Sunday, 25 December 2011

Life-long debt to society scheme

GAZETTE: Teenager scorns punishment for £200k vandalism to Colchester trains  

I read this today and was appalled by the complete disregard for actions that cost the rest of us thousands of pounds. I have no doubt that this chap may well grow up, get a job, settle down, marry, have children, become a granddad and generally behave.  Although he has no appetite at the moment to care about what he has done, he has plenty of time later in life to reconsider his youthful actions.

Someone who commits crime and is sent to prison has to serve the time or otherwise given ASBOs, community orders or unpaid work.  However, they rarely repay actual costs involved in putting right what they did wrong or the costs society paid in actually getting them there. It would be interesting to take an actual cost for a crime such as this and see how it all adds up.  In this case, there is the cost of cleaning the trains which has been quoted as £200,000.  150 hours of unpaid work - if you assume a generous £8 per hour then this sentence would repay £1,200 worth of the £200,000 'debt'.  Only a small dent isn't it.  For me to pay back that kind of money with what I earn, it would take about 8 years. If I was realistic and considered  the mortgage, council tax, bills, food and other essentials and was able to find £500 per month, the period of 'debt' would be more like 30 years. One single mistake like the one this guy made should cost him the equivalent of an average mortgage repayment period. Rather than 150 hours of unpaid work, we're probably looking at 13 years of full time work or about 25,000 hours. No wonder he scorns the punishment really is it. Of course the £200,000 isn't the only cost involved here.  The police had to investigate the crime and build a case.  Lawyers and court staff had to bring it through the courts system and behind all that, social workers and probation staff have to support both the victims and accused through the the end.  At every stage, there is an additional cost to society to make all this happen.

I believe the long-term solution to high value damage like this is to mark it down as a lifelong debt to society which is ultimately reclaimed (+ interest) at some stage but never forgotton.  This could be a long term loan once this chap grows up, marries, gets a job and starts behaving himself.  If that doesn't happen, it could result in a reduced state pension and the rest can be collected as part of the settlement when he dies.  If the money isn't there when he dies, the debt carries over to surviving inheritors of the estate who take on the continued responsibility.

Another option for later life is to repay the money by volunteering for a role in society which has a monetary value.  Participating employers could become involved in the scheme so that anybody employed is automatically forced to repay their 'society debt' at a minimum rate as a condition of employment.

There could be great benefits to society as part of this scheme.  Once people realise the true value of their foolish actions, they would also realise the value of not committing crime as well. People who are responsible drivers earn no-claims bonus on their policy which reduces what they pay.  The same system could apply to a person who owes a 'society debt'.  A year of crime-free, responsible living could earn them a reduction in their debt. The main thing is to pass the true financial responsibility to a person to hold until they have properly paid it back.

Once a system like this has run for a few decades, people would soon wake up to how such a huge amount of damage has a real value.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Friends Chat

Monday, 20 June 2011

Camp and unconference app

The previous post and the great feedback caused me to consider further how some of my ideas could be offered.  These things do require more planning which, in turn, requires more time and resources to make them happen.

I started thinking about how feasible it would be to create a website and associated applications which could offer a range of helpful ideas and resources which could be cherry-picked to assist those organising events of this type.

There are already a huge range of websites and applications which are used.  Blogs to create a web presence for the event, ticket systems to organise attendees, microblogging services like Twitter to connect the delegates on the day, YouTube and AudioBoo to post recordings after the event and so on.

Perhaps a place to bring all these ideas together; suggestions from people who have run events, ideas for their next events and resources specifically designed to fill gaps that other resources and social media services don't cover. Really simple things like an app to design the matrix for the number of rooms and sessions which can be filled in 'live', saved and shared.  Something to aggregate twitter users' details into an attendees list which can be displayed.  A QR code generator which uses some clever Google API to take that list and automatically create all the QR Codes in and then creates the labels ready to be printed directly to a sheet of labels.

This whole topic may be worthy of a discussion session at a future unconference and perhaps something which could be developed at a hack day.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

LocalGovCamp Birmingham 2011

This was my second time camping, the first was at CityCampBrighton earlier this year.

