Monthly Archives: February 2015

  • TidyBS5: callers on foot can use Day’s Road tip

    As part of the campaign to tidy up the Easton and Lawrence Hill areas of Bristol, we residents are attempting to ensure that we can use all the council services for which we pay through our taxes.

    These include such things as recycling collections on Stapleton Road and the provision of adequate recycling facilities in the inner city’s council-owned tower blocks (posts passim).

    Day's Road tip
    Bristol City Council’s St Philips Recycling Centre (aka Day’s Road tip). Looks welcoming, doesn’t it?

    Another bone of contention was the fact that Bristol City Council’s Day’s Road ‘recycling centre’ (better known to locals as ‘the tip’. Ed.) appeared to be off limits to callers on foot. The Kier/May Gurney staff that run the facility for the council had even gone so far as to place a sign at the entrance stating no callers on foot. Furthermore, I’d heard anecdotally that the reason for this prohibition was down to that favourite old ‘excuse’ – health and safety.

    In order to find out, the Freedom of Information request below was duly sent to the city council.

    Dear Bristol City Council,

    This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

    I have been informed that callers on foot are not allowed to use the facilities at Day’s Road due to “health and safety“.

    I would be grateful if you could provide a copy of the relevant risk assessment.

    Yours faithfully,

    Steve Woods

    That’s right, if “health and safety” was the reason, show us the risk assessment.

    The relevant risk assessment has now been received in answer to the FoI request.

    Curiously enough, non-motorised callers are allowed, as the following extract shows.

    Non-motorised customers should be advised to approach from east (SOFA project side) avoiding both queue & need to cross traffic stream.

    Choose a quieter time (weekdays, mid-morning) by arrangement with site staff.


    Site users should be advised to make themselves visible, i.e. visibility clothing or markers, & lights in poor conditions.

    The assessment also contains the following advice to pedestrians:

    Customers should avoid unnecessarily crossing the traffic stream & exercise extreme caution when leaving site.

    I shall therefore be digging out my Dayglo clothing and wheelbarrow and getting on the phone! 😉

    Download the city council’s response in proprietary MS Office format (isn’t it disappointing that the city council thinks everyone uses MS Office? Ed.).

  • Bristol City Council asked about open standards

    BCC logoWhenever I make a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Bristol City Council, the response invariably comes back in a proprietary Microsoft Office format (e.g. .docx, .xlsx, etc.), a practice I find less than satisfactory – not to say galling – as an advocate of free and open source software and open standards.

    That being so, the following FoI request has been made today to the council:

    Dear Bristol City Council,

    This is a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

    In July 2014, the Cabinet Office announced the adoption of open standards for document viewing and collaboration in central government. See for details.

    The standards adopted are:

    – PDF/A or HTML for viewing government documents;
    – Open Document Format (ODF) for sharing or collaborating on government documents.

    What plans does Bristol City Council have to emulate central government’s move and when will similar open standards be adopted by the council for communicating and collaborating with citizens.

    Yours faithfully,

    Steve Woods

    Hopefully an answer will be forthcoming by Document Freedom Day 2015 (posts passim).

  • DFD2015 is 25th March

    Document Freedom Day is an international day celebrating open standards and happens every year on the last Wednesday of March. This year it will take place on 25th March.

    It is a day to come together and raise attention towards the ever growing importance of Open Standards for all aspects of our digital communication and information accessibility.

    With the rise of new technologies and hardware, more and more communication is transmitted via electronic data. At the same time, more and more information is provided in digital formats or even created in digital format and will never be transferred to any analogue media. Various companies try to exploit these factors by offering communication or information services that use proprietary data formats to lock users into their software, hardware and services, so-called vendor lock-in.

    Celebrating Document Freedom Day is part of the fight against proprietary standards and vendor lock-in and a great opportunity to promote open standards, such as Open Document Format.

