Freesteel Blog » 2010 » July

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 at 12:00 pm - - Whipping

I’ve got an FOI answered about Permitted Discharge Reports. Here’s what one of the pages looks like:


Monday, July 26th, 2010 at 10:29 am - - FOI, Whipping 1 Comment »

Three months after the the biggest off-shore oil accident in history, it’s business as usual in Parliament, with more subsidies given for dangerous deepwater drilling in UK waters.

Now, if you believed that the outcome of the free market was always optimal and good, you’d wonder what was going on. Surely if it’s disproportionately expensive to go for oil in certain places, then it should be left there until either advances in technology made exploitation cheaper, or the price rises sufficiently to make it affordable.

As The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Justine Greening MP, explained to the Delegated Legislation Committee on 20 July 2010:


Sunday, July 25th, 2010 at 10:23 pm - - Whipping

The link is currently redirecting to

Someone will be staying up late trying to get this sorted out.

The deep links, such as to a committee debate I am in the process of ranting about, still work.

Saturday, July 24th, 2010 at 9:41 am - - Science Fiction 1 Comment »

NATO Declares War on Climate Change

New Brighton Times

15 February 2019

Hundreds of oil wells, pipelines, refineries and coal mines were bombed by NATO forces overnight in an operation to end the production of fossil fuels around the world.

Thousands of workers and bystanders are feared dead as gas platforms and oil depots were engulphed in flames as guided missiles rained down on them from bombers and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Canadian engineers are alleging a radio-active dirty bomb attack on various key access points to their Alberta tar sands.

A correspondent for the Kuwait news agency saw scenes that reminded him of the oil fires after the 1991 Gulf war. Reports from Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Venezuela and Texas speak of similar levels of devastation.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Saberi, announced that the Iranian air-force had beaten back the foreign attack. Saudi Arabia is silent. Satellite images show large plumes of smoke over the oil producing regions of both countries.

At 04:00 GMT, NATO issued a statement in the name of Allied Commander General Idso McInsley [reproduced in full on the opposite page] explaining the rationale of the attacks as an emergency measure in the face of years of deadly political inaction.

“I take full responsibility for the immediate illegality of Operation Oil Endgame,” General McInsley said, “but the world does not have time to wait for laws to be rewritten by our inadequate political elite, given the speed that this crisis is progressing.”

He added, “All casualties are regrettable, but they are nothing in comparison to the 200,000 lives that were lost in the last hurricane season, or the 14 million estimated to have already died from the droughts and famines in the southern hemisphere.”

Myron Ebell of the Grassroots Coalition of Petroleum Users said: “This is an insanity, only matched by General Jack D. Ripper in the movie Dr Strangelove. What does the General think he will achieve by bombing us back into the stone age? We need our fossil fuel energy to grow our economy, transport our food, and run the air conditioners that enable us to survive through these massive heatwaves we have been experiencing lately.”

Ebell predicts a second genocide as the economy goes off a cliff and society falls apart. “On their own scientific predictions, the climate continues to warm for another 60 years no matter what we do. This killing spree achieves nothing for anyone alive today.”

Jorgen Havel, the first speaker of the European Green Party, condemned the action as an extremely dangerous strategy that could precipitate a nuclear war and genocide. His party’s 2017 climate change policy document, commonly known as the Doomsday Plan, in which he suggested exactly this form of military action was, he said, “never meant to be to be implemented”. He added, “It was only intended to stimulate debate by consideration of all the unthinkable option.”

The plan required a rapid repurposing of the social fabric, of the kind not seen outside of total war.

In other pages: The New Brighton Times “future starts now” – Survival Pack.

* Ten tips to make your food last the winter — Bill Orange, Groundskeeper of Ness Gardens.
* How Romans lived through the end of their empire — Dr Vince Slater, Dee University of Chester.
* Civil panic and how to avoid it — Brigadier James Johnson, 4th Battalion (Retired).
* Tribalism and the myth of self-reliance — Dr Elaine Windward, Department of Archaeology, Aberystwyth University.
* A checklist for living without electricity — Professor Andrew Salter, Department of Civil Engineering, Edge Hill University.

Watch for the schedules of public lectures, town meetings, and skills courses in your area in the next edition of The New Brighton Times.

Owing to limited supplies of paper, the next edition of The New Brighton Times may only be available in libraries, schools and on public noticeboards.

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Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 5:47 pm - - DL 1 Comment »

Following this blogpost, here is my reply to the response. The preliminary hearing is set for 13 August, I believe. What a lot of work.





1. This Reply is served in accordance with rule 24 of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal)(General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009.

2. My request was for all progress reports produced by the Democracy Live team, including any that were filed by the contractors Autonomy and Blinkx in the 18 months leading up to the launch of the Democracy Live service.

3. In a conversation with the ICO I clarified my request to focus on the technical progress reports produced by the contractors, which I believed came under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act. This was a reasonable move because, according to the guidelines, if some of the requested information is exempt, the non-exempt information should still be disclosed.

4. The Democracy Live service was launched on 2 November 2009. In particular, I am referring to its repository of archived video content from at least 8 debating chambers which has been filtered through Blinkx and Autonomy speech-to-text technology in order to enable a text-based search feature.

5. The two questions I put before before the Tribunal are:

(a) Is the Democracy Live service (video archive, speech-to-text and search), considered in its own right, journalism?

(b) Is this video and searchable content held to any significant extent for the purpose of journalism within the terms of the High Court Judgement?

Is the Democracy Live service journalism?

6. According to Decision Notice FS50284450, the BBC argued that the technical progress reports which relate to the development of the site are held for the purpose of journalism, and that web content developers require private journalistic space in which to gather, analyse, weigh and editorialise information in order to determine the most effective way to provide this coverage.

