Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Voter ID: voter suppression or vote integrity?

May 5, 2023

There’s a lot of discussion currently about voter ID in the UK. This has been used for elections in Northern Ireland for some time, but has just been introduced in England, Wales and Scotland.

The first elections in which this comes into force were the English local council elections on May 4th (Star Wars Day) 2023. Yesterday, as I write this.

In the UK it’s clearly a solution in search of a problem. According to the Electoral Commission, in 2019, the year of the last general elections, there was one prosecution for personation, and one police caution for the same. There were three other convictions and one other caution, but they were for different offences which wouldn’t be addressed by voter ID. On this basis there’s no risk to the integrity of elections in the UK which voter ID can resolve.

There have been some reported issues of significant voting fraud in the UK, but those were to do with postal votes. Examples include Birmingham in 2004 and Peterborough in 2019. But you still don’t need to prove who you are to obtain a postal vote – indeed one way of voting if you don’t have suitable photo ID is to apply in advance for a postal vote which you can hand in at the polling station on the day! You can also apply for a proxy vote up until 5pm on election day; your proxy has to have photo ID but you don’t.

Example citizencard ID card for Lily Steward
Example of suitable voter ID

There is a widespread view that the Conservative government is introducing voter ID as a means of suppressing the votes of sections of the population who are likely to vote against them. The government’s own estimate is that 2 million people in the UK (population 68m) don’t have suitable photo ID. Many of these may be less likely to vote Conservative. To confirm this suspicion you only have to look at the list of valid IDs. A senior citizen’s bus pass (available to 60 year olds in London and 66 years olds elsewere) is valid ID, but an 18+ bus pass isn’t. As far as I can see the requirements to obtain such passes are similarly rigorous. Also student ID isn’t valid.

However the Tories may be shooting themselves in the foot, as many older people, particularly the over 80s, will have given up driving, so won’t have a driving license, and can’t get travel insurance, so may have given up their passport. These are the two most common forms of ID. So a proportion of the cohort most likely to vote Tory may also be turned away at the polling station for not having suitable ID.

We are yet to see how effective this was at suppressing votes – there were certainly people turned away unable to vote yesterday, both for not having suitable ID and for not resembling the photo on the ID sufficiently. But voter suppression works only where the result is likely to be close – and at the moment the Tories are being annihilated at the polls, so it’s unlikely to have had any influence on any results yesterday.

I’m not against requiring voter ID in principle; it is likely to improve the integrity of, and elector trust in, elections and election results. However in the majority of countries which require voter ID, the population already has ID cards issued to all adults. Then it’s clear that requiring voter ID isn’t suppressing votes, as all eligible voters already have suitable ID. This government is, as usual, doing things arse-backwards by introducing the requirement for voter ID before issuing ID cards.

The only good news is that the Tories introduced voter ID before the English local elections – the publicity surrounding it combined with many people’s actual experience of being turned away may increase the awareness of this requirement before the next general election.

National ID cards

There have been efforts to introduce ID cards in the UK before, most recently under the Labour government in which David Blunkett was Home Secretary, and it’s been the Tory party which has seen them off. Their usual response is about privacy being compromised and that it’s just not British to demand people carry their ID at all times.

Example of possible UK national ID card, carrying the image of David Blunkett, Labour Home Secretary at the time it was suggested.
David Blunkett’s example ID card

However almost every EU country (with the notable exception of Denmark) issues national ID cards.

An example of a German national ID card
Example of German ID card

Frankly, I doubt many people would trust the present UK government not to do something unpleasant with our ID card data, such as sell it to a private company, or give the police powers to demand to see your ID for no valid reason.

However if the government is really serious about managing illegal immigration (that subject is for another post) they would make their task a lot easier if all UK citizens and residents had an ID card. Then anyone without one would either be a tourist or an illegal immigrant. The government of the day would need to introduce much tighter privacy controls on the data if it were to successfully introduce national ID cards, but they would solve a lot of problems.

I have Portuguese residence, so I have a Portuguese Residence card. This also has my fiscal number (equivalent of my National Insurance number) and my health number (equivalent of my NHS number) and a space for my social security number, on the back. All my government issued ID numbers are in a single place, on a card I carry with me all the time.

Really handy.

Example of Portuguese residence ID card

Lack of vision in Apple design

March 3, 2021

Prompted by a question on Quora, I went into a rant about the connectivity, or lack of it, on new MacBooks and the incompatibility of different Apple devices. This is an edited version of my answer.

Today I forgot my Macbook charger, and was only able to charge it with my friend’s Android charger, not my iPhone charger. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t people find that Apple lacks coherence?

I agree with you. Apple probably makes money from this situation by selling its own connectors and adapters, and it maintains control over its “walled garden”. 

I find the incompatibility of USB C with Lightning connectors infuriating. It suggests to me a lack of vision from the company, and hints at silo thinking from the design and product management teams. But it does explain why you get a Lightning to USB C cable with a new iPhone – it’s so you can connect the phone to your Mac. Apple’s assuming you already own a charger from your previous phone, so you can carry on using your old chargers with their old USB A to Lightning connectors to charge the phone.

I currently use a Late 2013 MacBook Pro. It has two USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt/miniDisplayPort ports, a 3.5mm audio socket (which also outputs optical digital audio) an HDMI port and an SD card socket. It also has a MagSafe 2 power connector. It still works perfectly, and I love it, but it’ll be out of support later this year.

2013 MacBook Pro 13″ Retina showing HDMI and SD card sockets

One of the major things that has stopped me upgrading to a new MacBook Pro is the poor connectivity on the new models. With only two USB C ports, one of which you have to use for power, buying the equivalent new model would force me to buy an expensive dock connector, just to replicate some of what I’ve already got.

