Archive: Fife

I recently learned about a Twitter account that campaigns against Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee’s excellent culture hub in the centre of the city.

Typical tweets include:

[blackbirdpie id=”124581248428548096″]

[blackbirdpie id=”124933453421617152″]

I went to see Friends with Benefits a few weeks ago, and it was pretty awful. The highlight is one funny joke about iPads in the middle. The rest is just mush. No harm in that of course. But the great thing is that I saw it in Dundee, at the Odeon, which is about a ten minute drive away from the DCA.

It’s funny because I was only just thinking about how extraordinarily well-served by cinemas Dundee is. I live about a 40 minute walk away from three cinemas. Two are “mainstream”, and the other is the DCA, which usually shows films that the others wouldn’t. The DCA shows some films that I really like. While the two mainstream ones may not be in the “town centre”, at least they are there.

Where I used to live, in Kirkcaldy, no such luck. There is the Adam Smith Theatre, which shows a small selection of films that were on general release six months ago. Besides that, you had to go to Dunfermline, a half hour drive away, then drive to the outskirts of that to get to the nearest cinema.

Off the top of my head, I think I have seen six films at the cinema this year. Three of them were at the DCA; the other three were at the Odeon (one of these films was also shown at the DCA). Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe I’m just a snob. But the three I saw at the DCA were by far and away the better three.

I understand the arguments against the public subsidy for the DCA. But the idea that, if the DCA wasn’t there, a multiplex Odeon would magically sprout up in the city centre, is a tad fanciful.

Cinemas are rare beasts these days. It’s no conspiracy. It’s because commercially it doesn’t add up the way it used to because of changes in society (for the positive) over the past few decades. With this in mind, I have felt lucky to live somewhere with as many as three cinemas nearby.

After moving to Dundee a year ago, the DCA quickly became one of my favourite things about the city and I celebrate its existence. The great thing is that, for those who do not like what is shown at the DCA, there are two other cinemas that are just a stone’s throw away (even if they are not in the “town centre”).

I would hate for the most unique cinema of the three to go.

I was pretty excited to learn this week about Domesday Reloaded. The Domesday project aimed to take a snapshot of British life in 1986. 25 years on, the BBC are looking to update it to document the changes that have taken place since then.

I have been interested in the Domesday project for a while. The idea that a snapshot of Britain was taken, in the form of maps, photographs and text. Yet, the data was unavailable to most people.

The Domesday project was as much an ambitious experiment with technology as anything else. The technology was just about available, but a lot of pioneering work had to be done, and the hardware required for it was prohibitively expensive, leaving many of the contributors somewhat miffed.

Since then, it has become one of the most famous examples of digital obsolesence. This was due to a combination of the technology required to read the discs becoming increasingly rare, and idiosyncratic code.

The Domesday project came at a time when the technology was available, but the standards were not yet there to make it stable enough for long-term preservation, or even easy access in the short term. It’s a reminder that digital technologies are hugely enabling, yet frighteningly fragile.

Then there are the copyright issues surrounding both the content and the technology.

Joys of browsing Domesday Reloaded

The BBC should be applauded for finally managing to open up some of the data to the public on the web. The Domesday project was created before the web was invented. This isn’t how the content was designed to be viewed, so navigation is a bit cumbersome.

But aside from this gripe, the Domesday Reloaded website is turning out to be a fascinating resource.

I was born in 1986, the same year in which the Domesday project disc was published. So the Britain described here is a place that I don’t remember. But enough of it is familiar for it to feel incredibly relevant to me. It’s almost like being given a little upgrade to my memory, so that I can have snippets of knowledge from just before I was born.

Take the photographs for D-block GB-328000-690000 — the centre of Kirkcaldy, my hometown (D-block being one of the 4km by 3km areas the UK was divided into). It took me a little while to recognise “Kirkcaldy’s busy High Street”. But once I spotted British Home Stores, I was right there.

Yet, despite the familiarity, it is almost a completely different world. My memory of the High Street before it was pedestrianised is very limited. But it is just within touching distance of my memory for me to feel a strong connection with it.

