RBS and Brexit

RBS and Brexit
Palace of Westminster in 2011 Copyright John New
Palace of Westminster in 2011 Copyright John New

Why the simplicity on this important issue? Watching the recent news story coverage of RBS and Brexit I felt that most journalists got it wrong. In simplistically reporting this as a short-term item, they seriously missed the point. I voted  remain and will do so again if we get a second chance to do so.  However, that said, my decision is not based on unswerving 100% loyalty and support of everything the the EU does and imposes on member countries.  Peaceful debate is always preferable to war, that was my prime reason for being pro-remain, and why I hope the necessary leaving legislation is never activated. It did not, and does not, mean I automatically accept as correct all the outcomes of EU mandates.

Neo-liberalism

I have some support for the Brexiteers position that too much in the EU system is centralised and this area is one of them. I have always hoped that parties of the left would unite politically through the EU and stop the unswerving drift to neo-liberalist policies.  This desire to sell off state assets is one of them. I have not transferred my account to RBS for two reasons, no local branches, and they were always going to be sold back to the private sector.

A state bank would be good

As a socialist I don’t like much that my current bank stands for in regard to underlying ethics. I do want to bank with a state owned, solidly constructed fiscal entity that offers traditional, simple banking. It is too simplistic to blame the change and banking crisis solely on  building design chages, from solid and classical to modernistic light and airy, but this represented the attitudes at the top. Solid and dependable became light and risky, then collapse.

The dilemma the journalists missed – the key story

Are we in or are we out? This whole RBS and Brexit question surely is right at the core of what we voted on. Why, after the Brexit vote, does this sale of RBS assets still have to go through? If the EU demand it, well we’re supposed to be leaving them anyway, so why can’t HM Govt simply ignore and challenge the rule. UKIP’s view would be that. Where is the debate on this?

Where is the opposition?

These are British (Ok Scottish) assets. The SNP appear to this Englishman to be too busy deciding if they want to be pro-EU independent, or socialist Scots, to actually fight the true corner of stopping the sale and keeping this bank as a nationalised asset. As a major employer, based in Scotland, run for the benefit of all, bigger the better surely.

UKIP have spent so much time faffing over a new leader they have missed the boat on using stopping this sale as an example of defying Europe – but then are they just narrow minded, pro-capitalist Tories in disguise?

Labour, as for UKIP, too busy destroying the party with internal politics to actually fight for the retention of what is already partially nationalised, whilst at the same having airy fairy dreams of more nationalisation; which the electorate isn’t yet ready for as it has not seen an example of something profitable being state owned – RBS run as a stable, bank would give that option.

Farcical, pro-right, press coverage

What a farce and perhaps an other example, despite what the establishment (I.e Tory supporting) claim, of the embedding of a right wing, everything capitalism wants is good, editorial ethos within most of our leading media outlets.

General status update

General status update

The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.
The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.

A general status update as it has been a while since I posted anything here so time to get back onto the blogging traail. It has been busy summer including helping both my daughters make family house moves, two brief holiday breaks, one in the Lake District and a second in Scotland together with presenting and writing a conference paper. In Scotland we saw the amazing, award winning, Kelpie statues at Falkirk.

Early Railways Conference 6
A wooden waggon at the Causey Arch. Typical of the early railway period.
A wooden waggon at the Causey Arch. Typical of the early railway period.

The conference was an excellent event held in Newcastle, with the cradle of early railways being Tyneside and adjacent areas a most appropriate venue. My own paper was on Why Replace the Horse? The subsequent write up stretching over the summer; now awaiting the peer review, and hopefully, acceptance for the ultimately published proceedings book.

Current status

Working full-time at home this week on web updates and management committee reports in my role as PRO for the Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) but definitely missing the anticipation of a further year at Uni. After several short courses on IT and Graphics at Kingston Maurward College, and then three years at Bournemouth University, it seems very strange not to be getting new books etc., and anticipating the new modules. I have plenty of on-going research in hand, to say nothing of the website rebuilding and writing to be done, plus attacking the Autumn tasks of the garden, so I won’t be short of tasks, that is for sure.

Corrupted software issues

As for today a fight with the blog software; this would have been posted yesterday if the part of the package needed for adding new posts hadn’t been corrupted.  I still have to fix the Instagram links and plug ins as isolating that has fixed the editing and updating processes.  Why can’t IT stuff just work?!

