Europython – Day 1 – Tutorials

I have to admit to a certain amount of trepidation when I signed up for EuroPython 2009. As primarily a sysadmin rather than a developer I was worried that I might not have the requisite knowledge to get the benefit of a week-long developer conference. After today’s experience I’m beginning to relax about that.

Today and tomorrow are the tutorial sessions before the conference proper starts. Having never been to a Python conference before I wasn’t sure what form the tutorials would take. From the outcome of the day I would have to say “much less programming than you might expect”.

The day started off with Michael Spark’s giving an introduction to Kamaelia the simple concurrency system designed by BBC Research. We started off by building a brain-dead simple version of Kamaelia to outline the principles by which it operates. This took us on to writing a bulletin-board system by chaining together simple Kamaelia components. This was, needless to say, pretty intense for a Sunday morning.

Having expected to be doing a lot of coding I dutifully spent Friday evening makeing sure that I had the suggested software installed and working on my netbook. As it turned out I only wrote about 20 lines of code during the whole tutorial. I was ever so slighlty miffed by this. This is the first time this tutorial has been given and in my opinion would benefit from being all-day with time for coding exercises between explanations.

Despite these minor problems I felt that the tutorial left me with enough of a grasp of Kamaelia’s basics that I could go away and write something simple in it without too much trouble. One other good point of the this session was the handout printed from which was really nice. So nice in fact that I think we should spring for these next time we run a training course at work.

After lunch I was in Jonathan Fine’s JavaScript for Python Programmers tutorial. Which was in a room that was too small for the audience and much, much too hot. It also appeared to have a grand total of two power outlets. Fine started off with a horrifying list of the ways basic constructs in JS behave in ways that Pythonistas will find completely illogical. After the break he delved into the nitty-gritty of OO and Inheritance. As the tutorial progressed and Fine got further from his slides the session transformed into something more like a seminar rather that a tutorial. Overall I found this session enjoyable and informative, although my brain was beginning to melt by the end of the day.

I suspect that Wifi and power are what most people will grumble about, but knowing how hard it is to sort these out for events at my home institution I won’t carp too much.

Now for some time with the Django tutorial in preparations for tomorrow’s Pyjamas session.

Election Predictions

After perusing ukpollingreport it looks to me like the 4th seat in the Welsh region will be a straight fight between the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. Given that my dislike of xenophobes is stronger than my dislike of anti-nuclear policies it looks like I’ll be voting LibDem tomorrow.

I think the seats will go down like this in Wales:

  1. Conservative
  2. Labour
  3. Plaid Cymru
  4. UKIP

In descending order of their share of the vote. Although obviously I hope that the 4th seat doesn’t go to UKIP.

A Tour of the Minor Parties 6 – UK Independence Party

I found Nigel Farage’s performance on Question Time last week to be horrifyingly entertaining. Personally, I can’t get past the idea that UKIP were specifically formulated to appeal to Daily Mail readers.

Web Presence

I’ll give this one a big “meh”. Distinctly functional, but underwhelming. In contrast the Welsh UKIP site is nearly as horrid as the SLP’s was.

I found the single most annoying part of the site was that all their detailed policy proposals were in the form of PDFs. Bad on so many levels. Dear UKIP stop doing this now.

Another failing is the almost complete lack of any personal presence by their candidates. I could find out who the candidates are, but very little about them.


UKIP provide a handy summary from which I shall select an unrepresentative sample.

UKIP will leave the political EU and trade globally and freely.

You’ll trade “freely”? Really? I’m not sure that word means what you think it means.

We will freeze immigration for five years…

I thought so. You see this free trade thing, it involves the free movement of labour as well as goods. You can’t be for free trade and against immigration, it doesn’t make sense.

The UK would withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights

Who needs those pesky Human Rights?

We will radically reform the working of the NHS with an Insurance Fund, whilst upholding the ‘free at the point of care’ principles.