I enjoyed the event and found it very useful. It was also a wonderful surprise to see my friends from the Home Office and National Police Improvement Agency coming along and entering into the world of the unconference.

I thought I'd use Catherine's blog to give a bit of feedback of my own which I hope will compliment Catherine's comments and will come across as supportive and perhaps constructively critical. This text was originally submitted as a comment but I thought I'd put it here too as a reference for me and anyone who cares to follow my blog.

I found it difficult to locate basic details about the camp both before and afterwards.  I'm still trying to find blogs, audio, video etc. but this is the first site I found after quite a lot of searching.  There is which seems to be the right place but doesn't mention Birmingham 2011 and was last updated in 2010.

On arrival, we were asked to make labels with our names and twitter names.  I was with a few people who are not on twitter and although I offered to help signed them up on the day, I got the impression they felt a little bit sidelined and not part of the 'in-crowd'.  Perhaps there could have been some 'pre-read' information about the use of Twitter at the unconference and the suggestion to consider signing up ahead of the day to get familiar with Twitter.  Alternatively, a volunteer could have been on hand to help anyone to sign-up on the day and to help add apps to smaprtphones or tablets.  Even if this wasn't possible, a large screen to display the hashtag could have helped everyone but especially those without Twitter.

Name labels were great but I found it quite tricky to read off the twitter names and fiddle around setting up the all important follow on my phone.  All the people I followed were either on the way up on the train, on the way home on the train and during the conference by following the hashtag. I didn't get the chance to follow anyone by using their name badge.  My suggestion to fix this is to get people to submit their twitter names on registration so that name labels can be created with a QR Code.  Not only would this make it much easier to follow people, it gives everyone their own QR code to take away and the effectiveness of the use of the codes can be measured. quick links automatically include a QR Code and the metrics which Google provides could easily show if the practice is useful of not.

Power and connectivity always seems to be important at these events.  I noticed a few 'seasoned' campers came equipped with their own 4-way extension leads but it would have been easy to acquire several of these, set them up in a suitable location with tables so that everyone could 'plug-in' easily.

Connectivity was available via WiFi but again, a bit of information ahead of the day and at reception could have had everyone hooked up immediately.

Introductions were great but could have been enhanced by providing that stuff ahead of the conference (especially photographs). Live introductions are really important but people could have been introduced by projecting their photo, name and Twitter name on the big screen.  This would also ensure nobody is missed out. Afterwards, throughout the day, this information could rotate on another large screen and afterwards on a website.  I'm great with faces but I can never remember names - I would find this resource especially useful.

The whiteboard grid showing the various topics proposed was good but could have been made even better if an electronic version was being projected with the topics typed in by volunteers as they were proposed.  I prefer to take a photo of the board so I can refer back to it between sessions.  If this photo was done once and then distributed, it would save the large crowd trying to look at the board at the same time.

Post-it notes are great but get someone who can write clearly to do the writing.  I found it quite hard to interpret the sessions simply because I couldn't read the handwriting on the Post-it notes.  Translation to a projected version would solve this one.

The idea of assigning numbers to the rooms for the benefit of tagging in Twitter was great but should have been agreed ahead of the day. The hashtag #localgovcamp was quite long and perhaps could have been #LGC or #LGCB (for Birmingham).  The room numbers could have gone after these tags easily.  To extend this excellent idea, these hashtags could have been printed up big and displayed on the walls of each room to remind everyone.

Lunchtime was a great opportunity to catch up, talk, debate and discuss.  I found that the music didn't help this process and I had to move away to be able to continue my conversation. I seem to suffer these days from difficulty hearing conversation in crowded places and introducing more noise into the mix makes it worse.  Perhaps if music is to be provided, it could be more as background rather than entertainment in its own right?