    Open standards are formats and protocols which everybody can use free of charge and restriction. They come with compatibility “built-in” – the way they work is shared publicly and any organisation can use them in their products and services without asking for permission. Open standards are the basis of cooperation and modern society: train tracks, power sockets and natural language are all examples of specifications that we all rely on and take for granted in daily life.

    DFD 2015 flyer

    In the past year there’s been a great boost to open standards in the United Kingdom with central government’s adoption of open standards for viewing or collaborating on government documents (posts passim).

    Now that Whitehall has adopted open standards, it’ll probably be a long battle to get local government to do likewise.

    For more information on Document Freedom Day 2015, visit Document Freedom.

  • Guest post: Old Kent Road

    My niece Katherine has recently posted a review of Old Kent Road, a documentary by Ian Parkin on her website.

    The review is reproduced below by kind permission of the author.

    I recently watched ‘Old Kent Road’, a new documentary film written and directed by Ian Parkin. The screening took place in Deptford Cinema, a new not-for-profit space which has recently opened on Deptford Broadway.

    The synopsis of the film states the director’s intentions: ‘(to) explore the rich history, examine its pluralist architecture and take stock of what the road is now.’ I was expecting the film to provide a historical background to the area, interlaced with local interviews and touching on the threat from property developers who have the road in their sights. Instead I was shocked by the bloody-minded ignorance of a film that bombards its audience with the director’s bigoted nostalgia.

    The film starts with a summary of the road’s history, from its Roman origins and Saxon name of Watling Street, via Chaucer to Victorian Britain and the present day. This is the end of the historical background, and shortly afterwards the mood changes abruptly. Due perhaps to his hurried rendition of the road’s history, in which there is no gap between the Victorian era and our own, Parkin laments the transformation of the Georgian terraces and gardens into ‘gaudy’ shopfronts as if this was something that happened overnight. His ensuing statement about the road’s increasing poverty and deprivation seem to come from the same misinformed viewpoint.

    Parkin goes on to complain about the lack of pubs and bars on the road (even though quite a few are shown in passing). He interviews three men about their recollections of the drinking culture in the area during the 1980s. What proceeds is a lengthy and jumbled summary of their nights out. Why the narrator spent so long interviewing them, despite their derogatory remarks about women and their dubious idea of ‘a good night’ (‘you start a fight, you get nicked, you pull a fat bird’) is unclear. The discussion was completely unedited, allowing the men to ramble on at leisure and completely killing any momentum that could have been building in the narrative.

    Strangely, the interview stands out for being one of the few times in the film where the narrator himself paused for breath. Footage was rarely allowed to speak to itself, with no relationship between sound and image except that which we were force-fed by the commentary. There were times when this was morally questionable. Snooping on ‘migrants’ meeting in a Tesco car park, while making assumptions about them and their lives, or lamenting the poverty of the area while showing close crops of people’s houses and shopfronts is, frankly, criminal. Filmmakers have an ethical responsibility to the people and places they are depicting, and this film felt at times like a one man diatribe.

    An example of this is when Parkin takes issue with the number of churches along the Old Kent Road. Instead of interviewing any churchgoers or members of the clergy, he prefers to film from a distance, while making a private mockery of each organisation. Churches are scorned for their ‘humorous taglines’ and supposedly inappropriate locations. One is criticised for using a building on an industrial estate, another for being ‘next to a Plumbase shop’. Some are blamed for taking buildings away from supposedly ‘better’ uses, for example the Iglesia la Luz del Mundo (Church of the Light of the World) which is lambasted for having the temerity to occupy the former home of Regency architect Michael Searle. Even more bizarrely, another church is castigated for using the former Wells Furniture Emporium building. Parkin remarks on the seemingly astonishing coincidence that this building bears resembles to a traditional church. But, he says, as the building was not built as a church, ‘the light that shines in this building is despite the use, not because of it…it is a secular light’.