I’d have to see the details of this but it doesn’t sound immediately batty. However, I would suggest that any healthcare system that is free at the point of delivery is going to be expensive.

We will take 4.5 million people out of tax with a simple Flat Tax (with National Insurance) starting at £10,000. We will scrap Inheritance Tax, not just reform it and cut corporation taxes.

The regressive nature of a flat tax aside; how are you going to afford an NHS free at the point of delivery with all this tax-cutting?

All joking aside the thing I dislike the most about these policies is their strident, and faintly racist, advocacy of closed borders. I don’t want to live in a world were I can’t choose to go and live and work in another country. The world is almost entirely better off for immigration. To take a trivial example the NHS (which UKIP is apparently a fan of) would fall apart without the thousands of foreign doctors and nurses it employs. Should we deport all of them. I mean some of them aren’t even white.

European Policies

Like a lot of the anti-european parties UKIP does a good job of articulating it’s specific policies for the European election.

The only people who should decide who can come to live, work and settle in Britain should be the British people themselves.

Yes, I think you made this point earlier. It’s just as tiresome now.

…we should not be focussing on the insular regional trading blocs, but opening our arms to trade with the rest of the world, starting with the Commonwealth.

I wasn’t aware of any huge barriers to trade with Australia and New Zealand, other than them being on the opposite side of the planet. While Europe is right next door.

Not Mental

I choose to characterise them as eccentric, possibly dangerously so.


Never in a million years would I vote for this bunch of xenophobic, mercantilists.

As an amusing side note, Nigel Farage has recently been lionising the Euroskeptic President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Mr Klaus happens to be a real free marketeer of the Austrian school. You can bet he doesn’t agree with UKIP’s economic policies.

A Tour of the Minor Parties 5 – Jury Team

After a lovely sunny weekend break from blogging it’s time to get back to the grindstone and continue my series of posts about the various small parties of the upcoming European elections.

I first became aware of Jury Team when I heard that Esther Rantzen had joined them and was standing as a candidate. Well I have to admit that put me off them from the start. However it did get me to look at their website where I found out that they were founded by former Director General of the Conservative Party, Paul Judge (he claims the name of the party isn’t a joke about his surname); and that independent MP Dr Richard Taylor and former independent MP Martin Bell were also joining. This made them a lot more credible in my eyes. While I have a fondness for ideologues there is something to be said for a party founded by people with a bit of practical political experience.

Web Presence

Pretty good overall. Not as appealing visually as the Green Party website, but featuring the same wholehearted embrace of social media. The local candidates have short sections showing every sign of having been written by the candidates themselves.


This is where we run into a bit of a problem because Jury Team isn’t a political party in the traditional sense. Apart from a basic set of principles every candidate has to sign up to, they don’t have policies as such. Indeed one of Jury Team’s proposals is the abolition of the party whip, so even if they did have policies there would be no guarantee that an individual MP would vote for them.

However I would like to point out item 1 of the candidate agreement.

I agree not to support any policies discriminating on the basis of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religious or other belief.

That already puts them head and shoulders above a number of other parties I could mention.

The party of independents concept has the added complication that in a regional list system like the current election you could be putting an X next to four candidates with radically different ideologies. However for practical purposes they are unlikely to get more than one MEP so I really only need to consider the candidate at the top of the list. Which in this case is Paul Sabanskis. He also has his own site at

The first thing to mention is that the wonderful puts me in pretty close alignment with Mr Sabanskis’s views. In his own words:

Wales needs strong representation within the UK, and within Europe, so that areas can gain access to funding that is designed to help economies transform from being resource-led (e.g. coal / steel) to taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet Age. I especially would like to see greater advantage being taken of environmentally sensitive technology, as this would be a great way of regenerating former mining communities.

While the phrases like “environmentally sensitive” always worry me votematch says that he is pro-nuclear which leads me to believe that he is fairly pragmatic.