 

 

 

 

WCRC – sentencing outcome

WCRC sentencing outcome

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015
34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015 Image John New

The court cases following the incident at Wootton Bassett in 2015 now resolved and sentences issued. Both parties pleaded guilty at Swindon Crown Court yesterday. Glad to see the prison sentence was suspended.

Link to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) official statement.

BBC Press News report on the outcome.

 

WCRC – update

WCRC – update

During the site update earlier tonight I noticed that the fact the operating suspension of WCRC has been lifted was not reported. Out of fairness to WCRC that omission is now rectified with this short post.  The earlier post is here.  The Crown Court and other proceedings remain live and no-comment is made regarding those other than it is believed from posts on Internet Fora they may be scheduled to commence tomorrow (27th June) at Swindon Crown Court.

The interim RAIB report is here.

 

Politicians lies

Politicians lies / finishing UNI

EU map
Map of EU (Pre-UK referendum) – source BBC website

I started this blog as part of a University course (BACOMM Bournemouth). That has now finished, a time to reflect whilst awaiting the results.  Over the three years I interacted with many EU Citizens from outside the UK both as lecturers and fellow students, a positive outcome, for all.

Was the course worth the time and money? That has to be a yes although like many I have been shafted by changes to the financial rules during the period from making the initial UCAS application to actually finishing UNI. That is the main point of this post; we are bombarded by politicians lies but we never seem to recognise that basic premise or learn from it, history merely recycles as the citizenry collectively forget! Politics is a dirty game – this time around I think several figures have been hoist by their own petards.

BREXIT – citizenship or subject?

As a mature student I am being blamed for being one of an aged population who, collectively, are supposed to have shafted the UK by voting for an EU exit. More lies.  Amongst my age group I only know of one definite exit voter but around 30-40 who voted IN.

Could those who voted us out please explain how I can keep my rights as a European citizen? We will shortly once again become subjects of the state, not citizen you note, subjects. The very word designed to put you in place below an incompetent ruling political class.

It is a worrying time  too close a parallel to 1930s Germany and the rise of the far right.

Please let sanity prevail this time around.

America – Trump – really?

Even more worrying than the UK/Europe farce, and the probable break up of the UK as a consequence, is the thought that an apparently civilized country can be so stupid as to vote en-masse in the primaries for Trump. A Presidential candidate running on an apparent policy ticket of (1) upset one of the USA’s nearest land neighbour Mexico, (2) upset the non-Christians, (3) no gun-controls plus (4) racism and misogyny.

As an old-fashioned socialist (taking that in its widest humanist form) I despair of where we appear to be going.

 

WCRC suspended from running trains

WCRC – Legal constraints update

This legal constraints update is a follow up to my blog entry of 5th January this year regarding the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).  At that time the company’s operations were under the spotlight due to the pending court case action arising from the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015.  That case is still proceeding and therefore although some aspects, for example the name of the driver involved, can now be reported many of the the legal constraints still apply.  The ORR report that the next hearing will be at the Swindon Crown Court on 18th March.

WCRC diesel at Weymouth
A WCRC Diesel locomotive at Weymouth 5th Sept 2015. Image: John New
West Coast Railway Company suspended.

In the earlier post an incident at Weymouth on 5th September was mentioned and as that has been an influence in another decision relating to WCRC, now published, further albeit cautious comment is appropriate.  The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) had been conducting a review during December and January of their competence to operate trains on the national network and their findings have led to a suspension notice being issued today.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR said:

“A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.

We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations.  Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”

The ORR website has a full copy of the letter sent to West Coast available for public reading and their website was also the source for the quotes included above.

The issues leading to the suspension

“The safety incidents involving WCRC over the past year include:

  • In June 2015, a WCRC train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
  • In September 2015, a WCRC train collided with the buffers at Weymouth, In September 2015, ORR inspectors found WCRC’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date and that, even so, WCRC staff were not aware of their existence.
  • In October 2015, staff on a WCRC train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.”

The quote above is from the ORR website.

The suspension in context

As West Coast are the leading provider of the crews to operate steam hauled excursions on the mainline network this suspension will leave a serious hole for the short term in the ability of tour companies to run trains. However, this does not only affect steam tours; West Coast are also the supplier of locomotives and crews for a variety of other services too including maintenance services for Network Rail.

