November 6th, 2011


SDLP leadership

For the record, the results were:

Alasdair McDonnell127140188
Conall McDevitt105131152
Patsy McGlone7076-
Alex Attwood46--

Attwood's transfers went 26 to McDevitt, 13 to McDonnell, 6 to McGlone (1 plumper); McGlone's transfers went 48 to McDonnell, 21 to McDevitt (seven non-transferable). (Figures from @KenReid_utv.) Congrats to McDonnell; commiserations to the other candidates.

Ian Parsley jokes that I am responsible, but I rather doubt it!

Klout and influence

There was an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday between Charlie Stross and Pat Cadigan about, which I vaguely knew of as one of those sites that attempts to measure how wide and effective your use of social media is, attributing to me expertise and authority on subjects about which I know little and tweet less. Klout had further annoyed me by unilaterally changing their algorithm to decrease my Klout score and then demanding that I change my behaviour to increase it back again, which didn't interest me at all.

@cstross made the excellent point that Klout's data-mining of our Twitter and Facebook accounts is ethically dubious and its opt-out rather than opt-in practice is actually against EU law (ah, how I remember the days of lobbying the European Parliament on that one), and that was sufficient to move me to opt out.

Later in the day, Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party elected its new leader. Delegates chose the Member of Parliament (and of the Northern Ireland Assembly) for South Belfast, Alasdair McDonnell, whose candidacy I had endorsed in a blog post on Wednesday (reprinted on the popular site Slugger O'Toole on Thursday). I doubt that more than a couple of dozen SDLP delegates read my piece in either place, and I would be very surprised if I changed the minds of more than a very few (and McDonnell's winning margin was a healthy 36 votes out of almost 350). I can tell you that Livejournal thinks that 75 people looked at it as their point of entry, compared with 53 for the preceding entry about the beards of Democratic Party candidates for the US Presidency and 149 for the following entry about Tintin. It was tweeted by two people who both have fewer followers on Twitter than I do, but probably are more connected to the Northern Irish social media world than I am - one is the communications officer of a prominent Belfast NGO, and the other is, er, Alasdair McDonnell MP. None of the other half-dozen pieces on Slugger about the SDLP leadership attracted fewer comments than mine.

I think Klout - or any naive data-mining algorithm - would have real difficulty in assessing whether or not that piece was influential, let alone whether I am influential, just from the numbers. To give another (and rather appropriate) example, my re-posting of the graphic of Where Should You Post Your Status?, which had been doing the rounds on Facebook, got 100 distinct views on Livejournal, but was also tweeted by five other people (and retweeted by a sixth), only one of whom I actually know, so the others put it into completely new networks, thus increasing my "deep reach" for that particular post (which however is probably of less historical import than the selection of the new leader of the SDLP). For another example of "deep reach", my reaction to the Stross/Cadigan discussion caught the attention of Rosi Sexton, whose twitter following probably doesn't have a lot of overlap with mine, let alone the two sf authors', and so the Klout discussion is brought to the attention of a whole new audience. But I suspect that the "deep reach" of a single post is normally pretty ephemeral; even if it can be measured, it is only a very small part of a bigger picture.

I like looking at attempts to tease structure out of the sea of information that we are all providing online. But I think any attempts to reduce one person's impact to a single number should be treated with suspicion, and further efforts to make money out of such a dubious process should be treated with disdain and shunning.

November Books 5) Diana Wynne Jones, by Farah Mendlesohn

An excellent, thorough look at the works of the much-missed author, taking us through how Jones educates her readers subtly through her writing, which made me want to fill in the large gaps in my own reading of her works. By fortunate coincidence, the Diana Wynne Jones issue of Vector arrived just as I was finishing this, which gave me a chance to reflect on why Jones was such a good writer in from several other perspectives as well (also a transcript of a discussion in which the genesis of this book is explained). Very stimulating, even if I can't find many words to write about it for now.

Gibbon Chapter LXVI: The Eastern Empire and the Popes

In this chapter, the successive emperors and popes of the early fifteenth century negotiate (again) union between the churches. The increased contact between East and West causes the Renaissance. See also my thoughts on kissing and the English, the filioque debate, the number of students at Oxford, how one might miss out on becoming Pope, Ancient Greek pronunciation, and the Renaissance.

November Books 6) The Private Eye Annual 2008, edited by Ian Hislop

I hadn't got around to reading this until now, and it was quite amusing to be submerged again in the long-ago world of 2008, when Gordon Brown had just become Prime Minister and the US presidential campaign was just getting under way. A lot of the humour is childish rather than undergraduate, but some of the barbs are still telling: an advertisement for putting your money Under The Bed (instant access twenty-four hours a day, but not regulated under the financial services compensation scheme), for instance. I love the list of made-up facts about the Queen and Prince Philip:
Although the Duke comes from Greek. Danish, German and English stock, he speaks none of those languages.
And the story under the headline Nationwide Fury Erupts As Archbishop 'Converts To Islam' is actually an acerbic deconstruction of the political / media rhetoric on Islam generally, with this cutting sidebar:
That Shock Lecture In Full - The Words That Shook The Nation
followed by a spoof of opaque theological commentary. I don't always agree with the Eye's target or line but I am glad that its sæva indignatio continues.

November Books 7) Pack Animals, by Peter Anghelides

A Torchwood novel set towards the end of Season 2, with Owen already dead but still walking and alien creatures intruding on Earth via sets of game cards (so the 'pack' of the title has a dual meaning). Another good effort from Anghelides, reinforcing my view that the Torchwood novels are an insufficiently recognised literary achievement of the Whoniverse.

Sabotage on the railway line, 1943

In the early morning of 31 July 1943, our village's peaceful slumbers were interrupted by an explosion on the railway line to the south. The Resistance had successfully attacked a German troop transport, causing fairly substantial damage to the train itself and to the railway line.

Collapse )

Although local legend speaks of 250 dead Germans, and reprisals prevented by a local cigar manufacturer who bought off the Nazi commandant with a barrel of cognac, the truth appears to be that five Wehrmacht and two local Belgian railway staffers were killed, a couple of dozen wounded, and twelve carriages and, most dramatically, the locomotive were derailed. The Resistance set off the bomb with electrical cables salvaged from the brief war of 1940, which were of English manufacture and therefore allowed the embarrassed Germans to pretend that British parachutists were responsible.

One sunny morning last weekend I decided to try and locate the bridge where all this happened. It is here, down a very overgrown lane, just about visible on Google Earth. I had difficulty in deciding if the train had fallen off the eastern or western side of the bridge (the line runs more or less north-south here); in the end I think it is the eastern side, partly because I think the sun may be on the left in the comtemporary pictures (though I suspect it was a cloudy day) and partly because the train was coming from Leuven at the time of the attack, and since Belgian trains presumably then as now were on the left track it would have been on the eastern side of the line.Collapse )

All very quiet and neglected now. But very odd to look at the scene of the attack sixty-eight years later.