Zero tolerance on crime, with harsh punishments for repeat offenders.

Well that sounds pretty illiberal to my ears, but it would depend on what this actually meant in practise. Mainly because we’ve heard zero-tolerance from a number of politicians, none of whom have actually implemented it.

One thing that he says that did make me happy is this:

I have an open mind on most issues and prefer to act based on the facts and evidence.

European Policies

Jury Team have a list of core proposals most of which revolve around reforming the nitty-gritty of Westminster parliamentary procedure. Without wading into the details it seems that they boil down to various fairly sensible ways of increasing parliamentary oversight and pruning back the power of the executive. If this sensibility transferred to the European Parliament then I would consider that to be a good thing.

Mr Sabanskis addresses a couple of European issues himself.

Scrap the CAP which is wasteful.

The CAP in this instance being the Common Agricultural Policy. It is indeed a horrifically wasteful policy so I’m in full agreement with him here.

I believe we should have a proper debate about our role in Europe with facts rather than scaremongering and when promised a referendum, we should have one, not excuses and hair-splitting.

I couldn’t argue with that.

Not Mental

Mr Sabanskis is quite outspoken and has a tendency to resort to “x should be banned”, rather than taking a more nuanced approach to policy. That being said I would hate to conflate strong opinions with being a nutter.

As a whole the Jury Team proposals are almost boringly reasonable.


I like the idea of more independent politicians and have a lot of sympathy with the idea that political parties are kind of a bad idea in and of themselves. The European Parliament could do with more politicians who have signed up to the principles of transparency and oversight.

I might take a punt on Jury Team despite the obvious irony of an anti-corruption party started by a man who lost a Libel case over the allegation of party donation fraud.

Tour of the Minor Parties 4 – Welsh Green Party

I’m not sure I appreciated what a marathon this was going to turn into when I started it. Yesterday’s horrid slog through the rhetoric of the SLP was distinctly unrewarding. I’m hoping for better things from today’s turn: The Welsh Green Party.

Web Presence

Very nicely done. The most engaging and interactive of all the sites I have visited thus far. They have links to all their social media outlets right on the front page. A quick trawl through their Youtube channel turns up one of the best descriptions of how the regional list proportional representation works that I have yet seen. Although I could have done without the “vote for us or the BNP get in” scaremongering. The air-raid sirens where, perhaps, a bit much.

Top of the Welsh list is Jake Griffiths. Who seems to write the news posts for the Welsh Greens news-blog-thing. So at least you can get an idea of how he feels about the issues, and more importantly; how he feels about Welsh issues.

So the greens score well on this front. Their candidates appear to be actual real-life people and they even engage in conversation with people (for example answering comments on their youtube channel).


Green Party policies seem to boil down a few major initiatives.

  1. Tackle climate change by increasing investments in wind and solar. And by simultaneously taking steps to reduce energy demand. For example they want to subsidise insulation for residential properties.
  2. A 20mph suburban speed limit to reduce accidents and allow residents to reclaim their streets.
  3. An increase in affordable housing.

Jake also has some specific things to say regarding Wales.

I have to say that the Greens have done a good job in recent years making their policies distinctive from the main parties and yet bland enough that there is nothing really outrageous to object to. Fortunately for me the have a policy archive which reveals them to be just as wingnutty as ever.

My main objection to the Greens is their fanciful energy policy. While I agree with them that climate change is a real problem I disagree with their prescription for solving it. Solar and Wind are great in that they don’t produce any C02 but you need to put in somewhere above 40% backup to them for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Now the obvious step forward is to back them up with Nuclear which can provide reliable and CO2 free power, but the Greens are ideologically opposed to Nuclear. The policy document contains the following charming statement:

Green Party scientist Dr Busby has stated the nuclear industry has been responsible for over a million deaths worldwide.