The text entries are also fascinating. Most of the contributions were provided by primary schools. A decision was taken by the Domesday project not to edit the contributions, so the quality and style of writing varies from area to area.

As such, what strikes me the most is that it informs you as much about the prejudices of the school pupils and their teachers as it does about the area. It also retains their poor spelling and strange grammar.

For instance, an entry from Dundee (D-block GB-336000-732000) called ‘Traffic in and out’ is a basic survey of vehicles travelling on a road, with guesses as to where the vehicles are going and why. It lacks the academic rigour you would ideally want from a historical document.

But while some of the entries may seem banal, it was designed to be this way. The aim was to genuinely document society by capturing childrens’ curiosity with everything. This way it wouldn’t leave out what adults perceive as being obvious, when it wouldn’t necessarily be so obvious to someone in 1,000 years.

Missing D-blocks in Dundee on Domesday Reloaded

The really big shame is that not every part of Britain was documented. I could understand remote rural areas not being included. But sadly some highly populated areas have also been missed out. For instance, two D-blocks that cover the centre and east of Dundee lie blank, as does much of London.

But what exists is a joy. Even in the little amount of scanning I have done, I have already learned new information about the area I live in, which has set my mind racing and inspired me to investigate further.

Challenges for the modern day equivalents

What also struck me is how we actually already have readily-accessible modern-day equivalents of the Domesday project, almost by accident. The BBC is asking for users to update the content for D-blocks that were documented in 1986, to take an equivalent snapshot of 2011. I may go out and take some photographs for that.

But this sort of local information is staggeringly well documented already. We have Wikipedia, which can be edited by anyone but retains an academic approach that the Domesday project lacked. As such, it is a treasure trove of local information that can probably be relied on more.

Meanwhile, Google Earth and Google Maps provide masses of images of all corners of the country. It absolutely dwarfs what’s on Domesday Reloaded.

But the big question, which can’t be answered at the moment, is whether the wealth of information available on the web can be packaged up into a Domesday-style snapshot and preserved forever. The challenges of web preservation are massive.

Like the Domesday project, we could find the digital information almost slipping through our hands. The BBC know that themselves. With a stroke of a pen, it was decided that a significant chunk of British web heritage will be removed when the BBC removes some of its archived pages from the web.

Yes to fairer votes

It will come as little surprise to long-time readers of this blog that I will be voting yes in the alternative vote referendum on Thursday. But now that the focus of this blog is less on politics, I haven’t actually written much about it. With just a few days to go, until polling day, I have decided that now is the time.

The deceptive claims of the No to AV campaign have been comprehensively taken apart umpteen times elsewhere, I am sure. But one section of the No to AV leaflet particularly irritated me.

No to AV finish line

It shows a group of four runners crossing a finish line on a running track. A big arrow points to the trailing runner who appears to cross the finish line in fourth place: “The winner under AV”. The message? “Awooga! AV is unfair because the loser wins!”

I don’t know a great deal about athletics, but I am pretty sure that there is a fixed finish line. The first person to complete the set distance wins the race. It might be 100 metres. In this photograph here, it is the man in blue who ran 100 metres first.

But what is the distance in a voting system? I have tried to work out what it is under first past the post, but I cannot tell. Here are some examples from last year’s UK General Election. Can you see where the finish line is?

2010 UK parliamentary election result for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

It is pretty clear in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, where I used to live. With 64.5% of the vote, a clear majority were in favour of the Labour candidate.

2010 UK parliamentary election result for Dundee East

In my neighbouring constituency of Dundee East it is somewhat less clear. No party received a majority of the votes. Second-placed Labour took 33.3% of the vote. But the winning SNP took 37.8%. It’s not very cool. The SNP might not be what the majority of voters wanted.

Anyway, we have narrowed the first past the post winning threshold down to something between 33.3% and 37.8%.

2010 UK parliamentary election result for Argyll and Bute

But looking at the results for Argyll and Bute, the “finish line” analogy becomes really confusing. The first-placed Lib Dems took only 31.6% of the votes. But Labour had 33.3% of the votes in Dundee East, and came only second there.

