Category Archives: Miscellany

Transforming Fiveways Croydon (or the bridge in my back yard)

The trouble with the A23

If you were designing London for 21st century traffic you probably wouldn’t build the A23. It’s only 53 miles long but because it starts at Waterloo Bridge and finishes in Brighton it’s got five different owners. In the 17 miles from Waterloo Bridge to the M25 it snakes through Kennington, Brixton, Streatham, Norbury, Thornton Heath, Croydon, Purley and Coulsdon.

So it’s hemmed in by residential property but it’s also the main artery for the ‘out of town’ shopping along the Purley Way and it’s the route to and from Gatwick. When Christine and I moved from Brixton we inched along it from A to B and back to A again (more than once). There were several pinch points in that journey but one of the ones we didn’t have to deal with is just to our south at Fiveways. Continue reading Transforming Fiveways Croydon (or the bridge in my back yard)

Mo number 5

It’s November 1st and the last day I’ll be clean shaven until December because I’m one of four people at GDS who will be growing a Schnurrbart (the German is surely the best word for moustache) for Movember.

Movember began with a focus on prostate cancer, a cancer that’s affected people close to us. It’s the 4th most common cancer in the UK and the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst men: 1 in 9 of us are likely to face prostate cancer in our lifetimes (this is comparable to incidence of breast cancer).

Movember is no longer about a single cancer, it’s about getting us men to face up to our mortality and talk about our health by introducing comedy facial hair. Being serious is always better when there’s laughter. And laughter punctures pride and gets us talking and maybe prompts someone to see a doctor instead of thinking “I’ll be alright”.

Laughter also raises money (if you’d like to send some our way you can donate on the Movember website).

I enjoy this time of year but you can’t blame Christine if she doesn’t. Look at what she’s had to put up with over the last few years:

2007
2009
2010 - in honour of Ambrose Burnside
2011

The question is, what style to go with this year – I still have another few hours to make up my mind. Am I going to repeat something I’ve done before or am I going to go for something new and unknown?

Nehemiah on Project Management

Different bits of the Bible get different profile within church, let alone in the public consciousness, so I reckon Nehemiah could be an unknown quantity to most people but its 13 chapters are really worth exploring. It provided the backdrop for a powerful and relevant series at Conversations last year.

This morning I saw Emma Langman tweeting the talk that was being given at from a Business Breakfast in Bristol about the example modelled by Nehemiah from a project management point of view. I really liked that angle so captured it using Storify.

Continue reading Nehemiah on Project Management

I like QR

QRcode for bm.wel.by

QR codes are prolific but it doesn’t seem as though people are actually using them, or convinced by their value. I like them but I can understand that agnosticism because they seem to be added for the sake of it rather than because they add any value for the person doing the scanning.

The code on this post is just like that but it was two things I saw today that prompted me to write this. Firstly, via the quite excellent WTFQRcodes.com  Continue reading I like QR

Demolition about to start at The Chocolate Works

I received an email today with details about the first stage of works that’s due to take place at the end of our street. The Chocolate Works development got planning permission way back in 2010 so it’s taken a long time to get to this point. Continue reading Demolition about to start at The Chocolate Works

>Football League Referee Appointment Checker

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As you may know I am the editor of Vital Bradford and produce content for it (with appalling infrequency). One of the things I like to do is a little penpic of whoever will be in charge of the game.
The Football League launched a shiny, and fancy website at the start of the season called Refworld. It’s a good place to find all sorts of information about the men in black. And it provides a feed of latest news stories.
However, if I’m honest, all I care about is the person who could be ruining my afternoon. I want to know who will be in charge of my fixtures. And I want to know as soon as possible when it’s announced.
And there’s no way of doing that. There’s no way of seeing all upcoming fixtures for your club, or all past appointments. In a nice, easy fashion.
Yahoo Pipes is an excellent tool. I shared with you previously about how I put together something providing travel alerts from the BBC. And it’s a similar principal behind the Football League Referee Appointment Checker.
Basically tell it which club you’re interested in, or the referee who is notoriously dodgy and voila, you’ll have the upcoming fixtures and the referee, his two assistants and the 4th official.
Subscribe to the RSS feed it generates, add an iGoogle widget, a Yahoo Pipes ‘badge’ or subscribe to it by email. In theory, it should update whenever the football league announce new officials.
It will be interesting whether or not it does but I hope that someone finds this useful. Even if you don’t, I will.