This suspension will not totally stop all mainline steam locomotive operations as an alternative Train Operating Company (DB Schenker) also has a licence to operate steam tours. However, DBS do not currently contract to do as many and only time will tell if they have the desire and/or capacity in appropriately qualified staff to fill this (hopefully) short term void.

This suspension will, undoubtedly, have a knock on effect therefore beyond the immediate, and direct, impact on West Coast Railway Company.  We have to hope for the tourist industry’s sake that this company can sort out these ORR identified issues quickly and create the long-term safety culture, which is apparently lacking currently.

The good news to emerge is that it is at least only a repeat suspension, not a complete withdrawal of the ability to operate, there is a light visible at the end of the tunnel if the right steps are taken.

A WCRC run steam hauled rail tour
A WCRC crewed tour. 70013 near Weymouth. Image: John New.

For the sake of all concerned let us hope scenes like the one above will not be absent from the rail tour scene for long.

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Christmas Shopping survey updated

A quick thank you

This is to say thank you to everyone who completed the Christmas Shopping questionnaire for me.

A pub bauble display Thank you for Christ or for the Christmas revenue?
A pub bauble display Thank you for Christ or for the Christmas revenue? Image: John New

The current, and likely final, total is 64 respondents. As the infogr.am figures were part of a Uni project (and the marks have yet to be published) I have not updated or changed those.  The final response summary is below-

Too early?

To the question “Does Christmas get into the shops too early?” the responses were-

No = 14 , Yes = 50  – an overwhelming majority of 78% although the final total is very slightly down on the earlier reported figure of 80%.

However one interesting quote received suggests this is not a new trend and differs little from the 1970s.

Not really I worked in a department store in the 70’s and xmas stock was being put on the shelves in September.  Respondent No 63.

My own experience of living in York in the 1970s supports this; there was the annual game of guessing which would arrive first – Santa at the Co-op Department Store or Bonfire Night.

Christmas Reindeer in store
Christmas ornaments in store. Image: John New
The New Year sales impact?

To the question “Did you delay a purchase by planning ahead to buy in the New Year sales?” the response were:-

No = 48 and Yes = 16.  As 75% of respondents did not delay a purchase until the sales, as with my earlier observation, other than the original purpose of shifting seasonal stock that is no longer relevant is there really any point to the sales?

Impact of on-line retailing

The question asked was “Did you buy any Christmas gifts on-line?” with a split for the yes answers between Vouchers only or a mix of gifts and vouchers.

This figure confirms the shifting pattern of giving in the twenty-first century.  In the final total only 6 from 64 had not bought at least a gift voucher on-line as a Christmas present.  That 9.3% in the final total was very slightly higher than in the interim analysis posted but confirms the overwhelming impact of on-line retailing.

In fact only 1 respondent from the total had only bought a gift voucher as their on-line purchase with the vast majority buying both an actual gift and a voucher.

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Research facts – story spoilers

Primary research I have carried out suggests that journalistic staples in the Christmas build up differ from reality. Recently on Storify I published two posts, the first outlining how journalists predicted Christmas rail misery, and the second describing how shopper behaviour impacts on retailers.  In the background, I also posted two research questionnaires  surrounding those same topics.  The feedback from those is now available and suggests that citizens are in fact street-savvy, and old preconceptions require modification.  The old quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”, is, in this instance, perhaps being proven correct.

Rail engineering – predicted travel chaos
Research shows track maintenance accepted - photo of equipment.
Track maintenance equipment Image: John New

As identified in my earlier Storify post, chaos has in the past occurred when works have overrun, therefore some elements of the journalists predictions have validity.  This post, however, challenge to the regularly promoted expectation that travellers resent the large scale rail closures over holiday periods.  Primary research in fact suggests that travellers think holiday closures are, perhaps, the least troublesome option.

Those responding to the question “No they were not aware there were likely to be closures” were asked to select from five options as to the reason for their lack of awareness. However, the no response was so low that the individual answers to that question are statistically of little value. The major surprise from the survey, given that there had been considerable mainstream news coverage (in particular regarding temporary replacement of the services to Heathrow and Gatwick airports), was that there were still 10% who responded that they were unaware of such closures.