In first past the post, the finish line changes position. In fact, there is no finish line. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get a majority of the votes. Theoretically you could get an extremely low share of the vote, far from a majority, yet still win under first past the post.

So which is the system where the loser can win?

Alternative vote sets a threshold where candidates must aim to gain the support of the majority of voters. A candidate is not deemed to be the winner until he crosses the finish line, which is unambiguously 50%.

(It is theoretically possible for a candidate to win under alternative vote without crossing that threshold — but only in unusual circumstances and after all other options have been exhausted.)

Alternative vote may not be perfect (although the perfect voting system doesn’t exist anyway). But it is a whole lot more desirable than the current rotten system.

What qualifications do you need to become a bouncer? I think it helps to be big, although I once witnessed a great spectacle in Kirkcaldy when a tiny woman strong-armed someone out the door when a fight was about to break out.

Beyond that, I am not sure. I only ask because so often they seem not to be very bright to say the least.

When I tried to enter a pub a few weeks ago, I was stopped and asked for my ID. There is nothing terribly unusual about that. But in this instance, the bouncer was strangely reluctant to let me in.

He peered at my driving license. He inspected my face.

“The guy on your ID isn’t wearing glasses — but you are.”

Err, correct.

“You’ve got a beard. The guy on your ID doesn’t have one.”

Err, yeah. That’s because I’ve grown a beard.

“The guy on your ID looks quite a bit younger than you.”

By now, I was exasperated. I said quite pointedly, “Well yes, that’s because it was taken when I was 17.”

And let’s not even start on the curious idea that I should not be allowed into a pub because I look older than the photograph on my perfectly valid ID.

I am writing to you direct from my new flat. It has been a hectic week, trying to move up here at the same time as a particularly nasty cold snap has hit the UK, and the east of Scotland in particular.

I was hoping to get the whole thing pretty much finished this week – I had even booked the week off work in order to get as much done as possible. Instead I am sitting here having not done very much, and even feel like it is a major achievement just to be sitting here.

I got the keys last Friday, and travelled up with some bits and pieces. There was loads of kitchen stuff that I bought two years ago at the Woolworths closing down sale! I had my staff discount on top of all the discounts that were going on anyway, so I got plenty of bargains.

Over the weekend, the snow worsened. A trip to Ikea was planned for Monday, but I decided to postpone it until Tuesday as the weather was looking like it was due to be a bit better. But the trip down was pretty hairy. I am pretty glad that my dad decided he would drive the van that we had hired. The conditions would probably have got the better of me – as they got the better of dad a few times.

We hadn’t been in Ikea for more than perhaps 15 minutes when an announcement was made that they would be closing the store in 60 minutes! That is not enough time to do Ikea properly, so the whole rest of the time was a completely mad stress-rush.

Considering the time constraints, I think I did a pretty good job, but there are still glaring gaps. I don’t have shelves for all my CDs. I don’t have a bed for the second bedroom. And most of all, I still don’t have a sofa. All there is to sit on is one office-type chair that I bought for the computer desk.

After taking it all up to Dundee, we had real trouble getting the van out of the snow. Luckily, the main roads between Kirkcaldy and Dundee have been largely okay whenever I have made the journey. But as soon as you turn off onto a side-street, the snow gets pretty bad.

I can’t get anywhere near my proper parking space, and it looks like all of my neighbours have their cars properly stranded. We made the mistake of being a bit too ambitious coming in, instead of parking on the street before (as I have done today!). Luckily, the neighbours seem really good and helped us get out!

There is still an awful lot to do. My bed has been built, so I am sleeping here tonight. Tomorrow, an engineer from Virgin Media is due to arrive to install my broadband, television and telephone line. Unfortunately, I still  haven’t got an HD television to test out the new HD Virgin Media box! I ordered it a week ago but it hasn’t arrived here yet – not that I’m surprised due to the snow. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem for Mr Virgin Media.

