Monday, 11 November 2013

Can cyclists and motorists get along together?

The answer seems clear to me - of course they can. Or at least they should be able to. In theory anyway.

The statistics say that most cyclists are drivers so therefore most drivers are also cyclists. They also say that 60% or collisions between cars and bikes are the fault of the driver which means the other 40% is the fault of the cyclist.  That tells me that both sides have more-or-less equal responsibility which makes the title of the Department of Transport's THINK! campaign launched today in Essex at police HQ so appropriate.

In most cases, the average cyclist and the average driver can and do get along with each other. It is true to say that everyone can always benefit from some reminders every now and then and as a cyclist and a driver I found the tips for both side from this campaign to be highly useful reminders.

Somehow, I missed out on a cycling proficiency test when I was at school but I very pleased that all my children have benefited from the modern-day equivalent which is called 'Bikeability'. I've been riding as a commuter since I started work 28 years ago and I'd like to feel I follow the rules, always wear a helmet, light myself up and provide clear signals of my intentions well in advance. So far (touch wood) I've not had an accident on my bike and I've never had anything bad to say about a driver. The worst I've experienced on my journeys to work is the death-wish attitude of boys walking to school who seem oblivious to all road users and have an unnerving  tendency to switch from the pavement to the road without looking into who's path they are stepping into.

As a driver, the most frustrating issues with cyclists I've experienced are those who will not use lights in the dark and those who don't wear a helmet. Both of these point were clearly made today at the launch of this campaign.
"If you don't take away anything else from today, take these two things; always wear a helmet and always light up in the dark."
My concern is for those drivers and cyclists who seem to hold extreme views on this subject.

I've already seem some Tweets from the 'extreme cyclists' this evening. It seems they are hell-bent on defending their rights and can't bear to hear anything which suggests cyclists are anything other than 100% perfect and that everything bad that happens to them is the fault of a driver. I'm quite sure there are drivers who demonstrate the same belief that they are the kings of the road where cyclists are nothing but a nuisance.

Everyone I listened to today was talking perfect sense. Like the campaign says, there are things both cyclists and drivers can do to improve and it is an undeniable truth that the roads are there for everyone so everyone has to share.

Finally, hats off to Alex Dowsett who was the car enthusiast/world class cyclist who put his name to this campaign and encouraged both drivers and cyclists to think about their actions when out on the roads of Essex. There was no targeting and no 'sides' were taken. Alex is a first-class young man who was a pleasure to listen to and meet and I know the vast majority of people will agree with his words and those of the campaign 100%.

Unfortunately, there is a minority who want to disagree 100%. No compromise. No time to listen. I fear these are the people who need to think on this occasion. However, I don't think they ever will.

And finally - here is a screengrab of some of the footage I shot today using a GoPro camera mounted on my cycle helmet. We rode out after the press conference with three officers and Alex leading the way and me following up behind. It was raining by the time we departed from Essex Police HQ, through Springfield via Arbour Lane and Lawn Lane, out onto Essex Regiment Way, Rectory Lane (past Anglia Ruskin University) and into Victoria Road as seen in the photo. Bearing in mind I only ever cycle 15 mins at a time on my commute to work on a heavy hybrid bike with full mudguards and panniers, I was quite pleased I managed to keep up. I say I kept up but when they got to Springfield Road they shot up the hill like it wasn't there so I gave up and lost sight of them.

View Alex ride-out 11/11/2013 in a larger map

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Facebook posts - sheep mentality

I thought I'd write up some thoughts on a police Facebook page post appealing for help to locate a missing person.

Police missing person

The missing person post started life with a photo and an appeal to let the police know that the girl is safe and/or where she is. There are many posts like this but the thing that caught my eye was the development of a sharing trend I'd not seen before.

Comment 1 - There's a poster to share on MissingHelpFindUs
Comment 2 - Shared
Comment 3 - Shared
Comment 4 - Shared
Comment 5 - Shared

It carries on like this until the first person who commented like this:

Comment 13 - Shared Dagenham

From this point onwards, almost all the 186 comments followed this pattern. In the end I plotted this pattern on a map and it is amazing how accurately the sharing activity matches our original appeal (which didn't ask people to share the post).

