Thursday, 10 December 2015

Grant Shapps... a very nasty piece of work indeed.

Let's start at the start.  I knew about Grant Shapps and his various online activities quite a while ago; he was one of a number of criminals trying to sell get-rich-quick work at home internet schemes. I say "trying", but unbelievably, he was remarkably successful in selling his shit and I dare say he got pretty rich, pretty quick, but I doubt anyone else did. This was when he was variously calling himself "Michael Green" (at commercial events) and "Grant Shapps" (at political events).

Grant has said that he cut off any relation to the "Michael Green" business prior to becoming an MP, but this is a lie. He was still running illegal internet schemes whilst he was an MP and was lying about it whenever questioned.

He - or one of his "assistants" - has been frantically deleting his old websites, but that just shows how stupid he is. He doesn't seem to realise that a lot of historical mirroring of the internet goes on. There's not just the Wayback Machine, Grant. There's a lot more than that you'll have to block to cover up your crimes. But you don't know where it is, do you? And nor should you, because you would almost certainly try to compromise it some way.

Anyway, Grant is obviously very paranoid. Here's what I asked him on Twitter:

I didn't get a response, although it was a polite request about something that he obviously knew about, i.e. his illegal internet activities. I expected some sort of response. I mean, is he really so out of touch with the public that he simply doesn't care how he appears online? For an "online guru", that seems unlikely. Obviously, the guy just isn't into answering questions, however vaguely posed. I thought I'd give him a bit of a push:

But he still wouldn't answer.

My final message to him was this:

And that was it. I don't think any of it was offensive and certainly not a reason to do this:

Thanks Grant. Or Michael, or whatever you're calling yourself today.

Monday, 26 October 2015

General Election 2015: General: (5) - More alternatives

Final post on this subject, promise.

CURRENT FPTP SYSTEM by country (NI excluded as always):

Wales (total 40 seats)

Conservatives 407,813 votes (27.2%) - Actual seats won:  11
Labour 552,473 votes (36.9%) - Actual seats won:  25
Plaid Cymru 181,704 votes (12.1%) - Actual seats won:  3
Lib Dem 97,783 votes (6.5%) - Actual seats won:  1
UKIP 204,330 votes (13.6%) - Actual seats won:  0
Green 38,344 (3.6%) - Actual seats won 0

Scotland (total 59 seats)

SNP 1,454,436 votes (50.0%) - Actual seats won:  56
Conservatives 449,264 votes (15.4%) - Actual seats won:  1
Labour 691,980 votes (23.8%) - Actual seats won:  1
Lib Dem 219,675 votes (7.6%) - Actual seats won:  1
UKIP 47.078 votes (1.6%) - Actual seats won:  0
Green 39,205 (1.4%) - Actual seats won 0

England (total 533 seats)

Conservatives 10,483,321 votes (41.0%) - Actual seats won:  319
Labour 8.087.164 votes (31.7%) - Actual seats won:  206
Lib Dem 2,089,404 votes (8.2%) - Actual seats won:  6
UKIP 3,611,260 votes (14.1%) - Actual seats won:  1
Green 1,073,260 (4.2%) - Actual seats won 1

FPTP Overall (total 632 seats)

Conservative 331 - Labour 232 - SNP 56 - Lib Dem 8 - Plaid 3 - UKIP 1 - Green 1


Wales (total 40 seats)

Conservatives 407,813 votes (27.2%) - Seats won under PR:  11
Labour 552,473 votes (36.9%) - Seats won under PR:  15
Plaid Cymru 181,704 votes (12.1%) - Seats won under PR:  5
Lib Dem 97,783 votes (6.5%) - Seats won under PR:  3
UKIP 204,330 votes (13.6%) - Seats won under PR:  5
Green 38,344 (3.6%) - Seats won under PR:  1

Scotland (total 59 seats)

SNP 1,454,436 votes (50.0%) - Seats won under PR:  30
Conservatives 449,264 votes (15.4%) - Seats won under PR:  9
Labour 691,980 votes (23.8%) - Seats won under PR:  14
Lib Dem 219,675 votes (7.6%) - Seats won under PR:  4
UKIP 47.078 votes (1.6%) - Seats won under PR:  1
Green 39,205 (1.4%) - Seats won under PR:  1

England (total 533 seats)

Conservatives 10,483,321 votes (41.0%) - Seats won under PR:  219
Labour 8.087.164 votes (31.7%) - Seats won under PR:  169
Lib Dem 2,089,404 votes (8.2%) - Seats won under PR:  45
UKIP 3,611,260 votes (14.1%) - Seats won under PR:  76
Green 1,073,260 (4.2%) - Seats won under PR:  23
TUSC/Left Unity (0.1%) - Seats won under PR:  1

There is a slight skewing in the England results due to the large number of spoilt ballots (under a pure PR system, spoilt ballots would have two seats of their own).  TUSC strictly speaking would only be entitled to 0.69 of a seat, so I rounded this up, the other went to the Lib Dems as they would be next closest to gaining another (well, they had to go somewhere).

