Category: Blog

Last weekend my friend Rob and I cycled the Dunwich Dynamo, an annual exercise in mass masochism where more than a thousand people cycle a 120 mile route overnight from London Fields to Dunwich in Suffolk. Neither of us had done anything like this before. The furthest I’d ever gone in one day was 45 miles, but I’d heard it wasn’t all that hard so we went for it. As the day got nearer I read all the comments by seasoned Dun-runners on the Facebook group and started to get doubts. Energy gels? Tongue-in-cheek rules about getting through the pain? This post is for anyone in my position, intrigued but unsure, and perhaps halfway through and (like Rob and me) really regretting their folly. Because it felt terrible at times, but by the end, and days later, I am so very happy I did it. Preparation I read every sort…

Read More From Dulwich to Dunwich in 120 miles

In the days since I wrote my first blog post on the Rothamsted GM wheat controversy I’ve spent more time reading up on GM than in the past nine years. It’s been a tortuous few days for me. As a big fan of the Bad Science movement who was loosely involved with improving the Green Party’s science policy; as the author of the 2012 London manifesto on which Jenny Jones and others stood, and somebody who has put a lot of my life in the last four years into helping her achieve great things on the London Assembly and Southwark Council; and as somebody who slightly sits on the fence on the GM debate; I’ve found myself agreeing with all quarters. On the eve of the protest I thought I’d put down a few more thoughts following the debate. There is a lot of nonsense from all quarters (but it’s…

Read More Rothamsted: things I’ve learned, things I want to know

Genetically modified food is one of those subjects that’s not known for reasoned debate. The public and anti-campaigners are often spooked by the Frankenstein weirdness of splicing genes without really understanding the science. Scientists and proponents are often convinced of the science while hastily dismissing wider social, economic and environmental considerations. As policy officer for the London region and author of our recent London elections manifesto it’s not a topic that I often cross paths with. I’ve a personal interest as I spoke against GM at one of the national debate events organised in 2003. I was an undergraduate student at the time, and spoke at my university – Reading – against some eminent scientists. I’m pretty sure 99% of the science I drew on in my argument was probably junk. I remain persuaded by many of the wider arguments I deployed, but like too many campaigners I cobbled together…

Read More The Rothamsted Wheat Trial (should Greens trash it?)

While we’re benefiting from all this rain in London, which keeps air pollution at bay, I’ve been wondering about including pollution data in OpenStreetMap-based routing engines. The trouble is that I lack the technical skills to implement this, so I’m writing this post in the hope that somebody might be inspired to give it a go. Air pollution is the second biggest cause of premature deaths in the UK after smoking. Here’s a little league table of nasties taken from Department of Health data: Smoking – 87,000 premature deaths per year Air pollution – 29,000 Alcohol – 22,000 Obesity – 9,000 The main pollutants in cities are particulates (PM10, PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). Unlike the pea souper fogs of years gone by, these are invisible to the human eye but very deadly. They’re most concentrated on busy congested roads and around airports – so unsurprisingly in central London,…

Read More Routing around pollution – any help?

Six months after the Royal Court brought two quite brilliant new plays to the Bussey Building in Peckham, V-Day London put on an equally exemplary performance of the Vagina Monologues and an accompanying play written in 2009 by the same playwright. Yes, I know, visiting four plays in six months hardly makes me the connoisseur of a thriving theatre scene, but I hear the Royal Court are bringing their Theatre Local project back at the end of May with two brand new plays and more workshops which I won’t want to miss. The Vagina Monologues performance was all the more impressive given that it was performed by a mix of trained actors, amateurs and doubtless all shades in between. I went to the wrap party on Saturday with my friend Bob – a source of fun for some of the actors given a certain monologue concerning a man called Bob…

Read More Theatre Peckham take two

Kate Chapman and Mikel Maron have written a couple of interesting posts about improvements they’d like to see in OpenStreetMap. Kate’s is the more interesting to me, being based on various experiences with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team projects. Kate, the prolific Andy Allan and others have extensively covered the usability of editing tools. Frederik Ramm has pointed out that many of the editing tasks are conceptually complex so there are limits to how much software can make it easy for newcomers to get stuck in. But I liked Kate’s point about using data. Along with the fun of editing OpenStreetMap, the principal benefit is supposed to be that we offer all this raw data, whereas Google, Bing and co just offer pre-designed maps. But who can actually use this data? Here are some pen portraits to illustrate a few gaps in our toolsets. They are all based on real people…

Read More All I want from OpenStreetMap is…

Those who are inclined to compromise can never make a revolution – Kemal Ataturk Every day I set off on my bike for a pleasant three mile commute to work. I love cycling around London, it’s cheap and fun, and I particularly enjoy the spring when lots of “fair weather cyclists” swell our ranks along cycle routes. Much of London is crap to cycle around, but politicians of all colours claim to support a “cycling revolution”. To achieve that, you’d need to make people from all walks of life feel safe – the number one barrier – and make cycling seem pleasant. Southwark Council did an audit of their roads recently and found that it was impossible to get further than a few hundred metres without using a road requiring “advanced” cycling skills. You need to be happy using “busy roads” with “complex junctions and road features” to cycle to…

Read More Southwark’s cycling revolution

A mere eighteen months after it had been given to us, Rachel and I went on our Trip Stylist day out around the City of London, “exploring hidden corners and treasures“. We started out with brunch in a very nice little café tucked so well away that it made me wonder how anyone could find it without a tip. It was a very chilly morning, so a warm start was just what we needed. Rachel had mushrooms and a poached egg on soda toast, I tucked into a savoury pancake mountain. We set off on full stomachs along narrow streets and past a few recommended parks in nooks and plaques in crannies to the Museum of London. I’ve cycled and walked past it innumerable times, that odd bunker in the middle of a roundabout, but never entered before. The exhibition design isn’t all that easy to follow, but it took…

Read More Trip Stylist review: stroll around the City

Jim Gleeson has an interesting blog entry about the consequences of making a city more liveable. In short, there is a danger that making an area more liveable can price out lower income people. By reducing air pollution and generally improving the local environment in more deprived areas,  richer people will start to move in displacing the people who should have benefitted. His prescription is more housing supply to accompany environmental improvements. But we need to think a bit more carefully about this to get the medicine right for places like London. As he points out, the economic benefits of making an area more desirable will largely go to existing home owners and landlords as the value of the land, and therefore the rent they can charge, increases. Lower income people will be forced to move, presumably (according to Jim’s argument) to less liveable areas. Council and housing association tenants…

Read More Green doesn’t need to mean gentrification

Similar to Gail Ramster, I went along to the Friday afternoon part of UK GovCamp 2012 without really knowing why. I suspect most people would say the same thing. You go because… well, you never know which useful people you might bump into, and what interesting things you might hear about. Plus a colleague Janet Hughes was going, and I’d cleared my desk of essential work for the week. Here are a few takeaway thoughts from my afternoon. 1. I barely knew anyone It’s years since I was a fish in a geeky pool, active in the free culture movement, the KDE community, software patent activism and other odds and sods. For the past five years or so I’ve moved onto land, or perhaps a coral reef, to be more involved with issues around the environment, housing and pay inequality. The past two or so have been working as a…

Read More Sitting around the data campfire