Really, a million? Bear in mind that the WHO reckons that Chernobyl, the worlds worst Nuclear accident, killed around 50 people with epidemiologist projecting a total death toll of 4000. So I’m not sure how we get to one million.

The other strand of their energy policy is reducing demand both by mandating energy efficiency and by some more “inventive” strategies.

peak electricity demand when people switch on electric kettles and cookers at the end of a popular television programme. If there were to be a threat of power cuts because demand was already abnormally high during exceptionally severe winter weather, this could be averted by varying the times of transmission from the different regional broadcasting a caption asking people to switch off
unnecessary lights and appliances.

One should note that this is only an issue because the Greens don’t want to build enough power stations to actually meet the energy needs of the country.

This is doubly troubling because of something called The Jevons Paradox which states that increasing the efficiency with which a commodity is used tends to increase it’s usage. In other words Green Party policies are likely to increase energy consumption while doing little to reduce the CO2 production per unit energy on the supply side of things.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. A carbon tax is the most straight-forward way of approaching climate change.

European Policies

While the Greens are undoubtedly a strong force in Europe they seem short on specifically European policies.

Not Mental

I’m going to give the Greens the benefit of the doubt. I suspect they are just scientifically illiterate rather than crazy.


Being a fan of liberal economics and Nuclear power it was very unlikely that I would find the Greens appealing. Although I have to give them props for their fine web presence and the fact the their local councillors and MEPs are reputed to be hard-working and honest.

We are fast approaching the end of this journey. Tomorrow’s instalment will be the Jury Team and I will mull over whether or not to do the BNP.

A Tour of the Minor Parties 3 – Socialist Labour Party

From one megalomaniacal trade union boss to another. The first thing you see when visiting the site of the Socialist Labour Party (apart from the appalling design) is a big picture of their fearless leader Arthur Scargill.

Now I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the hard left due to being brought up in a fairly left-wing family. Indeed my maternal Grandmother was a card-carrying Communist even going so far as to visit Moscow before the days of Glasnost and Perestroika. So I was raised knowing that the Russians aren’t evil and that you shouldn’t believe everything Uncle Sam tells you.

Web Presence

It appears to be hand-written, and not by somebody who knows what they are doing. Aside from the horrifying design there is no information about any of their candidates (apart from Comrade Scargill) and not a mention of the European elections. You would think that an anti capitalist institution like the SLP would be running on open-source but upon inspecting the site I find:

Server: Microsoft-IIS/6.0
X-Powered-By: ASP.NET

Tut, tut, tut.


They have a lot of policies and many of their policy descriptions go on at great length, liberally sprinkled with possibly spurious statistics. I say possibly spurious because they seem to be labouring under a pathological fear of citing their sources. The only document cited in the entire site is a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which you can’t read unless you drop twenty quid on it.

Phantom sources aside, lets start of on some things I can agree with.

Homosexual partnerships should be recognised, including legally on a par with heterosexual ones. Sexuality should not be a bar to the custody of children, applications for fostering and adoption. Sexuality cannot be a bar to Aids and IVF treatment. When it comes to any aspect of criminal law, homosexual behaviour should be treated exactly the same way as heterosexuality.

Sing it brother. Keep this up and I’ll join you in a rousing rendition of “The Red Flag”.

A written Constitution should embody all individual and collective rights so that Judges would implement and not interpret the Constitution; this, together with a Bill of Rights, would allow a fair democratic system in which people could determine what type of Constitution we should have and then ensure that it is at all times upheld in the interests of us all.

Something else I could get behind.

We can have no higher goal than doing our best to ensure that every baby born into this world is wanted and will be cared for physically and emotionally throughout childhood and into adult life.

So, you’d have to be Ebeneezer Scrooge not to agree with basic premise of “the children are our future”. Further down the page the SLP declare that they are also pro-kitten and very much in favour of fluffy bunny rabbits.