I recall that there was a request at the beginning of the day to leave answers to 2 questions throughout the day. I quickly forgot about this and a reminder at lunchtime and after the event would have been useful.  Even better would have been a form on a website where these answers could have been entered at any time, even on the way home for those travelling by train.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Distasteful reporting by Essex Chronicle

This post is an email I sent today to the editorial team at Essex Chronicle following their appalling front page article headlined "Safety calls after veteran is killed on danger road".
It shows a huge photograph of the scene of a fatal road traffic collision which happened on Friday June 10, 2011. The photograph clearly shows the car which hit a 74-year-old pedestrian who lies dead in front of the car covered by a white sheet.

I am lodging a complaint about the awful lack of taste regarding the photograph on the front page of the Essex Chronicle this week (June 16, 2011).
How you can find it acceptable to print a huge colour photograph of a dead man in the street having just been killed by a dangerous driver is beyond me.  What I find even more vulgar is that you have printed an inset photo of Mr Haile on the same page which instantly puts a face to the body laying below the sheet in the photo.  You even have the bad taste to pixelate the driver in the passenger seat of the car whilst leaving Mr. Haile's body clearly on display.
I understand that you have justified the publication of this photograph by saying you have sought the permission of Mr Haile's family and that you also claim to have  requested the view of 100 people in Chelmsford town centre who are said to have approved of the photo.  The very fact that you went to such degrees to try and justify your decision shows how close to the mark you must have known the decision to have been.  I don't believe for a minute that you sought any views and I would be surprised if you could provide any evidence that this ever took place.
Regardless of this, you have shown yourselves to be totally unprofessional, irresponsible and uncaring to all those people who live in Springfield and those who knew Mr Haile.  I took the decision not to have The Essex Chronicle delivered the same week the editor changed which must have been more than four years ago.  The quality of journalism and the sensationalist nature of the editing is beyond belief. I now get my local news from reliable sources online - namely the BBC website and BBC Essex. I would urge others in Essex to abandon The Essex Chronicle and use the web to deliver yourself a selection of news sources including the agencies who can report 'first hand' what the facts are without the sensationalist flannel provided by the local rag.
What a shame such a respected and historic publication which proudly quotes "Making Local Matter More since 1764" has dropped to such a level.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cover it Live

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Thurrock Beer Festival - BeerCampUK

I'll use this blog post to put in some useful information ready for those who want to come along, meet up and talk social media on the weekend of June 10/11th 2011 at the Thurrock Beer Festival.

View Thurrock Beer Festival - June 10/11th 2011 in a larger map

This is the BeerCampUK event registration site.

I will be getting a lift back to Chelmsford and we have an 8 seater car so there is potential to give a lift to up to 6 people.  This is yet to be confirmed!  I have therefore stuck on a few hotels on the route back to Chelmsford.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Let's do the time warp again . . and again . . and again

Just found this fantastic short film which I remembered from way back. Yes - it's the bad guy from the RoboCop films! This came three years before Groundhog Day.

Here is the Wiipedia entry for this film

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A policeman's lot is not a happy one

I wrote this after reading this story about how thin the 'thin blue line' is.

Please bear in mind that policing is a 24/7 operation and the very nature of a 3-shift system knocks the theoretical availability for any kind of duty down to 33.3% immediately. There are 168 hours in a week but an officer can only be expected to work for about 40 hours like anyone else. This immediately brings it down to 24%.  It is not yet possible to have robocops who don't require rest and sleep.  It is unfair when quoting 'only 10% of officers available for duty' not to qualify this important aspect. When expressed as 'only 10%' there seems to be the underlying suggestion that it should be as close to 100% as possible.  A more realistic measurement would be the percentage of staff available from those currently on shift rather than the entire workforce, 76% of which are off duty at that moment in time.

The recent 24 hour tweets of all reported incidents by Greater Manchester Police demonstrated the very wide variety of issues the modern police service are expected to deal with in a typical day, all of which require front line staff's attention.  Policing in the 21st century is a very complex occupation and there are hundreds of very valid reasons why an officer can't join the 'front line' for the whole of a typical shift.

There is red tape and burocracy involved but it isn't all imposed by the police service.  Much is dictated by other public services and the criminal justice system. In my experience, it has always been the police service who has managed to take the most economical and sensible approach to minimising as far as possible the burden of paperwork placed upon it.