Meanwhile, I am kicking myself for some of the things I have forgotten to bring with me! Despite owning two phone chargers, I have neglected to bring either of them – so I have to keep remembering to go easy on my phone usage. That means that this little stay at my flat will be short-lived. I will go back to “old home” tomorrow afternoon, and I probably won’t return here until Monday evening.

I will get moved in one day…

A little milestone was passed this week when I bought my first car. I learnt to drive five years ago. I wasn’t the sort of person that started lessons as soon as I turned 17. I saw no need, and waited until I was 20. After passing my test, I don’t think I drove for about another two years.

Driving has never particularly appealed to me. A lot of people find it strange that I am so fanatical about motorsport, but have little interest in driving on the road. But for me the pursuits are unrelated. I don’t see the fun in driving on public roads. I find it more stressful and frightening than anything else.

I was lucky because my home town of Kirkcaldy has pretty good public transport connections, so it was easy to see the car as a non-essential luxury. Almost anywhere I needed to go was an easy train or bus journey away.

The current commute

But the past year or so has stretched that idea to breaking point. I now work in St Andrews. Many assume I get there by taking the train to Leuchars then a bus from Leuchars to St Andrews. But I can’t be bothered with the fuss — plus it would be pretty expensive.

Instead, I have generally gone by bus. The plus side is that it is very cheap. You can get a ticket that can be used multiple times across seven days on any journey within Fife. This costs £23 a week. That’s what I used to pay to go to Dunfermline, but the journey to St Andrews is much longer, so is better value for money.

That brings us to the very problem with the journey — its length. The bus journey itself takes 65 minutes. The walk from my house to Kirkcaldy bus station is roughly ten minutes. The walk from St Andrews bus station to my work is roughly ten minutes.

So basically I spend around three hours every day travelling to and from work. That is 15 hours a week. As far as I’m concerned, those 15 hours constitute a full day minus sleep.

I don’t mind the journey so much in the mornings. Even though I am not a morning person, getting up at 6.45am has not been as bad as I had feared. To my amazement, I have never once missed the bus — even if it has involved some Olympic walking in order to catch it. The journey itself is quite a relaxing way to start the day. I could have a wee snooze, listen to podcasts, and generally ease myself into the day.

But the journey on the way home was never so good. At that time of day, you just want to get home as soon as possible. But all of the biggest bus problems have happened on the way home.

There is a bus that leaves St Andrews at 17.10, which is normally fine. But what if that bus doesn’t turn up, or I have to stay behind a bit at work, or someone wants a stop-and-chat? I basically won’t be getting home for at least two hours. For some reason, the bus that leaves at 17.40 only goes as far as Leven, and I have to wait 10 or 15 minutes at Leven to hop on a bus that will get to Kirkcaldy.

The bus is seldom comfortable either, and it can be incredibly stuffy, even in winter. Less fuss by bus? Really?

The decision to buy a car

I became used to the lengthy bus journeys after a while. But it was a real drain on my spare time. The plan has always been to try and move closer to St Andrews, and somewhere that had a good bus connection. But that has taken far longer than I had anticipated.

The final straw came this week when I was trying to work out how I can get to Alloa to visit my brother. When the least fuss-free option was a bus journey that lasts well over an hour and involves changing at Kincardine, that was when I decided: it’s probably time to bite the bullet and buy a car.

It all happened quite quickly. It was not in my mind on Thursday. But I had more or less made the decision to buy a car on Friday. On Sunday, I bought one.

Choosing a Fiat

Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco

I opted to buy a Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco. I had experienced it as a passenger as my dad has recently bought one too. So I kind of knew what I was getting.

I find it quite an impressive car in terms of bang for your buck. I couldn’t find many cars cheaper that weren’t six-year-old French cars with a million miles on the clock. It’s nice to know also that the Panda’s fuel consumption is pretty good, and its low emissions mean that vehicle tax is £30.

The big thing I felt was the pride in owning a car. I hadn’t expected to feel anything particularly. But I realised that I have placed a lot of responsibility on myself. It is a vote of confidence in myself. The car is easily the largest purchase I have ever made. I think car insurance is almost the second largest!