Facebook share locations on a map
It appears that once a pattern of comments emerged, people were inclined to join in. This activity has driven 134,400 people to see the post so far and the regularly added new shares seems to have kept momentum flowing. The police helped encourage this activity and acknowledge the shares by 'liking' each of them. It also seems to have focused attention on one single aspect of the post rather than the tendency to stray off topic. The first few comments could so easily have been a derogatory observations about the girl or her circumstances which could have kick-started a similar trail of comments but on a completely different theme.

Learning from this could be interesting. Starting off on the right foot is really important so could the police influence it rather than leaving it to chance?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Forthcoming TV movie tracker and reminder app

A Quick 'note to self' and appeal to anyone who may know if this already exists. If it doesn't, feel free to pinch my idea but tell me when you've built it so I can use it!

I used to belong to LoveFilm but I found that even though my subscription was cheap as chips, I wasn't using it often enough to justify the cost. I was having films delivered which I never got around to watching and just sent them back again. Many of the films were 'older ones' which Amazon sell for about £3 each.  I realised I can just buy the films I want to watch cheaper than hiring them (plus I get to keep them with the option to watch again one day).

My son just asked my if we still had LoveFilm because he wanted to watch Bruce Almighty. I checked and found that you can buy that film on DVD for £3.76 and BluRay for £9.52. On DVD it is cheaper than my old LoveFilm subscription.

I was about to buy it when I had another idea.  That film is often broadcast on ITV or Film4 so I suggested we may as well keep an eye out for it and when we see it in the listings, we can watch it or record it.

My wife often mentions that she'd like to watch 'Along came a spider' when it is next on TV. That is another film which always seems to be on TV but by the time I realise, it is halfway through (and more than the hour so I can't even go to the +1 version of the same channel).

Herein lies the issue which I think is in need of an app.

How about an app which firstly connects you through to IMDB, Wikipedia or some other online movie database which you can use to create a wishlist of films you want to watch at some point if they were to be broadcast but are not so urgent that you need to purchase or hire them right now. With a list created, you then find the data for the TV listings and compare that to the films wishlist. As soon as one of your film matches the listings, the app alerts you via email, text, pop-up message etc. This could be a smartphone app but could also be built-into the set-top box listing services themselves. By placing a film in a wishlist, a set-top box could automatically record it when it finds a channel which is broadcasting it.  The list could be refined - 'only on non-commercial channel', or 'only in HD'. The app could also build up history statistics to give you a rough idea of how often a particular film is broadcast and therefore how long you can expect to wait until it comes around again.

OK - off you go and build it please. Let me know when it's ready :-)

Monday, 8 April 2013

Essex County Council Elections May 2, 2013

April 12, 2013
Thank Crunchie - it's Friday.

Over the last few days I've exchanged more Tweets with the Chelmsford Lib Dems. I also heard from one of my many posts on the various Labour Facebook pages. I've emailed Richard for some more information.

I was prompted to update the blog following a Conservative party election broadcast on BBC1 just before the One Show. I can stand most treatments for these but this went too far. They asked members of the public if they are paying more or less for their council tax. They broadcast people saying it had stayed the same.  They then 'corrected' them by saying their council tax has reduced by 10% in real terms because this Government has helped freeze council tax.

So - in my book - that is 'stayed the same'. The public got it spot on and were still told they got it wrong.

In Chelmsford (on average), it has gone up slightly from £1489.91 in 2012/13 to £1498.36 in 2013/14. Let's not split hairs. If it is costing more, it has gone up.  If it is costing less, it has gone down.  Trying to play the 'in real terms' card doesn't really cut it.  The main increase is due to the 3.49% rise for the police by the new Police Crime Commissioner followed by Chelmsford City Council's 1.98% rise and a 1.41% average rise for the parish councils.

Here's the video - Council Tax question from 1:15:

April 10, 2013
Notification of Election Candidates - a spectacular PDF document which tells me who the election agents are in each division. This apparently is where claims,
notices, writs, summons, and other documents intended for the candidates can be sent. All very nice but absolutely nothing here which adds to my quest to find out why these candidates would like my vote.

Next document is due on April 17th - 'Notices of Polls'. Not sure if this will help but we'll wait and find out. In the meantime, I'll continue looking on the doormat and online for additional clues and I'll report back here as soon as a potential answer is uncovered!