We seem to have become obsessed with visibility in recent years and the stock phrase 'would be nice to see more bobbies on the beat' has become the standard answer for most public surveys. Whereas doctors and nurses are confined to very specific locations (i.e. hospitals), police officers are spreading themselves across our entire community.  They could be in court, in someone's house, sitting next to you on the bus working covertly on a drugs operation or in any number of public places but the chances of you actually bumping into them is remote.  This is no fault of the police, it is just a fact of life.  We have to trust the police management teams to deploy the staff they have available to them efficiently and effectively. This doesn't just include crime as it happens but also the follow-up investigations that can continue for months and years after the initial report.

So reassuring people by having officers patrolling up and down in town centres isn't placing officers where they are needed, it is placing them where the public surveys tell them to be. The chances of them being able to satisfy a visibility role and catching criminals at the same time is nigh on impossible.

The figures broken down

Of 6,600 Essex Police staff, 3,575 are officers and 404 are PCSOs. 24% of the combined total is 955 officers.  858 officers and 97 PCSOs.

There are 143 neighbourhood policing teams in Essex Police which averages 6 officers and 1 PCSO per team. However, that is just the theory.  In practice, the neighbourhood policing teams do not comprise 100% of available resources and the majority of staff will be on response teams, reacting to emergency calls as they come in. There are increasing numbers of public meetings to attend too.  Each neighbourhood is required to hold Neighbourhood Action Panel meetings every six weeks.  Thats 1,240 meetings a year even before other meetings are taken into consideration.  Each meeting lasts about 2 hours so that is 2,480 hours per year taken up with meetings.

We have an extensive network of roads and motorways in Essex which require road policing officers patrolling in cars.  We have the longest coastline of any police service in the UK which requires a specialist team of officers working from boats.  There are a host of specialist support services including scenes of crime, air, firearms, dog and horse support, financial investigation specialists, immigration and border patrols which of course includes Stansted Airport. The list of course goes on and the expertise and specialisms get more complex.

Sir Robert Peel wrote the nine points of policing in 1829 and they still hold true to this day.  We have lost sight recently of point 5.  We can no long be effective simply by doing exactly what we are told is important by the public.  If we did that, we would ignore burglary, violent crime, terrorism, murder, rape and most serious criminal activity.  We would however have no dog poo on the streets, no children would be allowed outside at any time of the day or night and there would be 4,000 parking attendents patrolling the streets, ensuring nobody ever parks irresponsibly again.

Sir Robert Peel's Nine Points of Policing (1829)

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
The point is that policing is a complex job requiring more than a visible presence on the streets.  We will look after you - we know what we're going - we've been doing this since 1840 - for 170 years. Trust us.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Safe Night Out - City Camp Brighton - idea pitch

This idea evolved from a thought that teenagers and young people going for a night out could take many steps to keep themselves and their friends safe by planning ahead.

The combined use of a website and a smartphone app combined with an optional hardware panic button could achieve this.  The website would provide information about how to plan a safe night with endorsement from the local police and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.  Included in the site would also be a range of useful online services designed to provide practical assistance with planning.  These may include access to local bus and train timetables, maps to check routes with data overlaid to provide local safe havens, toilets, police stations, chemists etc. Approved licensed taxi firms could be listed along with an alcohol units calculator. This would support a smartphone app that is available to download for free and which can incorporate all the information available on the website into a portable safety kit which can contain personal, localised and bespoke information.

Features of the smartphone app,

The app can be downloaded to the phone and used independently of the website or, with a registration to the website, it can work alongside the website.  The key feature is to make the product versatile and customisable to suit the person.  This means it can be used discreetly, covertly, socially, by young or old alike and in an emergency.  The app can be 'skinned' to suit a young person's night out, a junior school trip to the museum or a senior person's trip out for the day on a coach trip.

User data - will store name, sex, age, address, contact details.  The app will interface with the phone's address book to save re-keying information already available.

Friend data - same as above.