It feels right to go for a Fiat. There was a big niggle in the back of my brain that somehow buying a Fiat would lead to me indirectly funding Scuderia Ferrari! But beyond that, I quite like Fiats and always have done. The first two cars I remember my dad driving were both Fiat Unos.

After that he bought a Daewoo Matiz, which is the car I drove whenever I ventured out before. But it did not seem like a robust car. Its screeching fan belt was notorious among my friends (it continued to screech even after it was ‘fixed’ two or three times), and it did not feel particularly confident going round corners.

That is not at all ideal if you are trying to drive on one of the windy, hilly roads on the journey towards St Andrews. I have a feeling that the Panda will be better to commute with.

The inevitable downsides

All except for one thing. I will not be able to listen to podcasts while driving. The car comes with an FM / MW radio and a CD player. As far as I’m concerned, that is like buying a PC that still has a floppy drive. At least with a cassette player you can use a cassette adapter to play your iPod through. A CD player is useless.

I love radio. I am also a big fan of DAB radio, which this car will not give me. I will survive sticking to bog standard FM / MW radio stations, but it will be a pain nonetheless. The Panda may be a great value car — but you still get what you pay for.

Who says I always manage to find the negatives?…

No doubt, election night was a very disappointing one for me. I was involved in the Liberal Democrat campaign in Dunfermline, and I attended the count.

There was disappointment in Dunfermline — but we always expected it to be very difficult to hang on there. So while it was very disappointing to lose in Dunfermline, I was, in a way, braced for it.

The national story was, however, different. I first heard news about the exit poll at about 22.10. I was crestfallen, but hoped that the poll was wrong. By the time I emerged from the count just after 2am, it was clear that nationally the picture was pretty bleak for the Liberal Democrats.

It was a real blow given that there was so much to be hopeful about during the campaign. Even though the Lib Dems had clearly fallen back to third place in the opinion polls in the last week of the campaign, it was still a very strong third place in comparison to what the Lib Dems will have been expecting before the first televised Prime Ministerial debate.

Even taking into account the perverse voting system used in Westminster elections, I thought a good result would be more than 80 seats, and I was expecting some sort of gain at the very least. For the Lib Dems to actually lose seats absolutely shocked me.

Voters have crude tools to send out complex messages

It is clear that lots of people voted for complicated tactical reasons on polling day. From what I have heard, it was clear on the doorsteps in Dunfermline on Thursday that even hard Lib Dems were switching to Labour on the last day.

Even among voters for whom the Lib Dems are their first choice, it seems as though waking up on Thursday with David Cameron’s posh face on the front page all of the Conservative-supporting newspapers calibrated people’s minds back to the old-fashioned mindset that an election is a two-way contest between the Conservatives and Labour.

That is why the opinion polls in the run-up to the general election came out with such a different message to the final exit poll. Essentially the polls ask two different questions. When you are asked about the general election before polling day, you tend to think of it in more abstract terms. People think about their genuine favourite.

But for some people standing in the polling station holding the stubby pencil under the spotlight, it all seems a bit different. Voters aren’t stupid. They know that the voting system really makes the contest a fight between Labour and the Conservatives. So many people were voting on the issue of who they disliked least between David Cameron and Gordon Brown, rather than who was their favourite candidate on the ballot paper.

That is certainly what happened in Dunfermline and West Fife. Labour’s leaflets made much of the fact that the general election was a contest between Labour and the Conservatives. Despite the personal popularity of Willie Rennie, the SNP’s voters shifted en masse to Labour.

Willie Rennie’s share of the vote went down only slightly, from 35.8% to 35.1% on a much higher turnout. But the SNP collapsed — going from 21.0% in 2006 to just 10.6% on Thursday. Nationalists switched to Labour to send an anti-Tory message.

It seems as though the picture was the same across the country, with tactical voting winning out. The swings were all over the shop across the country, as voters attempted to send out a complex message with only the crude tool of the inadequate first past the post voting system available to them.