7. It is not the case that all web content provided by the BBC is journalism, art or literature. For example notices of transmission times, and google-generated pages of search results of their content are not the product of journalism, art or literature.

8. According to the Democracy Live FAQ:

“We cover the main chambers of the House of Commons, House of Lords, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly, Welsh Assembly and full sittings of the European Parliament. We also cover Westminster Hall and Select Committees at Westminster. When there is no business in the main chambers in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, we cover committee meetings…

Our Search is one of the most innovative aspects of Democracy Live. It works by using a “speech-to-text” system. After a video is made available to watch again, our system adds words spoken in the video for you to search on. When it finds a word you’ve asked for, it gives you a link straight to the point in the video where the word is spoken. You can also search for representatives by name, place and postcode…

Our systems have to process the video after it’s gone out live and this takes approximately the same time as the length of the business. Therefore, if the item lasted 30 minutes, it will take about that time to process the video, followed by a few more minutes for it to be published on the site. After it’s been published, a second process produces the speech-to-text functions and this too takes about the same time as the duration of the video…

At launch, our archive is limited but it increases in size every day…”

In other words, in common with, there is no selectivity applied to the source material. Any failure detect the word “pipsqueak” spoken by Tom Watson MP in the House of Commons on 7 July 2010 can be assumed to be purely a failure of the technical implementation, and not the consequence of any journalistic editorial selection by the BBC.

9. I have submitted my appeal to this Tribunal in the hope of clarifying the issue that there are no journalistic processes occurring between the raw source material (video feeds from the debating chambers), and the Democracy Live service which is accessible to the public.

Is the Democracy Live service held for the purpose of journalism?

10. The response by the ICO to my appeal downplayed the points provided to them by the BBC indicating that Democracy Live was equivalent to editorial content. Instead, the ICO argued that the meaning of “journalism” was wider than simply editorial selection, because it involved collecting or gathering, writing and verifying of materials for publication, and that the involvement of editorial staff on the steering group which received the technical progress reports from the contractors was relevant.

11. The Democracy Live service could undoubtedly be useful as a means of gathering materials for the purpose of journalism. However, because the service appears to be fully exposed to the public on the website — at least to an equivalent extent that BBC journalists have access to it — the journalism derogation cannot be stretched to protect it from FOI.

12. The Democracy Live service, to the public and to BBC journalists, could easily be sold off and provided as-is by a third party without any change of procedure. Disclosing information about it would not disclose anything about journalists’ private gathering, writing and verifying of materials for publication, because these materials are fully published in the form of the service. That is where the jurisdiction of the journalist ends.

13. It is true that BBC journalists and editorial staff may be heavy users of the Democracy Live service. As such it would be reasonable for the team to consult them at any stage of the project in order to ensure that it was a success. But this is equivalent to an authority consulting and following the advice of journalists as to where and when to hold a major press conference so that more of them turned up.

Disclosure of information under FOI

14. I have not been able to address any of the exemptions that are likely to be applied if the requested information comes under the Freedom of Information Act. If disclosure is considered exempt under Section 43 (Commercial interests) then it is subject to a public interest test.

15. The Democracy Live service, as advertised, clearly has a displacement effect on the activities of, in that it provides a new competing website where viewers can search the speeches made by MPs in the House of Commons.

16. There are issues with the reliability of the Democracy Live technology, in that it is less capable than at delivering accurate results for searches of speeches in the recent past, or anything preceding September 2009.



17. The only published information about the reliability of the Democracy Live service is included below:

“Our search is powered by a speech-to-text system built by two companies called Blinkx and Autonomy which create transcriptions of the words spoken in the video.

Generally speaking, the industry standard for accuracy in speech-to-text systems is reckoned to be about 80%. In Democracy Live tests, we’ve seen slightly higher than that. We’ve taken account of different accents across the UK but the system might still be a bit confused by some words. Have a look at the explanation of how the site works for more about search and other questions you may have.

One aspect we’re particularly proud of is that we’ve managed to deliver good results for speech-to-text in Welsh, which, we’re told, is unique.”

18. Beyond the above statement, there is no other information about the suitability or reliability of the service provided, or any recommendation to viewers who have experienced inadequate results to try if they are searching UK Parliamentary debates.

19. Democracy Live does cover the European Parliament and Select Committees, which does not. Given a fraction of the resources that have been lavished on Democracy Live, (which is an open source project run by a charity), could have easily extended its coverage (based on webscraping and parsing technology) to these other bodies. However, this activity has been delayed and is unlikely to happen, owing to the displacement effect of the government resourced Democracy Live project.

20. Accordingly, I believe it is in the public interest for the BBC to be compelled to disclose requested information about the technology and development of this non-journalistic web-service so that viewers can be informed about its cost, nature and reliability.

DATED 14 July 2010
Julian Todd.

Monday, July 5th, 2010 at 4:31 pm - - Whipping

Last Monday morning (28 June) I dropped by the Bristol University library (special collections) to make a deposit of election leaflets. The librarian gave up making notes pretty rapidly when she realized I was going to be there all morning laying out my haul of leaflets like some mad door-to-door decorative vacuum cleaner bag salesman that you just can’t get rid of once they’re in your house.

This is only half the haul. There’s another bag in the middle of the table. On the back you see the boxes of brown paper envelopes the librarian has to file everything into, according to constituency, where they will be safe from prying eyes.

it was never my intention to collect so many leaflets. But we put the word out on website that if you didn’t have a scanner of your own, you could mail them to me and I’d do it. The job took many sleepless nights to keep up with in the days before and after the election.