Trusted emergency contacts - same as above.  Could be Mum or Dad, Aunt, best friend or best friend's parents. A cascaded list could be set up - Contact John first, if that doesn't work, try Mum, then Dad, then Gran.  If that doesn't work send a general message to any app users in the area.

Planned schedule - start time, meeting times, home time.

Meeting points - stored locations like pubs, clubs, train stations, bus stops and meeting points.

Emergency credit - A system which saves £5 of PAYG credit for emergency use only.

Safe Havens - Known places in the local area which are accredited as being safe - shops, tourist information, council offices, 24 hour chemists, police stations.

Safe people - Known people who could be close by and trusted if in need of help - Street Pastors, Special Constables, Officers or Community Support Officers, door staff, ambulance staff.

(Safe Havens and Safe People show up on a map with the havens described by a green building symbol and people by a green person symbol.  The people could be real-time and displayed via GPS carried by the trusted safe people.)

Threatening situations - If in danger, the phone can be programmed to react as required to alert friends, family or other 'SafeNightOut' users.  Covert alerts could be activated by tapping or shaking the phone in a pocket or by activating an emergency button placed on the phone's home screen.  On activation in covert mode, the phone silently sends message alerts to pre-programmed friends, family or other SafeNightOut users, maybe in a timed cascaded process - trusted friends first, family a minute later and other users a minute after than.  Friends may receive a txt message, a pre-recorded call, a specially set-up ringtone or be alerted to a map on their phone showing the live location of the person in need of help.

A hardware bluetooth add-on to the app could be purchased which acts as a remote control panic button.  This can also be covert or overt and would work via Bluetooth to send a signal to the phone which would then transmit the alert to the user's choice. The bluetooth device would be a 'push/pull' alert device which is require to have a push button emergency alert.  There would be a minimum specification for this device - (pull cord, push button, audible shriek alarm and flashing LED light) but the design and size can vary.  This allows for manufactures to create many different styles of devices which people can buy to suit their individual tastes - Bart Simpson, Winnie-the-Pooh, Barbie, Action Man, SackBoy, lava lamp - the list could be endless.

Lost my Phone - The same types of alerts could also be used to locate a misplaced phone.  If it is moved far enough away from the bluetooth device, the device can activate its LED light or sound the siren.  As you go back to search for your phone, the LED light could blink more rapidly, the closer you get to your phone (based on the signal strength of the bluetooth signal).  If this doesn't work, you could use someone else's phone to access your online account and geo-locate your phone that way.

Absolute emergency - If the situation is so desperate that there is no time for any other action, the user could simply throw their phone as far away as they possibly could.  As the phone goes beyond the safe scope of the bluetooth device, it activates the siren/LED light.  If the phone survives the impact when it lands, it too can start sending emergency messages to trusted friends etc.

There are many other enhancements and small details to define for this project.  The next step would be to prioritise the features, scope the cost of development, define who should 'own' the project, investigate commercial potential of the bluetooth push/pull panic buttons, create marketing materials to further document the brief, decide upon a name, URL registration, sourced of further external funding etc. etc. etc.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Is this the best a local newspaper can come up with?

From the Thurrock Gazzette website (Essex) Feb 16, 2011
"Crime mapping slammed as unfair as shops named a hotspot"
"A CONTROVERSIAL new crime mapping system has been slammed – after Lakeside shopping centre was named the most crime-ridden place in Thurrock.
The online map shows 143 reports of crime and anti-social behaviour were made at the centre last December.
This included two robberies, three burglaries, 13 violent offences, five cases of vehicle crime and 19 reports of antisocial behaviour.
The remaining 101 incidents fall into the “other” category which can include everything from shoplifting and theft to sex offences.
The category is so wide-ranging to prevent the identification of victims.
However, the nationwide crime map has been widely criticised as highlighting the country’s high streets and shopping centres as the worst-hit areas simply because of the number of people who visit them. . . .  "

What an unusual approach - who is slamming the crime maps? Who says it is controversial? I would have thought level headed people would be able to work out for themselves that a place which attracts so many visitors would naturally have higher crime than your average residential street. What would be more useful is to work out how many visitors the shopping centre attracts and divided it by the number of crimes. There is no wonder the newspapers are in decline if all they can do is stir up this kind of nonsense.  Read the comment at the end of the article to see a local resident who has clearly worked it out already.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Onkyo HT-S6305B AV Amplifier setup problems