Electoral reform must now be at the top of the agenda

This is why electoral reform is essential. It is not just about the fact that the parties’ share of the seats bears little relation to the share of the votes. It is that it fundamentally alters the behaviour of voters, forcing them to vote for what they don’t want more than what they do want. Voters must at least be given the opportunity to express more than one preference.

It is no surprise that the big story of the day has been about the demonstrations for electoral reform. With a result like this, and a hung parliament, there has never been a better chance to change the voting system. It now must be the top priority. We must not allow it to be swept under the carpet once again, as Labour did in 1997.

But there are bigger hurdles to negotiate than just the voting system. It has become clear to me in the past couple of days that major cultural change is also required.

Many people have a poisonous obsession with “strong government”. Strong government is not what is needed. In fact, strong government is dangerous government. For some reason, the idea that someone can just push through their policies without having to seek the agreement of others is not really on. Why cross-party support is supposed to be a bad thing is beyond me.

Clegg correct to consider Conservative coalition

Then we come to the hoo-ha over the potential that the Lib Dems might reach an agreement with the Conservatives. I find it most odd that Liberal Democrat voters, who are in favour of some form of proportional representation, should be getting into a flap about this.

It seems like a straightforward equation. If you want proportional representation, you expect to need coalitions to form a government (or have a minority government). This means potentially having to work with parties that you may not agree with. It’s called compromise. We need to be grown up enough to accept it.

In this instance, it has always been made clear by Nick Clegg that he would talk first to the party that had the most seats in the House of Commons. That is the Conservative party, and it is right that he should explore the option.

The alternative option of propping up Gordon Brown, a deeply unpopular Prime Minister whose party made significant losses on Thursday, would in turn expose the Lib Dems to accusations of being undemocratic. It would also make them deeply unpopular among non-Labour voters.

Not only that, but the arithmetic doesn’t really add up. Labour plus the Lib Dems wouldn’t have enough seats, so you need to throw in some other parties too. There is talk about bringing in the SNP and Plaid Cymru and other yet smaller parties. But it seems like some desperate scraping of the rusty barrel.

Liberal Democrats — and the electorate as a whole — should be mature about this situation. True, the Lib Dems should not just join up with the Tories unless they make significant concessions — and electoral reform must be at the very top of the agenda. But the option should always be considered.

Otherwise, the Lib Dems risk becoming a mere appendage of the Labour party. That is what has happened in the Scottish Parliament, with the result that they have become completely impotent; an electoral irrelevance. If you think the Lib Dems should only ever consider talking to Labour, then you would probably be better off joining the Labour party. The Lib Dems need to be brave and flex their muscles, otherwise they will become Labour’s lapdog.

The Liberal Democrats is not just a “left wing” party. It is a liberal party. But Labour has a fundamentally illiberal ideology. While there are many areas of agreement between the two parties, Labour is also the party of ID cards, illegal wars, points-based immigration systems and biometic anal probes (I may have made one of those up).

While it is true that the Conservatives can happily outpace Labour in an authoritarianism competition, the Conservative party does at least have a liberal wing, the sort which simply does not exist in the Labour party. So a liberal party should not be frightened of teaming up with the Tories, as long as their more authoritarian elements can be reined in.

While it is clear that the Conservatives are the one party in Westminster most opposed to electoral reform, they are at least principled in their opposition. Labour changes its mind based on its self-interest. If they genuinely wanted to change the voting system, they had 13 years in which to do it — but they didn’t.

Labour’s “support” for electoral reform is hollow and opportunistic. Lallands Peat Worrier makes the point that a big fat zero of Labour’s MSPs supported the idea of using proportional representation for Westminster elections when the Scottish Parliament voted on the issue just a few weeks ago.

This is a big opportunity to make electoral reform actually happen and to make the potential of a government led by the nasty party significantly less nasty. If nothing else, Lib Dem supporters should be much more open to it — if only to prove the point that coalitions can work after all. It just requires the maturity to let it happen.