A deserted London Waterloo. Image: John New
A deserted London Waterloo. Image: John New
What shoppers think of Christmas retailing

As an independent blogger, a survey will never match the accuracy of nationwide sampling by specialists such as  IPSOS-MORI, but that does not negate its use.  My own survey was to ascertain consumer attitudes to the early arrival of Christmas in retail outlets, and whether that conflicts with the standard journalistic coverage of retailers’ announcements regarding Christmas.

What the survey showed is that, whilst shoppers feel it is OK to be able to buy Christmas goods in store at an early date, there is resentment at the modern trend for getting the rest of the Christmas trappings into stores at such early dates.

The fact that consumers are buying early to spread the Christmas spend over a longer period also makes a mockery of articles published quoting from retailers’ press releases regarding their poor Christmas build up.  If customers previously spent £x in December, but now spread that £x budget over September to December, the spend is the same, merely to a new pattern.  The reality may well be that by spreading the purchase time the actual spend by consumers is now £x+n. There is perhaps a situation where not only have retailers had their cake and eaten most of it, they are also anticipating delivery of a second cake!

What also emerges from the survey is that the New Year sales are perhaps no longer the big draw for consumers that retailers previously expected, as only 24.4% of respondents had deliberately withheld making a purchase until the post-Christmas sales period.  Perhaps therefore the mainstream media outlets are missing the deeper story.  When retailers release their New Year comments on the sales, journalists should perhaps be asking why are you bothering with a sale?  The January sales were, after all, originally primarily to shift winter stock to make room for the new spring ranges, not as the profit centres retailers now expect them to be.

The survey, however, does confirm that where consumers have access to the internet they are highly likely to purchase gifts on-line, including vouchers, so that the recipient will also spend on-line.

About the research

Both surveys  remain live via Google Forms, although it is unlikely that either will receive significant additional input.  The rail survey received a reasonable response rate at the original survey date, the retailing questionnaire required a further request for completion.  The retailing question regarding on-line shopping is skewed in favour of a yes answer as it was conducted on-line.  For this reason therefore, perhaps the most significant aspect is that around 9% of the respondents did not buy a gift on-line despite being IT users with internet access.

What this small research element identified is that when the 2016-17 Christmas build up occurs, the real news stories should be around changing shopping habits, not the retailers spin on short-term sales figures.

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Micro-blogging – Twitter

Micro-blogging with Twitter

Two years ago I didn’t tweet; now through micro-blogging, I do so on an almost daily basis, therefore a reflection is appropriate.  This definition of a microblog from PCMag’s encyclopedia of terms  undoubtedly describes how I use Twitter;

“A blog that contains brief entries about the daily activities of an individual or company. Created to keep friends, colleagues and customers up-to-date, small images may be included as well as brief audio and video clips. The most popular microblogs are Twitter and Tumblr.”

Pre-conceptions -v- reality

Before I began to use Twitter my preconception was that a lot of the content was shallow froth regarding show-business celebrities and/or pointless announcements regarding people’s mood or whereabouts.  Since becoming a tweeter, I have found that there is far more serious content circulating than I anticipated. However, especially with the more conversational element, that pre-expectation was also confirmed.

Micro-blogging – the way I use Twitter

I have three accounts, the first in my own name, a second on behalf of the Stephenson Locomotive Society and a third (the alias Graham Crosse) created in 2015 to write about the election, and currently only used infrequently. The style varies between the three, with the posts undertaken for the SLS the most formal.

Screengrab - Twitter
Screengrab – Twitter

Open debate versus secrecy

The fact that I am able to have a Twitter alias, however, is one of the areas within social media open for debate. I created my alias because I was working as a Presiding Officer during the 2015 election and therefore I had to be seen publicly as neutral, whilst at the same time working on a 2nd year University project requiring publication of comments on election related politics.  As I have accepted the offer to work on the local elections this year, the same scenario will again arise around election time; the alias will therefore get a further, short-term, revival.

There are many more serious reasons for individuals to create aliases than mine. However, the ability to post without the user openly revealing a true identity can be seen as both a positive and negative aspect.  It can protect individuals and allow them to openly enter debates on issues where fear and security concerns would otherwise preclude their participation. The converse scenario, of course, is that this anonymity allows bullying and inappropriate comment, for example on race or sexuality, to be aired by individuals hiding anonymously behind an on-line alias.