    This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of space, and one of the main problems with the film in general. Buildings and spaces do not have inherent qualities that are present from their birth. These come with a building’s social use, the patterns and activities of the people and groups who use them. Searle’s house is no good to the public as an empty relic, and the bakelite brilliance of the Wells building seems perfectly suited to its new use. Similarly, empty buildings do not magically retain their former qualities. Later in the film, Parkin looks to two empty buildings on the road, which have had mock signs installed to make them look like shop fronts. He praises the fact that these buildings are empty, and says we should admire them, because ‘at least they haven’t been gentrified yet’. These buildings are not worthy of praise simply because of their age. Parkin seems to want to treat them as relics, with their peeling paint and crumbling brickwork. But this, together with the word ‘gentrified’ is precisely the type of thinking that allows property developers to take over. It implies that gentrification is a homogeneous, inevitable process in which we, as local residents, have absolutely no say. Though the situation appears bleak, the idea that any new use for a building is automatically harmful (what about converting it into social housing, or a new community centre?), and that they are simply waiting to be pounced upon by the likes of Lend Lease or Brookfield, is a complete fallacy. If we stand by and simply admire such buildings in their derelict or dilapidated state, we are simply asking for the developers to snap them up.

    These big development companies are barely mentioned, besides a few comments at the end which seem tacked on for good measure, without any critical focus. Existing large developments are equally absent, except the ‘Walkie Scorchie’, everyone’s favourite coffee-table joke, and a brief section about the Shard in which it is described as ‘a lighthouse standing proud’. Parkin does criticise the Shard’s architecture and the lack of a coherent skyline in the City, but the fact that such a monument to oil-baron investment and free market Capitalism can be compared to a guiding beacon is very worrying. What about the tactics of the big property developers that allows them to build such megaliths, and what does it mean for areas like the Old Kent Road? If Parkin had focused his attentions on the motives of such big companies and how they are able to take over an area, the film could have been very different. The Old Kent Road has undergone a great many changes in its recent history, now with large supermarkets and out-of town shopping centres catering more to passing motorists than the surrounding community. But this is due to the skewed policies of successive Governments, who have been sitting comfortably in the back pockets of large corporations since the 1980s. This partnership between politics and big business is where we should lay the blame for the increasing privatisation and homogenisation of our towns and cities, not the people who live in and use them.

    After all that is said in the film, its rather weak ending of ‘let’s enjoy the Old Kent Road now as it is, before it changes’ seems totally out of place, not to mention disingenuous. Parkin uses the film to pour his white-middle-class-male scorn over the road and its inhabitants. This narration-heavy style of filmmaking can be dangerous, as it allows people to ram their own prejudices down viewers’ throats, without recourse to self-reflection or a second opinion. Parkin has neglected his ethical responsibility in making this film. He also leads us to believe that the encroachment of transnational property developers is totally inevitable, and therefore above discussion or debate. This is especially dangerous as the film is billed as an ‘alternative’ history of the area, and if left uncriticised it could do a lot of damage.

    publicity for Old Kent Road

  • Homes to let. Resident rats unaffected

    Yesterday’s Bristol Post reports on the dire state of rented properties in Morton Street, Barton Hill, just down the road from the Little Russell (posts passim).

    One of the problems faced by the tenants in question is that they’re having to share their homes with sitting tenants – resident brown rats. This is hardly a conducive environment to live in, let alone one in which to bring up one’s children.

    brown rat
    Landlord or sitting tenant? Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    It’s said that no-one is ever more than a few yards away from a rat and these rodents do have any easy life in today’s cities. Their life is made even easier by the proliferation of fast food outlets in recent years combined with the untidy habits of their patrons.

    The report really highlights the fact that Bristol is a divided city. While they city’s great and good are indulging in a year of junketing, mutual backslapping and filling each others’ bank accounts with public money courtesy of Bristol Green Capital, its poor are enduring infestations of vermin, plus the seemingly insurmountable inner-city blights of litter and fly-tipping.