Pure PR Overall (total 632 seats)

Conservative 239 - Labour 198 - SNP 30 - Lib Dem 52 - Plaid 5 - UKIP 82 - Green 25 - TUSC 1

The above two systems restrain the total number of English/Welsh/Scottish MPs to 632, but alternative systems could be used. As it would be guesswork to try to predict a result under AV, the only other obvious thing to look at is a system that generated MPs according to minimum percentage of the vote by constituency, This would reflect more honestly the views of the electorate, but would necessitate an increase in the number of MPs; most seats would have one MP, but a good number would have two and possibly even three (although this would be a bit of a freak result).


Wales (number of seats 40, number of MPs variable according to vote share)

27.5% requirement: Conservative 17 - Labour 33 - Lib Dem 3 - Plaid 5 - UKIP 0 - Green 0  (58 Welsh MPs)

30.0% requirement: Conservative 17 - Labour 30 - Lib Dem 1 - Plaid 4 - UKIP 0 - Green 0  (52 Welsh MPs)

32.5% requirement: Conservative 13 - Labour 28 - Lib Dem 1 - Plaid 3 - UKIP 0 - Green 0  (45 Welsh MPs)

Scotland (number of seats 59, number of MPs variable according to vote share)

27.5% requirement: Conservative 10 - Labour 31 - Lib Dem 9 - SNP 59 - UKIP 0 - Green 0  (109 Scottish MPs)

30.0% requirement: Conservative 5 - Labour 24 - Lib Dem 8 - SNP 59 - UKIP 0 - Green 0  (96 Scottish MPs)

32.5% requirement: Conservative 4 - Labour 10 - Lib Dem 6 - SNP 59 - UKIP 0 - Green 0  (79 Scottish MPs)

England (number of seats 533, number of MPs variable according to vote share)

27.5% requirement: Conservative 395 - Labour 292 - Lib Dem 30 - UKIP 11 - Green 1  (729 English MPs)

30.0% requirement: Conservative 380 - Labour 280 - Lib Dem 22 - UKIP 8 - Green 1  (691 English MPs)

32.5% requirement: Conservative 365 - Labour 267 - Lib Dem 18 - UKIP 2 - Green 1  (653 English MPs)

Overall (number of seats 632, number of MPs variable according to vote share)

27.5% requirement: Conservative 422 - Labour 356 - SNP 59 - Lib Dem 42 - UKIP 11 - Plaid 5  - Green 1  (896 MPs)

30.0% requirement: Conservative 402 - Labour 334 - SNP 59 - Lib Dem 31 - UKIP 8 - Plaid 4 - Green 1  (839 MPs)

32.5% requirement: Conservative 382 - Labour 305 - SNP 59 - Lib Dem 25 - Plaid 3 - UKIP 2 - Green 1  (777 MPs)

Interesting, eh? No.  Oh well.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

General Election 2015: General: (4) - Micro-Parties


What are they?

Why are they there?

What do they think they're doing?

Why do they think that we want to listen to them?

Should we?

Let's see.

For the purposes of this post, micro-parties and independents can easily be defined - strip out the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru - i.e. the main defined political parties - and look at whatever remains.

Of the micro-parties, the left-wing Trade Union And Socialist Coalition (TUSC) fielded easily the most candidates; as sometimes they stood alongside Left Unity (LU) I've treated TUSC/LU as a single party, fielding 138 candidates and cumulatively receiving 36,945 votes (268 votes per candidate). Their top ten performing candidates (Dave Nellist's 3.91% in Coventry Northwest and Jenny Sutton's 3.11% in Tottenham were notable standouts, but 10th place on the list and support is down to 1.20%) all lost to Labour candidates.

From the right, the only party standing a semi-significant number of candidates were the English Democrats in 32 constituencies. They managed 6,531 votes (204 votes/candidate) and even their best-performing candidate only managed 1.30% of the vote.  Curiously, all their top candidates all lost to Labour too.

The usual suspects (Christian Party et al, Loonies and affiliates, regionalists) also stood, but as ever made no significant inroads.  Beyond that, the only others of significance were the National Health Action Party (12 candidates, 20,210 votes, but significantly down on the last election) and most intriguingly given current political manoeuvrings, CISTA.

CISTA campaign for the legalisation of cannabis and put up 28 candidates, accumulating 6,566 votes (235 votes/candidate). Whilst this might seem as feeble as the average independent or small party, for a brand new party without a history, this could well be significant. If there is no move by the government to change the classification of cannabis before the next election - and let's face it, politicians are so shit-scared of the issue that there will be no move - there would be enormous value for them to go all-out for the next one. Most people with a CISTA candidate standing in their constituency weren't aware until they saw the ballot paper; with prior name recognition, and another five years of Tory rule, this could be a party that could build a lot of popular support.

But for the first time for a while, no independents or representatives of small parties won any seats at all. Obviously this is an idiosyncracy of our broken voting system, but it's still a bit worrying. performing independent candidates.

Things get complicated from herein...

Monday, 28 September 2015

General Election 2015: General: (3): Some scenarios

Parliamentary MPs returned under FPTP

The winners

SNP:  1,454,436 votes / 56 seats / 49.87% popular vote / 25,972 votes per seat

Conservatives (inc. Speaker):  11,340,398 votes / 331 seats / 37.83% popular vote / 34,261 votes per seat

Labour:  9,331,617 votes / 232 seats / 31.13% popular vote / 40,222 votes/seat

Plaid Cymru:  181,704 votes / 3 seats / 12.13% popular vote / 60,568 votes/seat

Obviously the SNP and Plaid have a big advantage because they concentrate their efforts on seats in their respective countries and probably should be considered as a separate bloc.