In a journalism-related reflection, this issue needs to be debated. On balance the freedom of speech enabled by allowing use of alias user names is undoubtedly beneficial, but the level of censorship levied by host providers and/or governments is a concern in many areas, notably North Korea and China.

In the opening paragraph, I mentioned my preconception of the twittersphere as being filled with shallow froth; whilst that may be a harsh condemnation, experience confirms that there is a percentage of conversational traffic which is only relevant for the very short-term.  If you enter those conversations, anything more substantial within your twitter feed soon drops away and disappears.  In my own case, when posting for the SLS, this knocks meeting announcements etc., off our displayed Twitter feed, even though joining in conversations and making retweets would otherwise be appropriate.

Aliases of course offer the option of running two feeds, one for casual matters, one for tweets you may want to display, for example on a website news page, but that complicates matters.  The complication arises for both content creators, and also recipients wishing to return to a viewed message.  Twitter is a useful tool, but a management nightmare, even with the assistance of options such as lists and tools such as Tweetdeck to aid managing the content.

Tweetdeck screengrab image
Tweetdeck screen grab

Summary

Twitter as a tool is an enigma.  Whether as merely a citizen wishing to know what is going on, for example “is my train going to be delayed”, or as a journalist/reporter wanting to keep abreast of breaking events, it is extremely useful.

It is also invaluable for following the latest information on a topic of interest to you.  The lists option, especially if a list  management tool is used, aids grouping of content feeds but equally Twitter is a frustrating option for managing the dissemination of information. For the Society I find it has a greater reach than Facebook and, despite the problems of managing it for the SLS, I have come to rely on it over the last eighteen months as a source of information. I will not be reducing, or abandoning, my use of it in the foreseeable future.

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Using Storify

Using Storify

This reflection is about using Storify from the position of an absolute beginner for the creation of a Storify based mini-blogsite.

Using Storify - grab of my profile page
My Storify profile page: John New

Ease of use?

The obvious first question to be answered therefore is “how easy is it to sign up and use?”  The signing up process was easy; to use perhaps less so, as it has quirks discovered through use, all to be learned and worked around.  It also appeared at initial sign-up to be easier to use than it actually has proven to be in practice, especially with regard to adding Twitter sourced content.  As an older internet user, I also found that, although there are many sources out there for obtaining linkable content, I do not use them regularly (in fact some not at all) therefore it was not intuitive to seek information from them.  The reality is that, for the stories I was writing, Twitter content could be ignored as the internet news-feeds supplied sufficient links to source material.

News curation issues

The creation of content for any news item requires assessment of the sources for accuracy, currency and bias.  One of the positives to using Storify is the speed with which sources can be traced and dropped into a new item for publication.  That, however, creates the perennial dichotomy, speed of selection versus the balancing time necessary for checking those three issues. With websites, that is generally straightforward, but for tweets and other content, it is far less so with regard to judging bias.

Also, but only a minor irritant, the default image libraries are international, therefore sourcing images with UK relevance requires care in use of search terms.  The use of the  generic term shopping was a typical example.  In preparing the item on the state of retailing, most initially returned images were obviously of non-Uk origin and unusable, as the pricing was showing $s (even where text was English) and also many showed Japanese/Chinese/Korean symbol writing.

As a content generator I found the product useful, but reviewing what I have already produced with Storify for this reflective identified a personal weakness.  As mentioned above, in the stories published to date there has been a lack of Twitter input into the content.  Although clearly retro-editing is not ideal, that lack could now be redressed, and it will definitely be borne in mind for future work.

That is not to say that Twitter was ignored; the posts were shared on Twitter and generated tweets about the items.  In particular the story about rail closures over Christmas and the associated tweet on 30th December generated significant twitter activity and pointed users at the linked questionnaire.

The crucial question – future use?

My initial reaction to Storify was that use beyond the current University assignment was unlikely, since on first introduction to it I didn’t like it. As it has turned out that first impression hasn’t lasted; true I find it quirky, but I have found a work-around already for one of those quirks and now know to avoid others.

I am the PRO and website manager for the Stephenson Locomotive Society and one of the items the current website lacks is any form of blog to accompany our Twitter feed.  The website is scheduled for a rebuild this Autumn, and producing a weekly Storify post on matters related to railways is a logical edition.

It is likely, therefore, that although the output via my personal Storify account will be sporadic, writing in a second account opened in the name of the SLS will become a regular feature.

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