are still not providing enough information in an accessible form to their citizens and businesses.

    The UK and USA top the 2013 Index, which was compiled from community-based surveys in 70 countries. They are followed by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Of the countries assessed, Cyprus, St Kitts & Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, Kenya and Burkina Faso ranked lowest. There are many countries where the governments are less open but that were not assessed because of lack of openness or a sufficiently engaged civil society. This includes 30 countries who are members of the Open Government Partnership.

    The Index ranks countries based on the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas, including government spending, election results, transport timetables, and pollution levels, and reveals that whilst some good progress is being made, much remains to be done.

    Rufus Pollock, the Open Knowledge Foundation’s CEO said: “Opening up government data drives democracy, accountability and innovation. It enables citizens to know and exercise their rights, and it brings benefits across society: from transport, to education and health. There has been a welcome increase in support for open data from governments in the last few years, but this index reveals that too much valuable information is still unavailable.”

    However, even open data leaders such as the UK and USA have room for improvement: for example, the USA does not provide a single consolidated and open register of corporations, whilst the UK Electoral Commission lets down the UK’s good overall performance by not allowing open reuse of UK election data.

    Furthermore, there is a very disappointing degree of openness of company registers across the board: only 5 out of the 20 leading countries have even basic information available via a truly open licence and only 10 allow any form of bulk download. This information is critical for range of reasons, including tackling tax evasion and other forms of financial crime and corruption.

    Under half of the key datasets in the top 20 countries are available to re-use as open data, showing that even the leading countries do not fully understand the importance of citizens and businesses being able to use, reuse and redistribute data legally and technically. This enables them to build and share commercial and non-commercial services.

  • Jamaica adopts GNU Health

    GNU Health logoJamaica is to become the first country in the world to adopt GNU Health, the free and open source health and hospital administration system nationwide, Joinup reports, following the signing of an agreement between the Jamaican Ministry of Health (MoH) and GNU Solidario, a NGO supplying free software for health and education.

    This will be a herculean task, demanding cross-sectoral integrations from all the regions of this country. To initiate the implementation, programmers, system administrators, physicians, nurses and health records staff, as well as other public officials gathered to participate in several meetings, workshops and focus groups. The MoH Health Informatics team itself had representatives from both the national and the regional levels, as well as health records, clinical, IT and management personnel.

    After an intense week, the initial guidelines for the project were designed in order to complete the first stage by the end of this year.

    GNU Health provides the following functionality:

    • Health Information System (Demographics, Epidemiology);
    • Hospital Information System;
    • Electronic Medical Records.

    In addition, GNU Health has won the Best Project of Social Benefit award from the Free Software Foundation, amongst other international awards.

  • Wanted: English interpreters in London

    The title is true and it’s a genuine item straight from the news you couldn’t make up department: Capita Translation & Interpeting, the outfit responsible for making an utter mess of the courts and tribunals interpreting contract with the Ministry of Justice (posts passim) is seeking English interpreters for assignments in the London area.

    Yes, it does sound amazing, but below is a screenshot of a page from Capita T&I’s website, captured today at 4.45 pm. English is the fifth item down the list.

    screenshot of Capita T&I web page
    English speakers wanted in London? The mind boggles.

    Do you have any ideas why Crapita should need English interpreters in the capital of the country where the language originated? Put them in the comments below. 🙂

    Hat tip: RPSI Linguist Lounge

  • UK government does something right

    The UK’s dreadful, destructive coalition government has done something right – for a change.

    As part of the forthcoming Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which will be debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, new rights will be granted to the press and citizens to film and report council meetings, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has announced.

    In 2012 the government changed secondary legislation to open up councils’ executive meetings to the press and public. However, this did not apply to councils’ committee meetings or full council, nor to parish councils. Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, asked councils to open up their committee meetings, but many councils are still not complying. Many councils, particularly in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire are still keeping democracy behind closed doors. Some councils had even banned local residents from recording, blogging and tweeting at council meetings. Ministers believe these councils are clinging to outdated analogue ideals in a digital age.

    Mr Pickles said: “An independent local press and robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy. We have given councils more power, but local people need to be able to hold their councils to account. I want to do more to help the new cadre of hyper-local journalists and bloggers.