I think at this point we should take it as read that as an economically liberal, free trade kind of chap I’m going to disagree with all of the SLP’s economic policies. However that still leaves a lot of policy ground to cover. The disagreement starts with animal rights.

Vivisection and animal testing should be abolished…..
Animal researchers feed the public lies designed to fool us into thinking that animal experiments are a medical necessity and that they lead to the development of drugs that heal all manner of illness

This only makes sense if you believe that there is a conspiracy amongst all biological scientists. The thing we know about scientists is that they value evidence and truth. If animal testing didn’t work they would stop doing it. What possible motivation could they have otherwise? Are we to believe that all biomedical scientists everywhere are sadists?

The commercial irradiation of many types of food – without our knowledge, let alone our consent – means that a number of foods now last weeks rather than days, but at what cost? What effect does irradiation have on the human body, and how long before we all have to pay the price of the fast-food, get-rich-quick system which now operates in Britain?

To be fair gamma rays are up the capitalist end of the electromagnetic spectrum with their bourgeois short wavelengths and elitist high frequencies.

The development of genetically modified crops is highly dangerous, and is something against which our Party campaigns. Those who try to ‘play God’ with our food, environment and the earth itself threaten disaster for future generations;

At least most Communists had the good grace to also be Atheists and not throw around phrases like “Playing God”. The safety of a GMO depends on what gene you put into it. Rice engineered to express Vitamin E; good. Rice engineered to express cobra venom; bad. It’s really not that complicated.

We can reduce dramatically the ‘greenhouse effect’ if power stations were to use fluidised bed combustion, together with a combined heat and power system. This would not only combat pollution but more than double the energy efficiency of coal-fired power stations.

You shoud note that according to the DOE doubling the efficiency of coal would make it about as green as burning natural gas. i.e not very. If you are serious about climate change you really want want sources of power that produce no Carbon Dioxide.

European Policies

The Socialist Labour Party is totally committed to complete withdrawal from the European Union, or Common Market as it was originally called. That is the only way Britain can begin to regain control of its economy, sovereignty and its political powers.

As I mentioned earlier nowhere on the SLP site do they even mention that the European elections are happening.

Not Mental

On the basis of their environment and animal welfare pages alone I’m going to have to go with mental.


It’s hard to get past the feeling that this is a vanity exercise for Scargill. The donations of the rank and file pay for Arthur to tour the country giving speeches without the worry of ever having to actually run anything. Shockingly I will not be voting for the SLP.

A Tour of the Minor Parties 2 – No2EU

After yesterday’s poor start I’m hoping that today’s contestants, No2EU, will turn down the crazy.

Web Presence

Not bad actually. Pretty static but it contains links to twitter, their facebook page and a nice little video that summarises their position. Where they fall down is that it’s hard to find out anything substantive about the individual candidates.

After this positive start I discover that the front-man for No2EU is none other than Bob “Tube Strike” Crow of the RMT. Like a lot of people who have had the pleasure of commuting to work on the Tube I would much rather punch Bob Crow in the face than vote for him.

Also the lead candidate in Wales is the head of the Welsh Communist Party. I don’t find that terribly appealing.


As you may have guessed from the name No2EU are not big fans of the European Union. They marshal their arguments into several main themes. The first is that the EU’s commitment to free-trade and free movement of labour will lead to poorer wages and working conditions.

The Single European Market, created by the Tory government with the Single European Act in 1987, creates a pool of working people to be exploited and treated no better than a commodity like a tin of beans. These EU rules allow employers to escape from national collective bargaining and employment legislation and impose lower wages and worse working conditions, creating a “race to the bottom”.

Now I’m quite a big fan of free markets. I believe that liberalising trade and labour are generally more helpful than harmful. So this argument doesn’t really sway me.

After this they try to convince you that the Lisbon Treaty will outlaw the NHS. No really.