The can't-really-complain brigade

LibDem:  2,415,862 votes / 8 seats / 8.06% popular vote / 301,983 votes/seat

Given that they were always going to be up against it after cosying up to the Tories, they did remarkably well, all things considered. If they hadn't spent the last thirty years shoring up their targets, they'd have been wiped out completely. 8 seats was a good result.

The losers set up to lose

Green:  1,150,809 votes / 1 seat / 3.84% popular vote / 1,150,809 votes/seat

UKIP:  3,862,740 votes / 1 seat / 12.86% popular vote / 3,862,740 votes/seat

The most striking thing here is that if Labour had backed the Lib Dems on the AV vote in 2012 (and won) then the Conservative party wouldn't have a majority of any description (nor would anyone else, but it does seem in retrospect a very poor decision on Labour's part).  It's impossible to tell how the election would have turned out under AV - as there isn't any data - but it couldn't have delivered a Conservative majority under any circumstances. You can pretend to know where the second, third, etc. choices would have gone, you can make a guess, but no more than that. Point is, it would have given a hung parliament.

FPTP is a great system for those in power as it artificially preserves the power base long after the support has in reality gone elsewhere. That's why Labour and the Conservatives like it...they get loads of votes from it for free.

Here's the FPTP vote:

This would have been the result under PR:

Doesn't say much really. Worse? Better?

I have other ways.

More later.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

General Election 2015: General: (2) - turnout


...I think I'm happy with my election results now (I know it's months since the election, but you know, stuff) having finally got all the figures for spoiled ballots, or at least as close as I think I can get. And I've not done Northern Ireland (where apparently 0.66% of votes cast were spoiled); this is just for the 632 English/Welsh/Scottish seats.

Anyway, just some quick general stats for now:

  • Potential electorate:  45,116,156
  • Total votes:  30,078,383 (66.67% of electorate)
  • Valid votes:  29,978,905 (66.45% of electorate)
  • Spoilt ballots:  99,478 (0.33% of votes cast)

Turnout and spoilt ballots by region:

Midlands - Valid turnout 65.17% (lower than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.38% (higher)

Eastern England - Valid turnout 67.56% (higher than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.37% (higher)

London - Valid turnout 65.39% (lower than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.33% (average)

NW - Valid turnout 64.32% (lower than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.39% (higher)

SE - Valid turnout 68.55% (higher than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.38% (higher)

SW - Valid turnout 69.51% (higher than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.31% (lower)

NE/Yorks - Valid turnout 62.78% (lower than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.35% (higher)

Scotland - Valid turnout 71.00% (higher than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.13% (lower)

Wales - Valid turnout 65.65% (lower than national average) - Spoiled ballots 0.21% (lower)

Very noticeable that Scotland had (as a region) both the highest % turnout and the lowest % of spoilt ballots, but nothing much else stands out until you really look at the details.

In terms of spoiled ballots, the real standout constituency is (of course) Buckingham, the Speaker's seat. This is always a mess...other main parties aren't supposed to stand as the Speaker is meant to be impartial, but they sometimes do (this time UKIP and the Greens stood candidates) and it all adds up to a lot of people in the constituency feeling as though they have no representation.

Notably high numbers of spoiled ballots:

Buckingham - 1,289 spoiled ballots
Leicester East - 533 spoiled ballots
Luton South - 431 spoiled ballots
Leicester South - 398 spoiled ballots
Tiverton and Honiton - 378 spoiled ballots
Blackburn - 325 spoiled ballots

For perspective, the average constituency had 157 spoiled ballots.

And, if they were to count, the total of 99,478 spoiled ballots would be equivalent to 2 seats under a system of proportional representation. That's not insignificant; if this many people are prepared to deliberately spoil their ballot paper rather than not voting at all (under the FPTP system these are the only two options available to people who feel they have no party to vote for), what if there was a "None of the Above" option on each ballot paper?

If there was the opportunity to vote NONE, it would give an extra option, so it should cut the number of spoiled ballots and stop so many people voting tactically. But most of all, it would ensure that these "protest" votes are counted and included in the totals (they are not at the moment) and so give a much more accurate reflection of the vote.

Well, something to think about.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Labour Leadership Race, pt. 6 and aftermath

The polls have closed, the votes have been counted...

...and Jeremy Corbyn wins on the first ballot by a country mile (59.5% in a four-horse race is almost unheard-of). Straight up.

Naturally I wanted to have a full breakdown of the voting, because I am a total nerd, but I couldn't quite get everything I wanted. Nevertheless, enough for some interesting stats.

Estimates of votes cast were way off, of some 540,272 eligible voters, 422,664 valid votes were cast, so a much higher turnout (78.2% rather than yesterday's 61% estimate - I thought at the time it sounded very low) than was thought.