    “I asked for councils to open their doors, but some have slammed theirs shut, calling in the police to arrest bloggers and clinging to old-fashioned standing orders.

    “This new right will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent for all. My department is standing up for press freedom.”

    BCC council chamber
    The council chamber in Bristol’s Counts Louse (aka City Hall © G. Ferguson)

    Here in Bristol, the council is well ahead of Mr. Pickles. Meetings have been webcast for years and members of the public and elected councillors freely tweet proceedings from the Counts Louse.

  • Embedded Linux on a growth curve

    Tux - the Linux kernel mascot
    Tux – the Linux kernel mascot
    Embedded Linux developers got together in Edinburgh on 24th and 25th October 2013 for the Embedded Linux Conference Europe in conjunction with LinuxCon Europe, German technology news website Heise reports. Sony’s Tim Bird, Chair of the Linux Foundation’s Consumer Electronics working group, presented a wild ride through the achievements of recent years. Linus Torvalds‘ old joke that Linux would one day achieve world domination has become surprisingly serious.

    According to kernel developer Wolfram Sang, problems are causing the overloading of the maintainers who can hardly keep up any more with the incorporation of patches in the kernel. Basic devices were also a topic: the microcontrollers from ARM’s Cortex-M series (which are used for applications such as smart metering, human interface devices, automotive and industrial control systems, white goods, consumer products and medical instrumentation. Ed.) have no memory management unit (MMU), which requires appreciable differences in development. As a consequence uClinux uses its own format for binaries for devices without a MMU.

  • Bristol Post Balls – News in Brief

    Most newspapers have brief items of news (posts passim).

    However, they don’t come much briefer than this one.

    As usual a screenshot is provided, just in case someone down the Temple Way Ministry of Truth decides to edit it after this post is published!

    screenshot of empty Bristol Post article

    Within a few hours, the above post attracted the following apposite comment:

    That’s one of the better written stories I’ve seen on this site.

    Quite! 🙂

  • Stop press! Hold page 27!

    Today’s Independent puts the christening of George Windsor into perspective: one sentence at the foot of page 27 of its dead tree version.

    scan of foot of page 27 of The Independent

    However, the paper’s customary lack of deference is completely ruined by the paper’s online version which features both a photo gallery and a comment piece. 🙁

    A screenshot has been omitted in the interests of taste. 🙂

  • Take care when updating Ubuntu

    Ubuntu logoAccording to German technology news website Heise, news is emerging on discussion and support forums of graphics problems when updating from Ubuntu 13.04 to the latest version – Ubuntu 13.10. Users are reporting graphics problems in the form of a black screen. The problem most affects systems with AMD graphics cards if the proprietary AMD driver (fglrx) is used. However, additional package sources can also cause problems.

    Anyone wishing to update their current Ubuntu 13.04 installation to the latest 13.10 version, should first check whether they are using proprietary graphics drivers and uninstall them if necessary. This can be done in the System/Software & Updates settings under the “Additional Drivers” tab. Uncheck the Nvidia or AMD driver respectively there and pick the X.Org-X-Server driver instead and then reboot.

    Some reports of problems also indicate that there can be problems with the update if individual components of the graphics stack don’t originate from the standard Ubuntu repositories. If you have included PPAs such as Xorg-edgers with the latest code or Ubuntu Unity with the current developer version of the Unity desktop, you should remove these repositories with the ppa-purge tool, which can be installed from the software centre. A reboot before the upgrade is also recommended here to check that everything is working.

  • Bristol City Council – the developer’s friend

    My attention was drawn today to a curious article on the Local Government Association website from Bristol City Council.

    To me it’s reminiscent of a livestock dealer crowing about the fine qualities of the beast he’s trying to sell or perhaps even a prostitute buttering up a prospective client.

    There are some fine examples of jargon too.

    However, this article gives me cause for concern on three counts.

    Firstly, I’m paying the wages of the council’s planning wonks directly through my council tax (and indirectly through your national taxes, a portion of which gets returned to local authorities by way of government grant. Ed.), but it seems like they’re not working for the benefit of the city’s residents, but the planners seem rather concerned with working for the benefit of property developers.