Jury Service

On Thursday I finished my stint as a juror. It was a very interesting experience and one that I would happily repeat. My fortnight was as action-packed as it could be. I was lucky; many others go on Jury Service to find that they sit around twiddling their thumbs, reading books or doing jigsaws.

So, what did my fortnight involve?

  • 1 book
  • 2 completed jigsaws
  • 3 cases
  • 2 court rooms
  • 3 judges
  • 6 barristers
  • 13 live witnesses
  • 34 jurors
  • over 8 hours of deliberation
  • 2 guilty verdicts, 1 ‘yes’ verdict

I didn’t talk about jury service very much while I was doing it. As jurors we ‘judge the evidence’ so talking about the intricacies of a case with anyone else, no matter how briefly, could lead to us being influenced by people who haven’t sat in the jury box and committed to truthfully carrying out our duties.

Now it’s over, our verdicts are in and those involved in the cases are waiting on their fate I thought I’d sum up my impressions of the experience (and hopefully not find myself getting into trouble for doing so).

The first day of Jury Service was quite frustrating as we waited for court to spring into life. We, the new jurors (9 of us – 8 men and 1 woman) were briefed and then left to our own devices. Eventually 6 names were called and they were taken away. I was one of those left behind and after another pause we were taken next door to join those who had started jury service in the previous week. At about 3pm we were called for and a jury was chosen. Mine was the last name to be called and so my life as a juror began. I don’t know what happened to those who didn’t make it but their Monday must have been very disappointing.

In the first case the defendant was unable to enter a plea because he suffered from an as yet undiagnosed mental illness. As a result we were asked establish whether or not he was the individual that had committed the acts as they were alleged (rather than establish a guilty/not guilty position). The case spilled over onto Tuesday but once the Crown made its case we quickly reached a unanimous verdict.

Because there were no beds available in a secure hospital this meant the defendant was held on remand. This was the first time I experienced the most disquieting aspect of jury service – the aftermath. This young man needed care as well as punishment but due to a lack of space at the relevant place he was having to be held in an unsatisfactory environment. The judge made sure that he would not be left languishing in prison by placing his case under review in 2 weeks’ time. That’s this coming week. Hopefully a bed will have been found and a proper medical assessment can be carried out.

So, by Tuesday afternoon I was a seasoned juror and we very quickly started another case. This was a bit more involved and saw us given document bundles over 200 pages long (we were lucky, the judge’s was about twice that). The Scarborough Evening News reported on this case so if you want to know the finer points you can follow this link. This was a complex case involving six different counts so when we started our deliberations on Thursday afternoon we knew it would take some time to reach our verdict and were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on all counts by the end of the day. At some point on the Thursday I was elected foreman and the following morning after we reconvened we reached unanimous verdicts and I had to stand up and tell the judge our decision.

Again the repercussions of that couldn’t be part of our thinking. The defendant in this case had four children and one of the outcomes of our verdict we discovered was a custodial sentence having thought that unlikely when sat in the jury room. She will be sentenced in a fortnight.

Monday began with waiting but it was much shorter than the previous week (there wasn’t enough time to complete a jigsaw). In fact we were set up and ready to go before lunch. This was the most difficult of the three cases and evidenced by the fact we spent over 5 hours deliberating from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning. Because we were taking so long the judge called us in to say that he would accept a majority verdict but didn’t really want to hear from us unless it was unanimous, which, in the end, it was.

The guilty party’s sentencing won’t take place for another 4 weeks during which time his life has to be dismantled. The defendant’s barrister outlined the consequences of our decision to the judge who had been all set to immediately take him into custody. While you know that these are consequences of what he has done it’s difficult because ultimately those other people will suffer because of the decision we made coupled to the crime he committed.

What happened in the jury room is not for public consumption but it definitely made me believe in the jury system as a tool of delivering justice. When you sit in that jury box you are one of 12 people asked to make a judgement on evidence that has the potential to alter the future of whoever is sat in the dock, and those who are dependant on them. None of my juries decided they wanted to make the evidence fit a particular version of events. None of my juries pre-judged the verdicts after one or two sessions. All of my juries carefully considered the issues, pieced together the evidence, understood the law as the judge directed and came to verdicts that were, for us, beyond doubt.