See, the thing is that the EU is made up of countries that are almost entirely wedded to the idea of socialised healthcare free at the point of delivery. Can you really see the French buying into that? Or the Swedes? It’s just scaremongering. The real directive as far as I can tell is actually about allowing people to get treatment in other member states than the one they are resident in. The directive can be found here along with a slightly friendlier summary.

One of their other main points (which the articulate well in their video but not on their website) is that the EU Commission (the bit of the EU that proposes legislation) is completely unelected. Now I happen to agree that this is one of the least attractive parts of the EU. I would be much happier with legislation being proposed by an elected body.

Which brings me to “vote for us or the BNP might get in”. I hate it when political parties do this. If you have to bring the BNP into this to get me to vote for you then haven’t done a good enough job of selling your ideas to me.

European Policies

No shortage of EU-specific policies as we have seen.

Not Mental

I disagree with their view of Economics, but they are clearly not crazy.


Their characterisation of the EU Cross-Border Healthcare Directive skates pretty close to being an outright Lie. And while I sympathise with their dislike of some of the less democratic elements of the current EU structure that isn’t enough to make me want to vote for a Communist.

A Tour of the Minor Parties — Welsh Christian Party

The European Elections are ominously close. Like a lot of people I’m finding myself disenchanted with the mainstream political parties. This state of affairs might drive me to abstain where it not for the fact that the European Elections are held under a form of proportional representation. So a vote for a minor party is not necessarily a wasted vote.

If I’m going to consider voting for a minor party then I need a set a criteria that are bit more rigorous than “I don’t like the look of that person”, so let’s see if we can break it down into some catagories.

  1. Decent web presence. Since this will likely be my main source of information about the party it is important. Bonus points for candidates speaking with their own voice. Extra bonus points for actual conversations with voters (comments, twitter, forums etc).
  2. Detailed policy suggestions. One line policies don’t help me much without context.
  3. European Policies. You are running to be an MEP not an MP, act like it.
  4. Not mental. I prefer my politicians to be reality based.

So let’s get this magical merry-go-round started by looking at the Welsh Christian Party. I would take the main party into consideration as well but they appear to have over-run the bandwidth limits on their web hosting. Classy.

Their web-site is simple and direct, but lacking in detail. The thing they seem most worked up about is that most children in Wales are not educated in faith schools. They have short bios of their candidates, but nothing dynamic and I have no idea how they or their candidates feel about recent news items.

The policy section consists of a long list of one-liners many of which are completely impossible to interpret.

4.Reinstatement of Section 2A –end of promotion of homosexuality

To be fair at least they didn’t lead off with the institutionalised homophobia, they waited a whole three policy items before pushing the “culture wars” button.

13.North-South road and rail link

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the middle of Wales has all these mountains in it. Which is why it doesn’t currently have good north-south road and rail links.

17.Renewable energy

What? Are you for it or against it? In either of those cases what are you going to do about it?

21.Parental rights for medical treatment of under 16s

Without context it’s hard to say, but given the tenor of the rest of their site I suspect this is code for “the right to let my child die of a preventable disease because the liberal bias of reality conflicts with my faith”, but I could be wrong.

23.Adoption in heterosexual duel sex families

24. Mandating the use of proof-reading for all policy documents.
Actually what they are talking about is not letting homosexual couples adopt. Hang on a minute how could a heterosexual family be anything other than dual-sex? Perhaps I am being to harsh. Maybe their real beef is with hermaphrodites.

30.No identity cards

Credit where credit is due. I actually agree with them here.

32.Fairer justice system

And I’d like a pet cat that shits Midget Gems. How are you going to achieve this?

To be serious for a moment they don’t appear to have thought through many of these policies. It seems like a fairly eclectic collection of policies designed to appeal to culturally conservative christians. Being neither I don’t find these particularly appealing.

They don’t appear to have any European policies so they don’t score well their either.

It’s also pretty clear that they fail the “not mental” test pretty heavily as well. If the only choices on the ballet were them and the BNP I’d stand for office myself.