First preference votes:

 Andy Burnham:  80,462 votes, 19.04%

Yvette Cooper:  71,928 votes, 17.02%

Jeremy Corbyn:  251,417 votes, 59.48%

Liz Kendall:  18,857 votes, 4.46%

Makes my 54% prediction (which was my most optimistic) on the first ballot look a bit pathetic really. But that's because I was still somehow convinced that some party apparatchiks would do something, to somehow stop this happening. But they didn't.

Needless to say, I'm quite excited. Plus, Tom Watson easily won the Deputy Leadership and although Jeremy's had 32 years of parliamentary experience, it's all been from the back benches, whereas Tom has been involved with the "party machine" extensively, so they should complement one another: I think they'll make a good team. That I happened to put £20 on Tom Watson at 6/4 a few months ago is immaterial here (actually, it is specifically material, in that it is a £30 profit).

Anyway, back to the Leadership election; the best thing of all is that Jeremy Corbyn won easily in all categories (full party members, affiliated members e.g. through a trade union and the much derided £3 "registered supporters"). I think that means that he's going to have to allowed a bit of time, so clear is his mandate from the party membership. The only people who he didn't get a clear majority from were the actual parliamentary Labour MPs, only 20 of whom voted for JC as first preference. Any immediate attempt by a disgrunted group of MPs to get rid of him would be greeted with outrage from the normal membership.

Here's a full breakdown of how all three groups voted:

Andy Burnham: Party members 55,698 (22.7%) - Affiliated members 18,604 (26.0%) - Registered supporters 6,160 (5.8%);

Yvette Cooper: Party members 54,470 (22.2%) - Affiliated members 9,043 (12.6%) - Registered supporters 8.415 (8.0%);

Jeremy Corbyn: Party members 121,751 (49.6%) - Affiliated members 41,217 (57.6%) - Registered supporters 88,449 (83.8%);

Liz Kendall: Party members 13,601 (5.5%) - Affiliated members 2,682 (3.8%) - Registered supporters 2,574 (2.4%).

I think the thing I was afraid of was that the naysayers would all be crowing "oh, he'd never have won without the three quid lot" but as the above figures show, all parts of the Labour Party membership overwhelming want him, except the Labour MPs themselves. However there is no possible way to fiddle the figures to make it look as though Jeremy didn't win easily. Half the party membership have given him their vote and it's a one member, one vote system. So, as Labour MPs now only count as normal members, they can't even fiddle it by giving their votes more weight.

Assuming the 20 MPs that gave JC their first preference is an accurate figure, I'll assume the other 210 voted 70 each Kendall, Burnham and Cooper, just for convenience. Even if their votes were worth 1000 times as much as everyone else's, he'd still have won with 43% overall (to actually defeat him, party MPs would have to make their votes worth 3,425 times as much as a normal vote, and not even they think they are that important).

Even odder is that members of the Shadow Cabinet started resigning even as Jeremy was giving his victory speech. This just seems petty. They didn't get what they wanted and now they're throwing their toys out of the pram. But why? JC has specifically spoken about unity and bringing all wings of the party together, so why - before he's made any sort of Shadow Cabinet decision - are they just saying "oh, we don't like you, we won't work with you"? Why restrict your options when you've absolutely no idea what he's got in mind? I suspect some of them may regret it.

He's going to get it from all barrels, from all sides, non-stop and he's not going to have an easy job. I just hope the parliamentary party will hold off with their vitriol for a bit (it's a forlorn hope, they're slagging him off already) so that he can at least be allowed to get some stuff done. But, knowing this Labour Party, they'll probably just vote against him out of spite irrespective of what they really think.

That's quite an interesting angle actually; as one of the most rebellious recent MPs, how will the whip system work? Will there be one? He's said that he wants everyone to be free to vote according to their conscience, so it would be a bit hypocritical for him to implement a whip system (unless it's a whip of gossamer). Nah, he'll get rid of it and good riddance. I've always thought it was anti-democratic and admired the MPs who defy the whip as a matter of conscience. (Actually, come to think of it, much more policy ideas are going to come from the membership rather than top-down from the top table, so there shouldn't be such a need for a whip anyway).

Oh I could go on about this all day but I wouldn't thank me. I'll come back soon though, I'm sure.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Labour Leadership Race, pt. 5

Voting has closed...

And counting has begun! Polls and other random people are suggesting all sorts of things: an estimated 330,000-340,000 votes cast, so roughly a 61% turnout if the 550,000 total eligible members figure is accurate, low turnout from union members (so presumably a high turnout from the £3 supporters), a general consensus that Jeremy Corbyn will get most first preference votes but few are sticking their neck out to say how many, or whether it will be enough.

I might be repeating myself (not for the first time, I can't be arsed to go back and check) but I originally thought once the four candidates were finalised, Jeremy Corbyn would win the majority of the popular vote but the Labour machine would find a way somehow to not allow him to win.

Using the Ladbrokes odds (betting's still open), they have Corbyn at 1/7 (with the odds still shortening), Cooper 7/1, Burnham 12/1 and Kendall 100/1. This seems to be the general consensus of the other bookies (some have Corbyn 1/8, Cooper ranging 13/2 to 8/1, Burnham either 12/1 or 14/1 and Kendall - well, anything from 100/1 to 250/1 (i.e. no chance).

