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2014 Notebook

From the late 90s I blogged frequently with various random observations and things I wanted to record. Pre-2003 material seems to have been lost on various early web platforms, and this sort of stuff went over to Twitter eventually, but I’ve gathered together the shorter WordPress blog posts in these annual roundups…

SolidWorks 2014 review on

Tuesday 25 March 2014

We resurrected an old site this week at the instigation of one of my business clients: was originally set up to host an archive of CAD software reviews done by my old friend Colin Mathews, and the site has generated a substantial number of readers over the years. But we hadn’t added anything to it since about 2008 …until now. The site returns with Colin’s in-depth review of SolidWorks 2014, the market leading 3D CAD application which he first reviewed back in 1996. It’s good to be back!

Tell Us What We’re Voting For, Local Council, And We’ll Vote!

Monday 31 March 2014

Back in 2012, my wife and I were walking down Hills Road, returning from having voted in a local election, when we ran into some neighbours, walking towards the Polling Station. “Off to vote then?”, I asked. They shook their heads: “No, don’t think we will”. Now, we’re talking here about an intelligent, middle-aged professional couple, who were not in a hurry, and who had been interested enough in local affairs to join in a planning objection a few months before. I’m certain they voted in the General Election, so they knew how easy and quick it is to cast your vote. And on local election day, they were about to walk past a Polling Station without bothering to go in. Why would this be the case?
When you think about it, the answer is obvious: they were probably uncertain about what the election was for, and they were almost certainly unaware of the candidates. Far from neglecting their responsibilities as citizens of a democracy, they were doing the right thing: if you don’t know what you’re voting for, it’s potentially irresponsible to vote at all.
Voter turnout in local elections is reaching an all-time low. Politicians and commentators moan about the apathy of the electorate, but General Elections show that if the electors have the facts, they’ll still make the effort to vote. All we need to do is to ensure that the electors have a similar level of awareness when it comes to local elections. And it shouldn’t be difficult.
The council is able to distribute printed material to each house in the city when it wants to. We get a quarterly magazine and a council-funded ultra-local newsletter. We get an official notice of election (“poll card”). What I’m suggesting is that the council produces something, perhaps alongside one of these, to explain forthcoming local elections to the public. It needn’t be expensive, or boring – it could easily go on a single sheet of A4. At a minimum, it would tell us:
1. What the forthcoming election is for; 2. How the voting system works; and 3. Who the candidates are.
In addition, I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility to also include:
4. Results of the previous election for the whole council; 5. Results of the previous election in that ward; and 6. A link to a council website which lists the candidates and links to their websites.
This would give everyone the chance to make an informed decision before polling day, and never again to discover candidates for the first time only when confronted with their name on the ballot paper.
So why does the council not provide its electorate with the material needed to make such an informed decision? I can guess. Finding out about candidates who might otherwise have remained unknown might inspire many people to venture out and vote, and quite frankly, if you’re from the parties who work hard to stuff out letterboxes with propaganda, why would you want the lesser-known candidates to get any unearned publicity? You’ve probably got higher priorities.
But I’m not talking about highlighting obscure independent candidates here. At the last County Council election, I did not receive a single piece of campaign literature from the Conservative Party, who were (and still are) the largest party on the council. As far as most people round here knew, voting for the main party on the council might not even have been an option. That might be an indictment of the local Conservative Party, but it’s far more of an indictment of the democratic system itself. We should have this information.
Of course, some enterprising third parties do attempt to educate the public. The Cambridge News will run a small piece on each ward, listing the candidates, and many of us might happen to buy that edition. There are political blogs (like my own Queen Ediths Online) which can help a tiny proportion of the electorate. But things could be so much better. Which incumbent councillors are going to be brave enough to take up this suggestion and kickstart local democracy by giving people the information they need?

Forecasting the European Election in the East of England

Tuesday 20 May 2014

You rarely see serious forecasts of the European elections on a regional (constituency) basis, mainly because the proportional voting system makes it much harder than “first past the post” systems. But I thought I’d take a look, spurred on by an enquiry via Twitter regarding any advice I could give on voting tactically against a particular party. You can probably guess which one.
So firstly, let’s look at the voting system we’re given. The East of England constituency covers over 4 million voters in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. We each vote for our favoured party, and the votes result in seven MEPs being elected, in a way which ingeniously aims to reflect the proportion of votes given to each party. This is called the d’Hondt method, which sounds very Eurocratic, but dates back to Thomas Jefferson.
Each party nominates up to seven candidates (in case their party gets almost all of the votes!), in an order of preference. When the votes are in, a table is drawn up which shows how many candidates (if any) from each party are elected. The table shows the vote share gained by each party in the first column, then their vote share divided by 2 in the next, their vote share divided by 3 in the next, and so on. This is the table for the East of England after the last European Election in 2009:
The seven MEPs elected were simply the seven biggest shares in the table, i.e:
So you can see that the first three candidates on the Conservative list were elected, along with two from UKIP, one from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. The battleground is always for the last seat or two, which in this case saw the second UKIP candidate and the third Conservative candidate beating the first Green candidate. That’s why this time around, the Green Party is saying that if it can only increase its vote share from 9% to 10%, it should win one of the seats.
OK, so how’s it going to go this time? There don’t seem to be any reliable regional opinion polls, so we have to look at the national polls, and impose them on our local voting patterns. Firstly, let’s look at how the East of England vote compared to the national vote in 2009:
So we see that the East of England was more disposed towards the Conservatives and UKIP than the country as a whole, and less disposed towards Labour. Now let’s take an average of recent national opinion polls for 2014, and include the same regional bias:
Obviously this is very crude, but it’s the best I’ve got to go on. Now let’s put those votes into the proportional representation table, as above:
We see that there are two changes compared to 2009, with a third UKIP and a single Green candidate being elected at the expense of the third Conservative and the single Liberal Democrat candidate. The safe candidates are the first two Conservative and UKIP candidates, and the Labour candidate. The battleground, as ever, is for the last couple of seats, with the third UKIP and the Green candidates winning out over the second Labour and third Conservative candidates. The existing Liberal Democrat MEP is well off the pace, finishing not only behind those four, but also behind the fourth UKIP candidate.
If you wanted to vote tactically to stop the Green candidate, you’d probably be best off voting Labour. If you wanted to stop the third UKIP candidate, you’d probably be best off voting Labour, while encouraging non-Labour voters to vote Green.
I have no great expertise in the European elections, so please feel free to pick holes of any size in this analysis if you know more than I do.

Old views of Cavendish Avenue

Sunday 8 June 2014

I just noticed that the aerial views on Bing Maps are still showing the plot on which our house stands, before it was developed …so I thought I’d record them here for posterity. The old house really looks quite a state, I do prefer the three that they built in its place!
Click for larger versions.

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