I consider myself to be fairly confident with audio visual equipment and computers.  I am consistently amazed at how complicated modern home equipment is to set up and operate.  We have a TV, a disc player, a PS3 and all I wanted to do was to hear the surround sound than each is capable of producing via a set of 5 speakers and a sub-woofer.  I found the Onkyo HT-S6305B product that sounded perfect for the job and tried to set it up yesterday but although the actual sound was amazing, it made the equipment so difficult to use that I had to give up and put it all back in the box.

It is supposed to have a universal remote controller which can be programmed to operate the TV and the disc player as well as the amp itself as well as numerous other components too.  Sounds good but this universal remote means working out how to get from one thing to another which is impossible.  If I can't work out how to do it, how will anyone else in the family work it out?

It is also supposed to have a feature that works for late night viewing.  The main thing I was expecting was a reduction in output of the sub-woofer as it is this that thunders through the house and disturbs people who have already gone to bed.  I switched this feature on, turned down the volume and the bass was still blasting out!  The only way to get rid of it was to physically reach behind the sub-woofer and turn it down with the volume knob.  I don't consider this to be the most sophisticated solution to late night TV viewing.

All of these items have hundreds of settings within their respective set-up menus which makes for millions of different combinations of settings to get right.  I couldn't even just turn off the amp and rely on the TV volume for late night viewing because when you switch off the amp, it switches the TV off as well.

I'll probably end up having another stab at this another day but looks like having to leave printed instructions next to the TV so everyone can switch from one thing to another.  Surely not necessary.

Playstation 3 multiplayer features

I have finally started to take a closer look at the new PS3 we got at Christmas as a 'family' present. One aspect I'm not thrilled with is the way it handles multiple players.  I am new to this so shoot in a comment if I've got this all wrong . . .

To start with, the Playstation 3 allows us to all have our own logins.  We quickly got started by setting up each person with a login. We also have several games including Start the Party, Blur, Aragorn's Quest and Sports Champions.  All of these games allows more than one player to take part either at the same time or by taking turns.  They also support the 'trophies' feature which means that you are awarded bronze, silver and gold trophies as you progress through the games.

At this point, I am stupidly assuming that you can use the login accounts to play against one another in the multi-player games and because we have already named ourselves in these logins, the games should allow you to pick from a list.  When playing the games together, the trophies would be awarded to each player's login account as they earn them.  Well, the PS3 doesn't appear to do this.  You can only sign into one login at a time and the other logins/players/family members are nowhere to be seen once a game is started.  All the trophies that player 1 earns (i.e. the player who has logged in) are allocated to their account but all the other players, despite having an account on the console are referred to simply as Player 2, Player 3 etc. and do not have their hard earned trophies stored.  To make things more complicated, you also need to set up a login to the Playstation Network which requires an email address and numerous additional passwords and user IDs.  This allows people to play online with anyone in the world.  All this is very clever but we don't need to play with the rest of the world - we have the rest of our family to play with.  Short of buying a PS3 console for each of us and then connecting to the PSN, we cannot play and keep track of our scores, achievements and trophies when playing with each other at home.

I am told there are a few games which support an offline multiplayer feature but there aren't many.  So here is the scenario.  We all play 'Start the Party' as a family with 4 players.  Each time we start it, we have to register the user photo and voice ID when I feel we should be able to store this once as part of our named console login account.  All the data regarding the game should then be available; high scores, last level completed, trophies earned etc.

I expected more from a 3rd generation games console and foolishly assumed this kind of basic stuff was par for the course.  It seems that in the fight to offer ever impressive graphics, sound, levels, options and other stuff, the original point has been lost.  This seems to be a console designed for a lonely single person to own rather than a family of 6.  Have I got it wrong?  Let me know.  Maybe there are other consoles which actually work and I've bought into the wrong one (XBox360 or Wii??).