So the bookies - who react to money and aren't often wrong - make it something like:

Corbyn 96.8% chance of winning
Cooper 2% chance of winning
Burnham 1.1% chance of winning
Kendall 0.1% chance of winning

So even now I'm quite optimistic that Jeremy C. could take the thing on first nominations alone, so certain seem the bookies of his overall chances. I just have a feeling that if they thought that there was even the remotest chance of a scenario involving second or third preference votes (which could get very unpredictable indeed), they'd be hedging a bit more.

I think the result will be somewhere between:

Scenario 1

First preference votes - Corbyn 54%, Cooper 24%, Burnham 17%, Kendall 5%; automatic win for Jeremy Corbyn.

Scenario 2

First preference votes - Corbyn 46%, Cooper 27%, Burnham 22%, Kendall 5%

Kendall is eliminated and those voting for Kendall as 1st preference have their 2nd, 3rd and 4th preferences transferred to the other candidates. I don't really know where those would go but my guess would leave the next stage at:

Corbyn 46%, Cooper 31%, Burnham 23%, Burnham eliminated and lower preference votes reallocated as before. So, what proportion of Burnham supporters would have Corbyn as a second preference? I reckon that although the majority will have Cooper as their second choice, there'll be enough for Corbyn to see him over the line.

We'll find out Saturday morning, I guess. Whatever happens, it's going to be fun fun fun!

Except for Liz:


Saturday, 5 September 2015

How Politics Works

First of all...

It's Ken! Everyone loves Ken, don't they? He's one of the Tories that even Labour supporters could probably get on with.

Trouble is, Ken had recently been up in court in a case which a Ben Fellowes had accused him of groping him in a Parliamentary office during the course of a Cook Report investigation into Cash for Questions (or Bombs or whatever it was at the time). Fellowes was actually 19 at the time, but was pretending to be 15, which is presumably where the charge originated.

Then Ben Fellowes was acquitted of "perverting the course of justice", i.e. lying about it. So where does that leave us? And where does it leave Cuddly Ken?

Enter Lord Janner and a seemingly unrelated series of cases:

From the CPS report:

"The Crown Prosecution Service stated that the case met their evidential test for prosecution and they would have otherwise have prosecuted on 22 counts of indecent assaults and buggery, against nine persons which are alleged to have occurred between 1969 and 1988."

However, as Janner was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2009 and it has apparently progressed to such a point where his evidence could not be relied upon in court, all that can be done is a "trial of the facts", in which he will be undoubtedly found guilty.

Since the Ben Fellowes acquittal, another man has come forward claiming that he was molested by Ken Clarke when he was 14. You may not have heard much about this - not a lot of detail has been released - but mainly because...

Enter Harvey Proctor! (see last post).

Harvey Proctor: "not a paedophile"

And who's talking about Ken Clarke now? No-one.

If it needs to be kept SO secret... probably shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

And it would be a bit mad to bring new attention to it, wouldn't it, Harvey?

I think most people had completely forgotten about Harvey Proctor until the last couple of weeks. I dimly remember the case from the late 1980s; he was convicted for paying for sex from underage boys, but I had to look up the details of the case to fill in a lot of blanks.

He was convicted for sex with "17-20 year old male prostitutes" when the age of homosexual consent was 21. Now the age of consent is 16, that would not be a crime.

Point is, why is he holding press conferences to insist how he is not a paedophile? As far as I am aware, nobody was accusing him of such in why such a vehement public denial? He says "homosexual witch hunt" but that's just flim-flammery to try to cloud the issue if you ask me.

No, this seems more orchestrated; by holding his press conference and graphically describing the acts that the police have interviewed him about (note: not accused him of), he's trying to ensure that any future trial into whatever he's really been up to these last thirty years is compromised.

I can't see any other reason to put his own name out there with the inference - quite deliberately, I'm sure - that the police are trying to tie him in with the wider Parliamentary paedophile ring. He obviously knows that he's on solid ground refuting it, which is unsurprising - not everyone could have been part of it - but as far as I'm aware, nobody but he and the police knew that he was being interviewed in conjunction with it at all. Now, after his press conference, everyone knows.

It's all very confusing.

Friday, 28 August 2015

50 Word Stories (Autowrite (Slight Return))

i.e. precisely 50 words, no more or less.

The concept is a bit hackneyed, but that doesn't matter. Apparently they're called Minisagas, who knew?

Anyway, I've not written any (well, not yet - my thing at the moment is writing a long story with as few different words as possible, but that's a whole other story (see what I did there?)) but it struck me the other day that the middle spoken section from "They'll Need A Crane" by They Might Be Giants might intentionally be one.

Starting at about 1:19:

Don't call me at work again
Oh no
The boss still hates me
I'm just tired
And I don't love you anymore
And there's a restaurant we should check out
Where the other nightmare people like to go
I mean nice people
Baby wait
I didn't mean to say nightmare

Definitely 50 words; I've never seen any allusions to it being intentional, but I wouldn't be surprised. And now I'm wondering if they've got any more of them hidden away in their lyrics.

But that's not the point really. The point is: this seems like a good starting point for a computer to automatically write a story...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Sunday Sport circa 1995

Needs to be turned to black and white really

(for the full Sunday Sport 1995 experience)

Might have to do some more of these, they appeal to my sense of the puerile, I think.