However, a fantastic response from the Lib Dems.  I tweeted a link to this blog and it got a reply from Chelmsford City Council and councillor Mark Springett.

I totally understand the stance of the City Council - they are not allowed to promote any of the candidates and it is their responsibility to do that themselves.

Hats of to Mark Springett who has provided a link to the Lib Dems' Chelmsford website which has news which is up-to-date along with loads of information about their ECC election manifesto pledges. Clear, easy to understand and all making perfect sense in plain English. All those mentioned duly followed.

Not so good from Labour - No replies to any of my posts on the various Facebook pages.

April 7, 2013
A few weeks ago, we had some Poll Cards placed through the letterbox.  I've just got round to looking at them.

It is far from clear but it appears I am being asked to vote on Thursday May 2, 2013. It tells me when and where but it doesn't tell me anything else.  So I went to have a look.

There is a website address: Strange because on the Poll Card it says Essex County Council. Odd.

The web page tells me a lot about elections; registering to vote, voting by post, types of elections, how to register, voting by proxy, election results, voting in person, polling stations and even how I can stand to be elected.  Everything except what I wanted to know - some things about who is standing for the elections to lead me to a decision about who to vote for.

Ah.  At the very bottom of the screen a small and insignificant link - 'upcoming elections' followed by 'Essex County Council Elections'. Bingo?

No. the next page take me through more of the same plus 9 PDFs the only useful one being 'Statement of Persons nominated'.  This shows me the names and addresses of the people standing for the election in my 'division' (whatever that is).

David Howell, Jeremy Jacobs, Mike Mackrory, Jean Murray and Nicholas Tidman.

The previous page informs me that further information will be published on April 10, 2013 including 'notice of poll' and 'notices of election agents'.

Well, call me impatient but I tried to find some information from these people about why they want me to vote for them.  I didn't do very well:

David Howell has no Twitter, website or LinkedIn pages and I can't find his phone number or an email address.  He does seem to be on Facebook via about 6 pages although none of these tell me anything useful. Not knowing which one to use, I posted a question on all of them.  We'll see if I get an answer.

Jeremy Jacobs has no Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, phone number or email address I could find. The only way I'll find out anything from him is to write to him.

Mike Mackrory is listed on the Essex County Council web page. He has a website on the but it doesn't work. His phone number and email address is listed but I could find nothing on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. I am familiar with the occasional letter he posts through my door so I'll look out for that.

Jean Murray lives just round the corner from where I work. She is a City Councillor so her phone number and email address is listed on the City Council's website. She apparently isn't using Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn either. I found the Chelmsford Conservative's website but that only shown 1 link to a page about a councillor. This turned out to be a mistyped URL which took me to a Japanese page about cemeteries. The latest news entry is September 2011 which didn't really inspire confidence.

Nicholas Tidman has no contacts details whatsoever including all of the above I 've already mentioned.

I'm presuming all these people would like me to vote for them but I fear they are not making it very easy for me. Do they think I'll vote because of their political party? Perhaps they think I'll prefer them based on the street they live in or maybe their name sounds friendly?

The only common thing is their address.  This is the 21st century. the age of the social web, smartphones and free WiFi.  Am I really expected to write a letter to each of them and ask them to provide me with their manifesto or other reasons they'd like me to vote for them? Sounds like something I'd be expected to do in 1913 not 2013.

I think I'll hold judgement until Wednesday when more information is being published on the City Council website.

I'll update this later in the week!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Police channel Live!

I've been meaning to write up my opinions about live video in relation to the police service.

It follows some experience of using UStream, Bambuser and Google+ Live Hangouts as well as observations of early attempts to explore the use within the police service. There is certainly a case for forces to consider all social media channels including the live video options like Bambuser and Google+ Live Hangouts.

Most forces use Twitter, Facebook pages and YouTube as a minimum SM set, and choose to use others like Pinterest, Flickr, AudioBoo and Google+ pages as well. There are hundreds of SM sites and there is no force however large which tries to use them all. With every new major SM site which comes to the attention of forces, a decision has to be made about whether to join in or leave it out of the mix.

