Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Watty's had an unexpected treat:

We're looking to buy some new remote backup software. Hardly stirring stuff, but - well, OK, it's not remotely interesting to anyone but me, but bear with this. I asked if we could go and see it in use somewhere; a perfectly normal request, and one which usually ends up with me driving to Peterborough or Bracknell, and wandering around a draughty shed for half a day. Not this time, though. We - Simon and I - were invited to go and see how they do things at the Wellcome Trust in Euston Road. Now, the product demonstration was excellent, and very useful; the people we met could not have been more friendly or helpful, and we were allowed to go and gasp in wonder at the robotic tape library doing its thing. And all that was well and good, and I was more than happy just to have had the experience of being in this wonderful Art Deco building, when it was suggested that we might like to visit the library.

Now, you might not be all that excited by libraries (so what are you doing reading this, then?), but even the cynic amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the exhibition of Francis Crick's lab notes. There, under glass, was real, legible, history. One sheet holds a primitive sketch of the DNA helix - possibly the first time it had been put down on paper in that way. Over there is the Nobel Prize telegram. Another notebook is open at the first page (amusingly, it's been started from the back, so the book is displayed upside down. On the first page, a confident hand has written D.N.A., and underlined it. Beneath that, the pencil marks are readable but faint, but it's that first line which stops you. Was that the first time Crick had written it down like that? It certainly felt like it. An astonishing document, in a wonderful library.

And then, after viewing some of the wonderful art in the Wellcome collection, we were ushered out by means of a quiz question answer - the tunnel under Euston Road which links the two parts of the Trust; it's owned by London Underground, leased to the Wellcome Trust, and has wonderful LU posters along its length. At the midpoint, you pass quite obviously over the platforms at Euston Square, and under the Euston Road. Eventually, you emerge on the other side of the street.

Far more interesting than my usual Tuesday morning. I must go and organise sending those guys some chocolate...

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Watty has been writing:

This isn't what I was writing; this got written by accident. But someone liked it...

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Watty's been to Birmingham:

I was led there under false pretences. I was supposed to be attending an exhibition / trade show on 'Storage Solutions'. When I got there (there being the Birmingham Botanical Gardens), I was slightly surprised to be urgently escorted into the conference session despite not having paid for it. It was only just the right side of 'dull and uninteresting', and I resolved to get out and go round the exhibition as soon as I could politely excuse myself. The exhibition turned out to be six people sat behind tables in a room dominated by tea and biscuits, and almost entirely uninteresting. I made my excuses and left. Actually, I didn't. I just left. This was, apparently 'The (their italics) event for IT professionals'. Harumph.

So what does one do when stranded in Birmingham for the best part of a day? Well, I went and bought a sandwich, trundled over to see 'the best bookshop in the midlands' -(heaven help the rest of the midlands), and parked alongside the runway at Coventry airport, watching small aircraft struggling with the weather, while I wrote a long overdue and much needed training programme. So a not entirely wasted day, thankfully.

And then I drove home through a magnificent hail-and-thunderstorm, listening to Verdi's Requiem; 'Dies Irae' seemed hugely appropriate as the road disappeared under water...

Oh, and The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a weird place to hold a trade show.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Watty's busy

I'm not blogging because the muse has called. I'm writing something, and I have some hopes for it. Watch this space...

Friday, May 02, 2003

Watty's got a question:
How exactly does this kind of thing happen? I know that the 'will of the people' will appear to have been served, and I'm pretty sure that the Lib Dems will see it as a ringing endorsement, but how can it be right that for the next four years, the people of Aylesbury will be governed by an unopposed single party. And what about, say, Quarrendon ward? What about the more than 5,500 people who did not vote for the two elected councillors? No wonder people are so apathetic...

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Watty's been exercising his franchise:

Although I am wondering just how much point there was to it tonight. The smallest ballot paper I have ever used had but two names on it, and although mine might turn out to be the casting vote, somehow I doubt it. The party of national government, elected two years ago by a supposed overwhelming majority, doesn't seem to think it worth their while putting up a candidate in this ward, or indeed in many others on the council. Which leaves us with what is, on the face of it, a truly democratic vote - the person who has more than half the votes will be elected. Of course, if you wish neither candidate to represent you, you do not have a voice - out of the wide potential spread of political opinion, I was tonight faced with only two possibilities. Since the two parties concerned will contest the overall make up of the whole council, I can pretend that my vote did at least influence that outcome. It did, of course, do nothing of the kind. If the person I voted for does not win, then my vote is not playing any part in the process, other than the important one of noting that yes, even though I am unhappy with the process, I still feel it is important to take part in it.

The Edlesborough election is not, sadly, representative of the opinion of the people who live here - it's a pretty thin kind of democracy, really. Only those who feel obliged, or who are involved have bothered to vote, and no pollster would accept the result from such a self-selecting sample; one in which a proportion of voters will not have bothered because the party they support was not even on the ballot paper. The turnout will be minimal, verging on the pathetic, and I can't honestly say that had I not bothered, or chosen the other candidate, there would have been the slightest difference in when and how efficiently my dustbins are collected. So why do I bother? Well, like Churchill said; democracy is the worst possible system of government - except for all the others. And it is a democracy, and a freedom which would be keenly missed if removed; and it is the most valuable thing we can do as members of society - to participate in deciding how that society is run, and having the opportunity to dismiss those who we percieve to be doing it badly.

But. like I say, it's also a pretty thin kind of democracy, and it wouldn't take much imagination to make it more representative. By my quick count, there are 59 seats on the council, and the current council is split pretty much 50/50. I doubt very much, however, that political opinion in the district is split that way. At present, real political power is held by a handful of independent councillors, most likely chosen on single-issue campaigns, who have staggeringly disproportionate influence. If the council were truly representative of the views of the electorate - and if that electorate were obliged to vote - then of course there would be a great deal of horse-trading and debate; but isn't that what democracy is all about? The argument is that the current system produces strong government; but it actually produces government intent only on winning elections, not representing the views of the people - the two names on my ballot paper tonight make that point very clearly.