If, like me, you have a reputation among your friends for being particularly knowledgeable about politics, you probably find that when election time comes they turn to you for advice on how to vote. But while I may have more interest and knowledge in politics than some of my friends, I am not really the sort of person to tell people how they should vote.

Although I make it known that my sympathies lie with the Liberal Democrats (as the latest addition to the sidebar indicates), I don’t push it far. At the end of the day it’s a personal decision that should not be made for someone else.

As such, my friends possibly did not get as much guidance as they were expecting. But they were probably more surprised that I sometimes suggested that they perhaps shouldn’t vote.

I may well offer that sort of advice no matter what seat I was speaking in, but it is particularly well-suited to my constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The incumbent here is Gordon Brown. In the 2005 election, he got 58% of the votes, and you would imagine even in the worst case scenario for Labour it is about as safe as seats get. According to the Voter Power Index, the average voter in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has “the equivalent of 0.009 votes”.

That is one of the reasons why I am actively involved in the Liberal Democrat campaign in neighbouring Dunfermline and West Fife, where the contest is much closer. I have a much greater chance of affecting the outcome there than by casting my vote here.

The statistic that I love to tell my friends is that you are more likely to be killed on your way to the polling station than you are to cast the deciding vote. Bringing up the idea of abstaining is certainly a good excuse to wheel out my dissertation, and I have recommended to some of my friends that they should read it! For one thing, by reading it you can find out the morbid statistic, find out the meaning of ‘rational irrationality’ and more.

I am still madly proud of my dissertation — partly because I find the subject so fascinating. Why do people vote when it is apparently against their interests to do so? If you happen to fancy a read of it, it’s available to download — although I should warn you that it’s all in economics-speak!

I have previously written about the notion that abstaining might be the good option, contrary to received wisdom. The idea has not always been welcomed!

The observant among you may have spotted that it is a month since I wrote a post for this blog. It is interesting that I have not even found the motivation to write about the General Election. This is not a conscious decision — I genuinely have not been moved enough to put finger to keyboard.

This is due to a combination of factors. Partly, I became disillusioned with politics a couple of years ago and have not felt the need to write about it for a long time now. But it goes beyond politics writing.

Just now I don’t have as much spare time as I would like. Depending on whether I can borrow my dad’s car or I have to take the bus, I am currently spending between two hours and three-and-a-half hours a day commuting.

The spare time I have left is spent on other activities. Partly, that is finding somewhere closer to my work to move, so that I can build some more spare time into my life. Finding somewhere to live in north east Fife is not as easy as I would like, but I think I am getting closer.

I also lost a lot of my motivation for blogging, and have turned my attention to more relaxing pursuits. After around a ten-year hiatus, I have rediscovered gaming after my truly awesome brother got me an Xbox 360 for Christmas! I may blog more about that in future, but for anyone interested my gamertag is ‘doctorvee‘!

Anyway, the point is that blogging seems like so much hard work in comparison to unwinding pretending you’re Travis Pastrana. Those who follow me on Twitter may know that recently I had a minor bout of blog depression, when I wondered what on earth I should to about that blog I don’t bother to maintain any more. It had become less fun and too hard-going.

The problem was that I had begun to feel like everything I was writing was inflicting readers with something they didn’t necessarily want to read. This was exacerbated when I merged vee8 (my old Formula 1 blog) with doctorvee. I originally separated out the content because I realised that my F1 posts had such a different audience to the rest of my posts.

This was echoed in the responses on Twitter. Some people said that I should continue, although they personally skipped over the F1 posts. Others said that I should continue, although they only ever read the F1 posts.

I found it easy to get wound up about that sort of thing, but at the end of the day no one minds and certainly no-one dies. Part of the reason for merging the blogs again was to help me become more at-ease with that. But I got neurotic about overwhelming the blog with F1 commentary.

The problem was that I had turned this blog into something where I felt as though everything I published had to be a beautifully-written, 1,000+ word long potential Pulitzer prize winner. Quality control is good, but I had gone too far the other way.