Labour Leadership race pt.4

Still two weeks to go

...and the Labour party machine are getting a bit desperate now.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Like a brick shithouse...

...has always been a favourite expression of mine. 

Dunno why. It's evocative I suppose. It always comes to mind when I think of Justin Gatlin.

And I like playing about with Viz-style piss-takes. I want to make whole parody newspapers - where everything looks normal at first glance, but is slightly skewed to the bizarre, although quite subtly, I'd want at least some people to be fooled - and leave them lying around in random places.

I could do this sort of shit all day, frankly. Mind you, I don't think there's much money in it. Best not give up the day job, eh? Oh wait, I just did. Hahahahahahahahahahaha etc.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Mundaneum

Google's doodle today (23rd August) is great.

This is what it looks like and I must confess I hadn't got a clue what it was about when I first saw it:

It's about The Mundaneum. I'd not heard of it before but now I've read about it, wow, what a thing.

It's a great example of a Google Doodle in that it gets you to learn about new things; but in this case it's even better because it makes you think about things, too. I would think of this massive edifice, with its drawerfuls of indexed information as something akin to a giant physical database. But now with computers easily capable of storing far vaster amounts of information, why hasn't an Internet Mundaneum been set up?

Maybe I'm thinking of it wrong - i.e. the physical Mundaneum is more akin to the architecture of the internet - and the digital Mundaneum is the internet. Or perhaps it's more akin to Wikipedia? I don't really think the latter can be true, as a true digital Mundaneum wouldn't limit articles at all; the way I see it, a real digital Mundaneum would have all the publically-available information in the world, right down to the tiniest detail. Wikipedia doesn't fulfil this criterion for lots of reasons.

So then, it's more similar to the internet. But that doesn't work either; not only is there the "right to be forgotten", there are huge swathes of archived material (newspapers spring to mind immediately; most of them haven't got around to digitising their pre-1990 material, but you can view most of them on microfiche right the way back to the first editions, if you're lucky enough to still have a library with such state-of-the-art 1970s technology.

Of course the original Mundaneum didn't contain everything known in 1910, so bemoaning the lack of a digital version isn't really fair. But I wish more newspapers would pull their fingers out and get their really old stuff onto the internet, that would be a decent start.

This all plays into one of my current obsessions: making a simulation of UK politics. I know it might not seem relevant, but I guess what I mean is that, within the simulation, each person would represent one of the Mundaneum's index cards...that's for another post, I think.

Edit:  Oh my, I've just found out about The Dymaxion Chronofile.  I might explode.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

ZX Open World, Part 4

Sorry for the delay...

Excuses: had a birthday, which was all pretty cool, pissed about doing other stuff, then thought "ah shit", need to finish this thing, or at least reach some sort of (probably unsatisfactory) conclusion.

But anyway, excuses out of the way, my favourite open world game on the Spectrum - not to say the best, I lost touch with commercial Spectrum games in 1988 or so - was by quite a distance, Mercenary:

Crash-landing on Targ is imminent...

I didn't care that it was a port from an MSX game, nor that the Commodore 64 version was better in many ways, nor even that when the Amiga version came along, it knocked them all into a cocked hat. Mercenary for the Spectrum was - I think - as close to my ideal open world could be at the time. Basically, you crash-land on a planet (Targ - or was the city called Targ? - I forget) which is currently experiencing some sort of civil war (between the Palyars - the goods ones - and the Mechanoids - the baddies - but this isn't immediately apparent). When you land, you're pretty much on your own to do as you please (it definitely helps that you crash-land there's a flying craft nearby - walking around this place takes a long, long time).

The City of Targ becomes visible as
you plummet helplessly...
Handily, a craft is immediately
available on landing

The logical thing to do is to buy the craft that's available when you crash-land. That way you can get yourself exploring from the air, which is far faster than walking around. But you can walk around if you want. You might come across a land-based craft that'll get you around a lot faster, but your line of sight is far more limited than it would be from the air.

Point is, anything went, pretty much.

As can be seen above, the city was broadly laid out in a grid format, although not all co-ordinates contained anything of interest (not on the ground, anyway, although there might be something hovering up above...)
It's Milton Keynes...
in bizarro world

This is a view flying over the city. It's difficult to describe how amazingly well all the flying craft were (once you'd got the hang of them). There was a real feeling of weight and momentum and speed; there was a genuine physics engine working in there.

Of course, this was a 48K Spectrum game (41.5K usable blah blah blah) so by necessity, it was sparse. Boy, was it sparse. Vector graphics to the max.

But that added to the atmosphere if you ask me. Mercenary had an atmosphere all of its own.

Here's a bridge (pictured left). It's a bit like the Humber Bridge, but it only spans a road. Or does it?

Here's a...actually I can't remember what the fuck that was (pictured right). I'm sure it added to the mystery, though.

And there was plenty of mystery, for sure. Mysterious satellite installations! Mysterious forests!
Mysterious circus big tops which were something else but nevertheless looked like circus big tops!

And you could of course blow all this shit up if you wanted (given a suitably-equipped craft). What more is there to like?
The hangar at 09-06. Some nice stuff in there.'s something. It's a hangar from the outside, but it has an elevator to a subterranean level.