This decision is made more difficult as budgets are cut in all areas including those departments within forces who are held responsible for developing and maintaining the social media sites. Assessing and managing risk when using social media is vitally important for forces. Twitter is perhaps easier to manage than more complex sites like Facebook which has a huge range of variables to deal with and which tends to change its features and functionality regularly. The very nature of social media requires interactivity which requires forces to be constantly alert and monitor all the time. SM sites which utilise live audio, video and text messaging raises the risks considerably.

Forces would also have to consider the applications when live video would be most effective. Perhaps to broadcast a live meeting so that people who cannot attend in person can experience and even take part interactively.

This approach has been successful with the use of CoveritLive which uses typed text to both broadcast the event and take questions interactively. It goes without saying that to add live audio and video so remote participants can see and hear the meeting live would be an improvement to the experience. In fact, a live video experience will enhance any publicly arranged event which is designed to be seen by a live audience. 

How about live updates throughout a major incident? Would live video be suitable? Risk has to be a factor here. If a force is planning a press conference which is being covered by the live broadcast media, the risks for error or embarrassment are high and must be managed carefully. In this situation, every detail is highly planned and managed with hours spent briefing the presenting officers. Live police press conferences are conducted on police terms, not those of the journalists.

A recent example cited was a 43 second live video broadcast of a landlord making a statement. There was nothing in this broadcast which made it necessary to have been live. There was no live reaction from anyone else and the statement would have had equal effectiveness if it had been pre-recorded. This doesn't mean days and weeks after a particular event - pre-recorded could just mean to record the statement, check it back and then publish it seconds later.

The risk in doing this live was raised because there was no control about mistakes or a comment which may have come across in an unintended context. Because of this, it may explain why the statement was scripted and read from a a piece of paper. This video has been watched nearly 20,000 times since it was broadcast live in June last year but it only received 4 live views.

In contrast, another broadcast earlier in 2012 which featured live video of police dog puppies received 187 live views. This was a planned live event which was well publicised in advance and included a simultaneous live interview on the local radio station. Interactivity was handled live via the radio interview and throughout the broadcast via a Twitter hashtag question and answer session.

  I think it is important to consider how much broadcast TV is really 'live'. There is considerable risks for broadcasters too so they carefully risk assess everything they broadcast, especially the live stuff. Consider the BBC 10 o'clock news. This is a flagship programme which is broadcast live but look at it more closely and consider how much is really live. Before the broadcast, the entire news team will rehearse and check their equipment to ensure nothing will go wrong. The title sequence is recorded which links to the present who is live. But what the presenter says isn't ad-lib; everything is scripted in advance and delivered via autocue. This prevents the risks of stumbles, blips and hesitation. In addition to the live introduction will be an overlaid caption graphic and background graphics all of which will be prepared in advance. The first live piece to camera will be followed by a pre-recorded report, several minutes in length which would have been edited. In many cases, this will be followed by a live segment where the studio presenter interviews the reporter from a remote location. This pattern continues in this fashion and usually concludes with a live weather forecast. A live telethon, live chat show and live children's show reveals a similar story and is littered with lengthy pre-recorded clips.

It is interesting to note that only 9 minutes of an hour's programming on BBCNews24 was actually live; all the rest was pre-edited segments and reports. Of that 9 minutes, 5 minutes was the newsreader and 4 minutes was the weatherman. 90% of the newsreader's contributions were visually overlaid with pre-recorded material while the presenter voiced over them. The newsreader's voiced segments were 100% scripted via auto-cue. The weatherman's 4 minute slot was 'truly live'.  He didn't have a rigid script and was largely ad-libbing whilst changing his own graphics. So the question is - hats off to the weatherman for true 'seat-of-your-pants' live broadcasting. The newsreader by comparison had it easy.

The point to all this is that 'live' is not as easy as it looks; it requires planning rehearsals and is consistently interrupted by 'non-live' inserts. There will be situations which will suit live video for police services but certainly not all. In some cases the risks would outweigh the advantages and in other cases there just are no advantages regardless of the risks. The challenge isn't to take a new technology and try to find a fit for it. The challenge is to consider live video along with a range of tools and use it appropriately, either on its own or in combination with others for purposes which lend themselves to the medium.