    This leads on to my second concern: those chummy quarterly chats with the Bristol Property Agents Association (BPAA), a cosy club whose membership is drawn from primarily from local residential and commercial property agents, as well as commercial property lawyers, developers, architects, planners, building and quantity surveyors.

    Finally, there’s the offer to renegotiate Section 106 agreements. These are planning obligations under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) and are a mechanism which make a development proposal acceptable in planning terms, that would not otherwise be acceptable. They are focused on site specific mitigation of the impact of development. S.106 agreements are often referred to as ‘developer contributions’ along with highway contributions and the Community Infrastructure Levy.

    For a cash-strapped council, I would have thought that its priority should be squeezing as much from developers under S.106 as it can.

    Evidently not.

    The example of Finzels [sic] Reach given in the article is interesting. After being granted planning permission, the developers renegotiated their S.106 obligations and still went into administration last year. Perhaps their scheme was so poorly planned and financed, it should not have been given planning permission in the first place.

    The article – dated 8th October 2013 – is reproduced in full below.

    Bristol City Council: open for business on Section 106 agreements

    Bristol City Council has an ‘open for business’ policy in relation to bringing forward development and investment in the city. Last year the Council received just over 3,000 planning applications, saying ‘yes’ to over 80 per cent of these (89 per cent of major schemes).

    The council meets representatives of the Bristol Property Agents Association (BPAA) on a quarterly basis in order to discuss live issues, including delivery of development. The West of England Planning Toolkit and the Bristol Planning Protocol were jointly produced with representatives from the development sector.

    Bristol has a good record of housing delivery. Its adopted Core Strategy target is for a minimum of 26,400 dwellings to be delivered between 2006 and 2026, and in the six years since 2006 over 12,700 (approximately 48 per cent) of these dwellings have been constructed. In addition, there are around 7,000 residential units currently with planning consent in the city – a significant proportion of which are yet to be commenced. In order to ensure this much needed development is brought forward, Bristol proactively seeks requests from developers to renegotiate Section 106 agreements on schemes that have become unviable since planning consent was granted. Requests are considered by the planning committee in a process that includes an open book appraisal of viability by the developer.

    Outcome and impact

    This approach is proving successful. Examples include Finzels Reach (a £200 million mixed-use development site in central Bristol), which is a high quality regeneration scheme on a strategically important site.

    Within this context, Bristol negotiated a revised Section 106 package that met some, although not all, of the demands put forward by the developer. The revised position incentivised the developer to deliver the development to their timescale by reducing the Section 106 package by around a third (£4.5 million) if various triggers were reached.


    Kate Hartas
    Media and PR officer
    Telephone: 0117 922 2649

    Since I drew attention to the article, I’ve received the tweet shown below from Bristol City Council.

    screenshot of BCC tweet

    On the basis of that tweet, I have a couple of questions for Bristol City Council’s press office.

    1. If Bristol City Council describes a press release bearing this month’s date as ‘ancient’, what counts as modern?

    2. If that press release was released in error as you seem to be implying, is any quality control exercised by your officers before material is released for publication?

    Answers will be accepted in the comments below.

    Update 23/10/13: The following message has been received this morning from Bristol City Council.

    Hi Steve

    I’ve tried to leave a comment on your blog but get a message saying we’re blocked, probably because our work computers are behind a proxy.

    In answer to your questions though, the press release you’re referring to was sent out in Sept 2012, hence our description of it as ‘pretty ancient’. The website it was published on is not in our control but that of the LGA, which recently did technical amendments to the page (not the release) which updated the automatic date shown on their site. After your tweet we drew this to their attention and asked them to remove it as it was old news and could be confusing given the apparent date. The original press release was not an error, it was sent deliberately in Sept 2012. What we can’t control is who posts it where and for how long after.

    I hope this clears it up for you.

    Kind regards

    Tim Borrett
    Service Manager, Media
    Bristol City Council

    Thanks Tim. That helps explain the ancient nature of the press release (which you might like to know the LGA’s webmaster still hasn’t taken down. Ed.), but not the matter of why the council’s planning department seems to be working more in the interests of property developers and not for the people of Bristol who pay their wages.

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