My best blogging years were between 2004 and 2006, when I was more prolific, more spontaneous, and more hit-and-miss. The quality was lower, but the readership was higher, and I had much more fun that way.

So this is just a heads-up to say that I will be making an effort to nudge this blog back in that direction again. I have made a few subtle design changes to make me feel more comfortable about that (the main one being to reduce the font size of the post titles to make them less preposterous if I am writing about something frivolous or personal). There may be a few more to come as well — I will probably experiment.

The upshot of it is that there will probably be a change in tone around here. There will probably be more posts, and I will try to become a bit less squeamish about writing about myself again.

But as you can see from this post, I still can’t resist allowing the word count to go sky high!

Thanks to everyone on Twitter and Facebook who offered their support and advice about where I should take this blog.

Snow on bridgeI would like to wish everyone who still reads this a very merry Christmas.

As time has gone on, my updates have become increasingly sporadic. I am surprised and touched that people keep coming back to read and comment on what I have written. Looking back, I have actually written almost a hundred articles for this website in the past year (I am surprised it is that many). But at times it has been at the rate of just a few a month.

My year in brief

It has been quite a strange year. It started with me losing my part-time job at Woolworths. The closure of the store was itself quite an odd experience.

But losing that job didn’t hit me so hard. My long term future was never going to be with Woolworths. I graduated in summer 2008 and was hoping to find a job that could have reflected this. But it wasn’t happening.

I spent several months visiting the Jobcentre while experimenting with being self employed. While the bits and bobs of freelance work I was doing was good in the sense that I made an amount of money that was greater than zero, it didn’t provide anything like the security I needed in order to make plans for the long term.

Over the summer things slowed down quite alarmingly. I took a break after I was amazingly invited to a tour around the Williams F1 factory and museum.

It was the first time I had gone on anything resembling a holiday for a long while. I hung around in Oxford for a day or so then on the way back went via London to briefly visit friends. But because of the last-minute nature of the trip it was very hectic and felt rushed. It is the only time I have ever felt what I would call being intensely tired.

I arrived back to bad news on the work front. After another month or so of inactivity, it had felt like things had hit rock bottom.

Luckily, it was rock bottom. Since then, the news has all been good. Having decided that doing anything was better than rotting at home, I applied for an internship in the office of an MP. Unlike the freelance work, I did not earn more than zero by doing this. However, I can safely say that nothing has been more valuable to me in terms of gaining confidence in my abilities, which had been totally shot.

I only had to spend a couple of months there before — finally — finding a good job. My first month working at the University of St Andrews has been great. The only problem is the journey from Kirkcaldy, which is a bit on the long side. But apart from that, things are going well. In complete contrast to earlier on this year, I now feel lucky in so many ways.

The future of my online activities

Now that I am settling down to some kind of routine, I am hoping to be able to update this website more regularly. Certainly, once I move closer to St Andrews I will hopefully have more spare time in the evenings.

But now that I am in full time employment, I don’t have the time or energy to continue running three separate blogs, as I have been doing for the past couple of years. At the start of 2007, I decided to stop writing about motorsport here and set up a separate blog, vee8, to act as an outlet for my thoughts on Formula 1.

That worked really well at first. But over the past year or so, as I have had less and less time on my hands, it has meant that both doctorvee and vee8 have been neglected too much. It is so easy to concentrate on one blog and forget about the other. I feel that now both websites are suffering.

So I have taken the decision to close down vee8, and bring my writing on motorsport back onto this website. I know this won’t be popular with everyone, but it no longer makes sense to have these two separate websites when I no longer even have the time to properly maintain one. The change will happen some time in the new year.

In preparation for the change, I will remind those readers who are not in the least bit interested in F1 that the F1-free RSS feed still works. So if you want to subscribe to this website without being bombarded with opinion on motorsport, subscribe to the F1-free RSS feed.

Merry Christmas!

Until that happens, I hope you all have a relaxing Christmas period. I could certainly do with a wee break to recover from the hectic nature of the tail end of this year, and the extra time will come in handy for working on the changes I am making to this website.