There's a good few of these dotted around the city. Some of them contain useful stuff but some of them just do their best to kill you.

'Course, there's no way of winning without going into the subterranean complexes, as they contain all the stuff you might need to finish the game (plus all the cool stuff).

For a start, you'll find new flying craft with far better capabilities than the one you start with. And you will ultimately need one, as the starting craft is nowhere near capable of getting to the places you need to get to, as it simply can't make the altitude.

Let's take a trip...

This is descending into a hangar and not knowing what the fuck is going on, incidentally. Not that that's a bad thing; in fact, in this game, it was the only way to figure out - gradually - how best to play.

Turns out the triangular doors seen here need a triangular key to get through, but that's not obvious from the outset.

Course, there's all kinds of weird shit down there, it's not all enormous blue rooms with triangular doors.

No, quite the contrary, the area to explore underground was - in terms of mapping data - probably bigger than the above-surface stuff; there were quite a few of these underground complexes, each with different things in them, f'rinstance:
Yellow corridors!
Red rooms!
Blue corridors with lethal
spider webs in them!
Mysterious purple doors!


It all looks so basic and primitive now, but the simplicity of the graphics added to it all I mentioned before, the atmosphere generated within Mercenary was unique.  I genuinely loved this game. I felt that this was the future of gaming; the basis being that game landscapes could become increasingly vast whilst the detail could be generated depending on the player's point of view.

There's an interesting interview with David Aubrey-Jones (from Crash edition 44, possibly more on which anon) here and sometimes I wonder what people like him are doing these days.

I bet whatever it is, it's not as exciting as what he was doing in 1987.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

ZX Open World, Part 3(a)

Before embarking...

...on what looks like it's going to turn into a very long post about another game, I just wanted to drop in the brief story of the Game That Never Was (except for later, when it was overhauled and was released, but let's not dwell on that for now), The Last Ninja.

It did well on other platforms and spawned sequels, but the Spectrum version was doomed to failure; it seemed to be imminent all the way through 1987 and 1988 but never actually appeared, which was a shame, as when it did eventually appear for the superannuated Spectrum (as Last Ninja 2, some two and a half years late) it looked damn good:

These screens are from Last Ninja 2, I think, or maybe another of the versions that was eventually completed for the Spectrum. It doesn't exactly look state of the art now, but back in 1987, when I still believed this thing was going to appear, I was pretty excited.

It looked like a proper cross between Saboteur and Turbo Esprit, with proper solid-looking graphics, fighting, exploring, etc. which was pretty much my dream game in 1987. But by the time it eventually appeared, I'd long moved on.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Apropos nothing...

Here's Sepp!

Back for more corruption-based fun soon, folks! 

ZX Open World Part 3

Isometric 3D wasn't the only game in town, of course.

There were a number of other games that came out on the Spectrum during the "isometric wars" that can't be ignored, either because they were direct attempts at open world games, or contained elements or ideas that would later prove essential for future advances. Funnily enough, the programmers or teams writing games with non-isometric 3D views tended to produce very unusual, individualistic (and sometimes downright odd) projects.

One that came out in late 1985 was Gyron. I can't say I ever really fully understood what the hell was going on in this one. You were in a series of mazes, which had giant balls rolling around in them, and towers that kept shooting at you.

It was apparently a great game once you understood what was happening, but I never got that far, I'm afraid, so I can't report in any detail, and I'm not prepared to play through it on an emulator to find out. Life, I fear, is too short.

Tau Ceti: Four views of the game, there

The other game I always group with Gyron is Tau Ceti (and as it turns out, the latter was directly inspired by the former, so there's a nice thing). Tau Ceti was actually a great game and given the excessive delays that were affecting the Spectrum port of Elite (as mentioned in part 1), it sort of stole its thunder. Elite appeared on the Spectrum at much the same time, but Tau Ceti was more immediate, had better graphics, was faster, etc.

Elite had its fans but the Spectrum version could never hope to replicate the massive success of the versions on other platforms; it had simply been beaten to the market and no longer really had a USP. In fact, there was a comparitively vast space-based exploring/ collecting game with vector graphics that had been out over six months already, in (Z80 programming pioneer) David Webb's Starion.

The Sentinel: Absorb energy and ascend, or something
The next obvious game to mention is The Sentinel (early 1987). It was the first that I can recall to attempt full-screen "solid" (OK, solid/shaded) graphics to create a game world and it still managed to be vast, with ten thousand large landscapes (the screens shown here each show only a tiny part of a landscape) to get through.

Also I'm pretty sure that it must have been one of the first tries at procedural generation for its 3D landscapes - if I remember correctly, which I probably don't - the graphics were all generated from algorithms depending on your position and direction of view. As I understand it, the program could render the view of any point on a landscape from any other point, i.e. as close to the way modern procedural games are done.

I think.

All that said, it was more of a puzzle or strategy game than an arcade explorer and as your character teleported, there wasn't the freedom of movement that a true open world game would allow. To be honest, it's just as well; whilst the game could render the graphics at a reasonable speed, jump-cuts for character movement were essential to keep the pace up.