    Well done to ward councillors Marg Hickman and Hibaq Jama for highlighting this problem and taking up the tenants’ plight.

  • LibreOffice and OpenOffice now available as web services on Firefox OS

    The Mozilla blog has announced that rollApp, a US cloud provider, is making the free and open source LibreOffice and OpenOffice office packages available as web services on smartphones running Firefox OS. Apps for Android devices will follow.

    As regards LibreOffice, the packages available for Firefox OS and able to run in a web browser are Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentation) and Draw (drawing).

    OpenOffice screenshot

    The programs themselves run on the rollApp server as web services. Apps for Android smartphones and tablets should follow shortly. Dropbox, Google Drive und Microsoft’s OneDrive can be used as storasge locations. Along with OpenOffice and LibreOffice, 18 other programs can be run under Firefox OS using the rollApp service, which costs about $7 per month after a free trial period of 14 days has expired.

    In addition to the applications for Firefox OS, rollApp offers a wide range of other open source packages, including graphics packages such as Gimp and Inkscape, plus games.

  • Coracle!

    I’ve been in London for the weekend and one of the joys of visiting is a chance to see my niece Katherine.

    She’s currently in the middle of a project and is building a coracle in her flat in Bermondsey.

    coracle on living room floor
    Picture courtesy of Katherine Midgley

    Like other vessels covered by a membrane stretched over a frame, coracles are an ancient form of water craft. The use of coracles in Britain was noted by Julius Caesar on the occasion of his invasion of Britain in 55 BCE.

    The etymology of coracle is from the Welsh corwgl, which is in turn related to Irish curach, meaning a boat.

    Although an ancient form of craft, coracles have still found working uses up to the present day. For instance, for many years until 1979, Shrewsbury coracle maker Fred Davies achieved some notability amongst football fans; he would sit in his coracle during Shrewsbury Town FC home matches at their old riverside ground of Gay Meadow and retrieve stray balls from the River Severn. His coracle was last heard of in the National Football Museum.

    Coracles are difficult to manoeuvre as they are unstable due to their sitting “on” that water. In addition, coracles can easily be carried by currents and the wind. Nevertheless, let’s hope the maiden voyage is recorded for posterity.

  • Bodhi Linux 3.0.0 released

    One of the great things about using a GNU/Linux operating system is that there is generally a purpose-built distribution available should you have specific needs.

    One such specific need is a lightweight operating system for older hardware and a great distribution for using on such machines is Bodhi Linux, which has announced the release of version 3.0.0.

    Bodhi Linux logo

    Minimum system requirements for running Bodhi Linux 3.0.0 are:

    • 1.0GHz processor;
    • 256MB of RAM;
    • 4GB of drive space.

    However, the following are recommended:

    • 1GB of RAM;
    • 10GB of drive space;
    • OpenGL enabled graphics card.

    Bodhi Linux screenshot

    Bodhi Linux is a lightweight distribution based on Ubuntu (the new release is based upon Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. Ed.) that uses the Enlightenment window manager. The distribution’s philosophy is to provide a minimal base system that users can populate with the software they want. Thus, by default it only includes software that essential to most Linux users, including a file browsers, a web browser and a terminal emulator. It avoids software or features that its developers deem unnecessary.

  • Free software is my Valentine

    Today is 14th February. Most people know this as Saint Valentine’s Day, when florists are overworked and restaurants overcharge. 😉

    However, every year 14th February is also I Love Free Software Day.

    It’s the day when free software users are encouraged to say thank you to the people that produce the great software that millions of people and businesses use and rely upon every other day of the year.

    I love free software campaign banner
    Do you love free software too? Show it!

    I’d therefore like to express my love for free software and say thank you to:

    Along with the rest of the world, I’m indebted to you all.

    If you use free software too, support this annual campaign, which can be followed on social media with the #ilovefs hashtag.

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