It’s hard because in two of the cases that absence of doubt has consequences far beyond just the individual represented there whether it’s for family members, employees or customers. The human cost of a crime isn’t just counted by the direct victim(s).

It’s hard because that can mean we have more compassion for those affected by the activity of court than for those affected by the original crime (although I imagine that depends largely on the nature of the case).

It’s hard because we weren’t present when decisions were made, actions taken and words written. We know that someone who has taken to the stand has got the wrong end of the stick either maliciously or accidentally – not everyone has told us the true version of events.

It’s hard because there are legal professionals who sit in robes and wigs making the case for the prosecution, defending the accused and judging the law. They go through masses of preparation and sit in court all year round. They will see similar cases and will expect a particular verdict. After all, not only are they as capable of judging the evidence as us, they actually know the ins and outs of law and crime.

Being a juror is not easy. It shouldn’t be. Being a juror ought to be difficult, it ought to keep you thinking about justice, criminality and perception because then you’re not just treating it flippantly. It has been suggested that we should have professional juries but the idea of being tried by ‘a jury of your peers’ means that real men and women sit round a table and hammer out a decision.

Across the two weeks people brought papers into the jury rooms. We had Guardians, and Suns; Mails and Mirrors and we discussed the nature of justice. There was a lot of reflection in those rooms about the ease with which we jump to conclusions, the way in which the media portray the decisions reached by jurors and the wider perception of how judges respond (generally with too much leniency). Whilst people might not reconsider their response to crime, or the way they treat former offenders the act of serving on a jury clearly affords the opportunity to ponder what justice and truth look like for ourselves because we can’t refer to anyone else.

Those waiting to be sentenced probably don’t think that they’re very lucky at the moment. Having been on the inside of the jury room I think they were. I think all involved with those three cases were because the 34 people charged with considering the evidence did so even-handedly, carefully and fairly.

I would have loved to be writing this saying that I sat on three cases and found three people innocent, to have cleared the names of the accused. Sadly, unanimously, the evidence in front of us did not let us do that. If our minds were even 1% doubtful then we could not have returned the verdicts we did. Perhaps that surprised our judges, our lawyers and those who stood accused. I hope it didn’t.