Driller: all singing, all dancing, but
unfortunately verr-r-r-rry sloo-o-o-ow
The final game I think fits into this section is Driller, shown here at something like five times normal speed in a clever animated GIF wot I made and then forgot to take the logo off.

You can imagine what it was like at the regular Spectrum speed, but if you've no imagination then I can tell you - it was fucking slow.

That wasn't really all that important; although complete freedom of movement was allowed, this was another game that leaned towards the strategic, so its being slow was often quite useful in allowing you more time to work out what on earth to do.

This was autumn 1987, which was pretty late on in the Spectrum's lifetime, and Driller (plus its sequels) probably best represented the limits of what the machine could do with an solid 3D, arcade style open world game. However, it isn't (in my opinion) the best 48K Spectrum open world game that was produced during its normal lifespan, another game that appeared in that autumn takes that title for me.

But before going on to that, there are two other games that really have to be mentioned - given the excessive length of this never-ending piece, it would be rude not to - as they encapsulated the essential elements that would prove to be so influential in one particular genre of future open world game. I'm talking GTA and its clones, so you know what's coming - FIGHTING and DRIVING.

Saboteur: killing had never been so much fun

Turbo Esprit: this is the real proto-GTA 3, trust me

Coincidentally, both Turbo Esprit and Saboteur appeared at much the same time, around Xmas of 1986. I say coincidentally, because they ended up being two of the handful of games that I would regularly play long after I'd moved on from the Spectrum and had got fancy computers like the Amiga and PC (I had a Spectrum set up until the mid-1990s for programming anyway, so it wasn't a totally weird thing to do).

I mention these two in particular because the similarities to GTA and its successors are so obvious. Saboteur introduced the tone of amoral violence and Turbo Esprit the drive-anywhere freedom - including the freedom to run pedestrians over - that are essential parts of any modern urban open world game.

And in part 4, I'll finally get round to saying what I think was the best effort at fitting an open world game onto the Spectrum. It was a game that first appeared for the Commodore 64, but the Spectrum port was just as good. I still think it's an all-time classic that plays well today.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

ZX Open World Part 2

March of the Clones...

Alien 8: Knight Lore in space

So, we're into 1985 and the era of the Knight Lore clones (as opposed to the Marble Madness clones). Ultimate's next game was the space-based Alien 8, which was really just Knight Lore with different graphics and a few gameplay tweaks, but at least they were ripping themselves off with the concept.

Everyone was getting in on the act and some of the quickest off the mark were the budget software houses (Knight Lore and Alien 8 were sold at £9.95, whereas the budget houses tended to be £1.99 or £2.50). There were two that stand out for me (even though both were obviously plagiaristic, they were sufficiently odd to remember: Firebird's Cylu and Chimera.

Chimera: more solid, more weird

Cylu: alarming play area shrinkage

To be fair, I don't recall much about the gameplay of either of these; both were just large maze games with collecting tasks, really. Neither set the world alight, but it was quite impressive and novel that the then state-of-the-art in Spectrum gaming could be ripped off and repackaged so cheaply and quickly.

Molecule Man: £1.99 bought quite
a lot back in the summer of  1986

And probably the best of the cheapo ripoffs was Mastertronic's £1.99 Molecule Man, which, if a bit late to the party (there were genuinely better ripoff isometric 3D games by this point) it was quite unbelievable value for money.

Not only was the game itself pretty good, the map was vast and it also included a level designer program along with the main game, so you could write your own versions, and that in itself was very much a novelty for this sort of game, never mind one selling at a quarter of the price of most games at the time.

Head Over Heels: packed a lot
 of format into 48K

Sweevo's World: The Monty
Python of the isometric 3D world

The fixed-view isometric 3D games probably reached their peak with games such as Head Over Heels and Sweevo's World, which added new elements to the template (for instance, in Head Over Heels, you had two controllable characters with unique abilities and often both were needed to get past a room; Sweevo's World deserves a mention for simply being the clone that was simply the most fun to play).

Quazatron: Paradroid, Spectrum-style
Oh, and not quite finally (as I've got a bit bogged down in the whole isometric thing) I must mention one of my all-time favourite Spectrum games, Quazatron, which was basically a port of the Commodore 64 game Paradroid (itself one of my favourite C64 games).

It was a great example of what each machine was good at; Paradroid couldn't have been reproduced on the Spectrum and been as good as the 64 version (no hardware sprites, for a start), so it was done in a style the Spectrum did well.

Using an open-view 3D perspective actually made the game feel quite different - less tension, but more scope for action. Both are classics even now, I think.

Fairlight: atmospheric, detailed, great graphics
and loads of stuff to play with
Another I should mention is Fairlight, which whilst obviously borrowing liberally from Ultimate's ideas and template, took a different approach to the look of the graphics, at least. Plus it allowed more interaction with non-player characters than had been seen before, but most of all you could move pretty much any object in the game, stack things up to ridiculous degrees of wobbliness, and so on. More freedom, in other words; this was as close as a graphical adventure had come to emulating the open world aspects of the text adventure in terms of scope.

It's a shame that the programmer got ripped off, he could've done more great things, I'm sure. It was a bit of a Wild West world back then though, there was a lot of that going on.

Part 3 follows, at some point...