Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How much for a Doctor Who episode on film?

The missing Doctor Who episodes have received a lot of attention over the years, especially last December when the discovery of two was announced. However perhaps less well-known are that there are a number of black & white 16mm film copies of many existing episodes held in private hands, and occasionally they pop up for sale.

Recently a copy of the Reign of Terror 1 (A Land of Fear) was auctioned on eBay and ended up selling for £1600.00 - a new record for any episode. Doctor Who prints are extremely rare on eBay but like buses two have come along at once - now a copy of the Web Planet 6 (The Centre) is up for auction.

eBay.co.uk: DOCTOR WHO TV EPISODE 1965 16mm film print

Anyone like to guess how much this one will eventually go for?

Is online voting all its cracked up to be?

The Canadian New Democratic Party elected their leader at the weekend. As it happens they chose a sitting MP, Thomas Mulcair. It's a curiosity that just one year ago Mulcair was the sole NDP MP in Quebec in a generation (and only the second one ever) but now the NDP have most of the seats in Quebec (and Quebec has most of the NDP MPs) and Mulcair's victory is in part because the party needs to retain its position in Quebec. There's a further irony that what began as a western protest party is now led by a Quebecer (although this is not the first time that's happened - see the Social Credit Party of Canada).

But ironies and Canadian specifics aside, the leadership election experienced severe problems with voting. Votes could be cast in three ways:
  • Alternative Vote postal ballots, to be sent in advance with preferences chosen without knowing who would get knocked out early & who would endorse who.
  • Votes cast at computer terminals at the party convention, with delegates voting for a single candidate in each round with about an hour to vote each time.
  • Votes cast online from home, again for single candidates in each round with an hour.

And far from being a smooth process the voting descended into chaos with the website struggling to cope and being allegedly hit by a denial-of-service attack. (The Globe and Mail: Hackers attack NDP, delaying electronic leadership vote) The result was a mess as many people took ages to access the site and cast their vote, others either ran out of time or gave up, voting had to be extended multiple times and even split into separate periods for the convention and rest of the world, and eventually the leader was declared much later than expected.

Exactly what went wrong and why expected safeguards didn't work is no doubt already the subject of an investigation. But as an example of high profile online voting it's a worrying sign of how vulnerable it can be and how there's strong potential for disruption that deters many people from casting their votes.

Now sure online voting is used for a lot of private organisations. But most of their votes are much lower key with much less risk. The last online vote I participated in was for an alumni rep on a college council - who sets out to sabotage that sort of election? Rather fewer people than a high profile party or public election and so less conscious or financial consideration needed to be given to protecting the site.

I am sure there are all manner of procedures and safeguards that can be used for online voting. But either they're standard and the hackers still got through, or else the decision was made without enough consideration of the problem. And remember this is a quite technical and modern area it's unsurprising if those making the ultimate decisions and paying the cheques do not have the strongest grasp of every aspect needed. Prospective contractors can make their pitches based on the aspects, but they're ultimately selling to decision makers who have not grown up with computers all around them and often the necessary budgets are not forthcoming. A similar thing could be seen back during the run on Northern Rock when the bank's website proved unable to cope with the demand.

Could we safely use online voting for public elections? Leaving aside the wider issues I think the security factor is a big one that needs to be demonstrably handled first before jumping on the online bandwagon. A rerun of the NDP's problems on a public scale would bring a result into dispute, potentially ending up in the courts if the result was close, and would be far too tempting a target for the most disruptive. And with so much of our electoral administration split across many, many different bodies, including a lot of councils facing strong financial squeezes, I am not persuaded that no expense would be spared to ensure problems did not happen.

Minor tests

Just a quick note of warning that over the next few months I'll be doing a few tests on this blog to see how it handles various features.

I hope things will run smoothly but you can never tell!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Leading from outside parliament?

Party leaders don't always have to be in Parliament. Sometimes they can lead their party and seek the premiership from outside. Today we may discover if one such leader in Australia has been successful and if a party in Canada will pick another.

Right now the Australian state of Queensland is voting in its state election. As noted before (Leading from outside the chamber), the Liberal National Party is being led from outside the state parliament by Campbell Newman, until last year the Mayor of Brisbane. If he succeeds both in leading the LNP to power he will be the first Australian premier since at least federation to pull this trick off. Mayors of other big cities in other countries may wish to try and follow his example. But we won't know until later if he's been successful in taking the target sat of Ashgrove.

Canada has a much more developed tradition of this with many leaders being picked who do not initially sit in the parliament. Even premiers have won their party leadership and been appointed to office either before winning a by-election, such as current British Columbia premier Christy Clark, or going straight to a general election, such as current Yukon prmier Darrell Pasloski. Today is the final day of the New Democratic Party leadership election to pick a new leader for Canada's main opposition party. Two of the contenders do not have seats in the Canadian House of Commons, Brian Topp and Martin Singh, and if either of them wins (it's rather more likely to be Topp than Singh) then they will have to either try to enter the Commons via a by-election or else lead their party from outside parliament until the next general election, then hope they can pick up a target seat. The latter option was followed by the last two NDP leaders (Alexa McDonough & Jack Layton) but since then the NDP has become the official opposition and waiting may no longer be an option. The former route is more mixed - there's a partially observed tradition that a new leader trying to enter the Commons is not opposed by the other major parties, but not all follow it. Way back in the 1940s the attempted comeback by Conservative leader Arthur Meighen was scuppered when he lost his by-election to the NDP's predecessors. More recently the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory saw his leadership destroyed by by-election defeat in 2007.

Should we try this more often in the UK? Alex Salmond pulled it off in Scotland and there's no reason why Salmond should by sui generis. The obvious comparison to Campbell Newman would be Boris Johnson but there's equally no reason why someone who's been successful completely outside Westminster politics couldn't become a party leader and lead a bid from there. Or perhaps someone could take a mid career break from politics and then come back refreshed and renewed. I suspect it would take a smaller party to try this first - perhaps the Liberal Democrats in their quest to be "different" could give it a go? (But no, not Lembit!)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Roger Helmer - Goodbye and good ****ing riddance

It is no secret that I am not a fan of Roger Helmer, one of the most useless Conservative MEPs. Quite apart from his regular bigotry, he has achieved sweet FA for this country in Brussels, just ranting the rant unlike other MEPs who actually work to get the best results for the UK's interests - and he himself has said all he's achieved is talking the talk. I've called for him to be deselected before and so I welcomed the news that he was retiring, only to curse when he retracted it.

Now comes the news that Conservative MEP Roger Helmer joins UKIP (BBC). Being a bunch of ineffectual talk-the-talkers rather than achievers, UKIP and Helmer are well mad for each other.

Meanwhile the Conservative team in the European Parliament has become much more efficient per MEP.


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