I understand Apple’s trying to make the new MacBooks as light, and thin, as possible, but in my view this is a triumph of design over utility. I would happily sacrifice a few grams and a couple of millimetres of thickness to avoid having to carry around an expensive bag of adapters that collectively weigh more than the power supply!

I mourn the demise of the MagSafe power connection and the SD card socket. I realise not many people were using the optical digital output – but I do, and I will miss it. I also resent being forced to buy yet another expensive adapter – USB C to 3.5mm – to use my headset. I already own a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter so I can use it on my iPhone!

And, as you suggest, the incompatibility of the ports on a MacBook with the port on an iPhone really rankles. 

Come on Apple, let’s see either a coherent and rational explanation for your choice of ports and connectors, or alternatively some signs of joined-up thinking in product design.


Is a “Curve” card worth trying?

April 10, 2017

I’ve been reading about the Curve card.

From what I can work out, it’s a MasterCard prepay card that, instead of you topping it up with credit, provides a “token” when you use it for a transaction which links the transaction back to Curve. The transaction can then be re-charged to any of the cards (credit or debit) with which you’ve linked it.

A beta Curve card

It’s multi-currency, and will give you a decent exchange rate (MasterCard rate + 1%) without commission on foreign currency transactions.

One of their big claims is that you can use it to pay with your Amex card (and get loyalty points) anywhere that takes MasterCard – which is more places than take Amex at the moment.

They also suggest this is a way of reducing the number of cards you have to carry to one. Indeed Ted Truscott has written a review after using Curve for a week where he suggests this is now the only card he carries.

But I’m skeptical.

First, from what I can see from Curve’s FAQs by using Curve you compromise your consumer rights: if you use a credit card directly to buy something then the transaction is between you and the credit card company, and your final recourse in the event of a problem is to the credit card company as the vendor. The same protection doesn’t apply to debit cards – they’re essentially the same as paying with cash. And using Curve give you the same consumer protection as using a debit card:

“using Curve is not a direct purchase from the user’s original card, so the purchases are not covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act”

Second, I’m concerned that putting all your cards on Curve gives you a single point of failure: while your individual card details will be concealed, if the Curve card, the privacy of your app, or the token the card uses, becomes compromised surely all your cards are at risk?

Third, if I were to use a Curve card, and put all my debit and credit cards on it, I would reduce the number of those in my wallet from four to one. And I could carry my Euro debit card which I normally only have with me when I’m travelling. But I also have loyalty cards, membership cards and my driving license to carry: I couldn’t stop carrying my wallet – I’d merely have six cards in it instead of nine.

And fourth, I already have a MasterCard that gives me low-cost, commission free foreign exchange purchases.

So for me, the only real benefit would be that I could use my Amex card in a few more places. But I already have a MasterCard, so I can still buy stuff in those places – and get consumer protection on the purchase which I wouldn’t get if I used Curve (or the Amex alone, as it happens, since it’s a charge card).

So, while I’m tempted to try it – it’s new technology (and I’m a sucker for that), I’m not quite tempted enough to actually part with the joining fee yet.

I’ll be keeping an eye on its development…


It’s hard being young

October 28, 2011

It was George Bernard Shaw, that most quotable of authors and playwrights, who said, “Youth is wasted on the young”. He had a point, but the young don’t have it easy, and while I wouldn’t mind having youth, I wouldn’t want to be young again today.

Getting an apprenticeship isn’t easy

My nephew has not had the easiest start in life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he grew up as part of a loving family, has a doting mother and four gorgeous siblings, and a fantastic auntie and uncle who took him on all sorts of adventures (guess who that might be). But he suffered with “glue ear” when he was young, ended up having to have grommets and now has mild hearing loss; he also has mild dyslexia. So his education wasn’t the easiest. He dropped out of sixth-form college after having been badly hurt in a car accident – as an innocent pedestrian I should add.

Since when he’s had a series of jobs, none of which really offered him the career potential that he is capable of. Earlier this year, inspired by a friend of his, he decided he’d like to qualify as an electrician, and started looking for an apprenticeship. Read the rest of this entry ?


Does it have to be like this?

October 7, 2010

A tweet from the inestimable Bill Thompson (@BillT) this morning about being over 50 and throwing yoghurt on his trousers prompted me to contemplate the pros and cons (mainly cons, I admit) of being in my 50s. It has to be said that it’s a bit depressing…

What was I saying? Yes, that’s the worst. I haven’t got to the point of forgetting what I’m saying mid sentence yet, but I’m sure it’s coming. I sure as hell forget what I climbed the stairs for, only to remember just as I reach the bottom step. I guess the exercise is good for me.

I am the invisible man. I work in the City of London, most of the time    Read the rest of this entry ?


Leave Mark Thompson alone…

June 26, 2009

IMHO the expenses row has now gone too far.

So following the MP’s expenses scandal, and in the spirit of openness and transparency, Mark Thompson the BBC director general has published the expenses of the most senior 100 executives at the BBC including himself.

News story here.

Does he get praise for this? Like hell he does. I was unhappy to see the normally balanced and sensible Kirsty Wark on Newsnight last night implying that claiming for air fares to fly his family home from their disrupted holiday was unreasonable… and there was a vox pop on the BBC 10 o’clock news with people saying that this claim was “disgusting”.

No it’s not.

Sure there are some cheeky and unreasonable claims among those published, but let’s get the facts about Mark Thompson’s flights home straight:

Read the rest of this entry ?