>How to get BBC Travel updates via RSS using Yahoo Pipes

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Here’s a bit of a departure from my normal blogging content, sporadic though it is.
I’ve just been at university and while I was there I got an email from a colleague asking about good examples of transport content for local government websites. I didn’t throw the query out to Twitter particularly well as the responses I got were about examples of dynamic travel news such as the Highways Agency Clearspring/GovDelivery widget or Godalming’s repurposing of the same content to give geographical proximity.
Yesterday I was looking at how I might get back to York because of the weather. During the afternoon’s lecture, cursing my stupidity at not leaving at lunchtime, I visited the BBC and discovered, to my surprise that their traffic details offer nothing in the way of subscription.
With plenty of time on trains, platforms and coaches to tinker I thought I’d see if I could manage to do something about that. The terms of the BBC’s travel feed are that they are for personal and non-commercial usage so if you want to be able to get the latest information for yourselves then here’s how to do it very simply.
Visit this Yahoo Pipe, enter the relevant locality or service and click Run. The wonderful thing about Yahoo Pipes is that it will then give you an RSS feed, or with a quick click of a button a badge you can put onto your own blog.
But maybe you want to get to grips with what’s going on behind the scenes, so here’s a quick introduction to the world of Yahoo Pipes.
Now, I love technology and have some basic knowledge about php, html and css that’s faded over time but I’ve found Pipes to be a brilliant tool for doing a whole host of things. This might not be perfect but it does work! Obviously the BBC don’t want this stuff being used commercially because they pay for it but if you’d like to build this pipe yourself here’s how I did it.
Step 1
The first thing to do is extract the data from the BBC. The irony is that the BBC actually use RSS to populate the page but don’t expose it for syndication. The format of the feed is http://www.bbc.co.uk/travelnews/local/york.shtml. ‘york’ is the only part that changes for each different feed.
Step 2
So we need to build that URL. To do that I created a new pipe and selected User inputs > Text input. The ‘name’ field designates what these things will be called; the ‘prompt’ is the text displayed alongside the empty entry boxes when you run the pipe; the position organises where the input is displayed; the ‘default’ is what the field contains automatically; and ‘debug’ is the content used by the pipe in its design state when you’re testing it.
Step 3
This provides the area information, in my case york. The BBC feed needs to have .shtml added to the end so we use String > String Builder (and the Highways requires .xml and follows the same principles). We need to connect the String Builder to the Text input box and this is where the name ‘pipes’ comes from. By clicking on the circular connector and dragging it to another it will connect, or wire, them together. Having done that click the ‘+’ to add another part to the string, the .shtml or .xml.
Step 4
Now we can finish the URL itself. To do that we need URL > URL Builder.
The ‘base’ is the URL we’re tacking the string we’ve created onto. For us this is:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/travelnews/local and
http://www.highways.gov.uk/rssfeed
The ‘path elements’ is what we’ve just made, so wire them together. In this instance there are no ‘Query parameters’ so just ignore that part.
Step 5
Having got the source data URL we need to fetch it. The Highways Agency is already in the right format so we need only use Sources > Fetch Feed and wire it into the URL. For the time being nothing more needs to be done to the Highways Agency feed so we’ll come back to it.
The BBC content is more complicated. We need to fetch the page Sources > Fetch Page and then cut the information from within the page. First of all we wire the URL and the URL Builder together. Having looked at the source of the page the information we’re interested in is between these two pieces of html: and . So we cut content from one, to the other.
Because the page is structured using a table each individual piece of information is within a table row, or and so (the end of each table row) is our ‘delimiter’ (the term that separates one piece of content from another.
Step 6
This is where things become considerably more complicated but I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible. Add an Operators > Regex module (short for Regular Expression), this takes a piece of code and, according to what you tell it, will repurpose it. The data from the BBC is written to be displayed as a website, not as a feed so contains html and other formatting information. We want to get rid of it.
So, ‘item.content’ needs tidying up. This piece of regex module removes formatting instructions such as bold, italic and font size. In all cases we want to remove any mention of them so tick the ‘g’ for ‘global matching’.
The other thing we want to remove is the initial code that labels each table row with a unique reference that ends : name=”3469238″>. The regex ‘\”>’ removes everything until it comes across the exact combination of “> and so takes that initial code away.
In the image you’ll see checkboxes marked g, s, m and i. Most of the g boxes are ticked this allows global matching, so all instances of a string are covered.
Step 7
Now the content needs to be made into a series of separate parts. We do that using the Operators > Rename. Doing this splits the content into ‘title’, ‘description’ and ‘time’ so that we can duplicate the information and build the final items for our feed.
Step 8
Having created those some more regex is required to restrict the content of each part. You have to analyse the source to see where the breaks, or the changes need to be made. I was using the most basic regex ‘.+’, the full stop represents any character and the plus sign refers to any number of the preceding character.
I decided to extract the severity image, Road Name and Location as the title. The way the source code was written meant this required removing everything after the first line break (<BR>). The regex to do this is <BR>.+.
The item.description was next up. The relevant data was separated in the code by a line break preceded by a space ( <BR>), the regex was consequently “.+ <BR>”. The second thing I did here was remove an errant comma.
I also wanted to pull out the time of the update so that the feed can be sorted at the end. This data could be separated from the remainder of the content by a double line break (<BR><BR>). The regex for this was .+<BR><BR>.
On this occasion, the s check boxes are marked. These allow the ‘.’ to match across newlines which is needed with this data because the html source code of the BBC page is split across a lot of them.
Step 9
As far as I understand RSS, which isn’t particularly technically, they need a pubDate in order to publish properly and to sort. At the moment the feed doesn’t have one. However, what was just done to item.time has put it into an acceptable format so by renaming item.time to item.pubDate this will work and allow a way of sorting the feed to make sure the most recent content is seen first.
Step 10
The module Operators > Union will bring multiple feeds together which means wiring up the original Highways Agency feed and the Rename module.
Step 11
Operators > Sort takes both those feeds and sorts them. In this instance by item.pubDate and in descending order (most recent first)
Step 12
And that’s it, you can wire it all together and publish the pipe. Click save and then run it.
Hope that’s useful to someone! While it works there may be better ways of doing it so if you can help me learn how to do that I’d be very interested.

>So It Begins

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Today I went to this shop

Where a man used something like this
To leave me shaved and ready for the start of Movember.