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February 14, 2010

This is the end

Writing about web page http://mulletron.uwcs.co.uk/blog/

I’ve started a new blog. Please redirect your feed readers, planets and general love.

December 30, 2009

Avatar – Comparisons …

Spoilers Abound

... with “Aliens”

  • Same Director. This also leads to huge amount of blue-hue’d lighting and darkness in the cinematography.
  • Sigourney Weaver plays a strong female character who mothers (In Avatar note particularly bringing food to Jake Sully and physical contact, especially neck touching) a human that she meets in an alien land. In both cases the human is changed by loss (Sully has lost his legs and brother, Newt her parents). In both cases Weaver’s character objects to some major mistakes, and her criticism is muted by gung-ho militarist men.
  • The Military-Industrial Complex features strongly in the plot.
  • Business interests are represented by a selfish and murderous character. The character is played by an actor better known for comedy roles, portrarying mainly stupid character parts. In both cases the character chews gum whilst plotting in order to demonstrate a lack of care for others.
  • Visually Spectacular.
  • Scored by James Horner.
  • A tough latina marine who dies to the major threat in the film.
  • In both cases a group of humans visit an alien world, and most of them are killed by the aliens, though through faults of their own (stupidity, selfishness or negligence).

... with “Dances with Wolves”

  • The plot is basically the same – the protagonist falls in love with a native tribeswoman after being sent to spy on said tribe, and ends up fighting in order to save the tribe. The love interest leaves an existing relationship. Near the end of the film the protagonist declares himself to be a native, after a process in which the natives accept him.
  • Natives move camp after their main home is destroyed by conflict.
  • US Military provides a major threat.
  • Problems with protagonists leg (Sully is unable to walk, Dunbar is under threat of occupation).
  • Protagonist has considered suicide in the past (Sully mentions it in voice over, it motivates Dunbar’s accidental heroism at the beginning of his story.)
  • Voice over used for narrative exposition.
  • Both overly long.

... with “The War on Terror”

  • Destruction of Home Tree offers visual image reminiscent to the Twin Towers
  • Military conflict started over resources
  • Military attempt ‘Shock and Awe’ tactics
  • No UN Mandate (ok I’m pushing it a bit here)

December 24, 2009

ADSL Connections

Having popped back to my parent’s house for a week or so over the festive period, it struck me that we have terrible internet performance – latency isn’t too bad, but there’s a severe lack of bandwidth. The basic history of our connection is that we were ADSL enabled in 2001 or 2002 and haven’t changed anything since. In other words, we aren’t even on DSL MAX and our exchange won’t be ADSL2 enabled until the end of march at the earliest. I have subsequently changed our internet plan so we will be on the former within a week, and the latter when it arrives, but thats not the interesting thing here – getting our internet to be 3x faster without changing hardware or pricing plans is.

Hardware Background

There are a variety of different phone setups in houses around the UK – most people whose phones have been connected since 1981 and before 2007 are using an NTE5 variant box. This looks like:

This is a master socket, and all your other phones are daisy chained off it. In networking terminology you have a bus network! Usually your connection on these phone networks is mainly dependant on the line between your exchange and the house. Our network however is a spurred connection. We have a small black box outside the house, from which wiring goes to different parts. There is a master socket, but it is a LJU2 Master socket, which looks like:

Ie, like a normal slave phone socket. Its still a master socket, however, since it has a capacitor in, but it doesn’t have any of the conveniences of the NTE5, such as the test socket. Our phone lines are connected like a star network, which has the positive that it doesn’t matter so much about plugging your router into the master socket, because you aren’t daisy chained off of it, but the downside that you are more likely to get local loop interference.

BT Connections

BT try to offer you the faster stable line connection that you can get, they do this by repeatedly reconnecting your DSL line at a lower speed until it stops throwing lots of errors. Once this process had finished for us, our connections speed was down to 640kb. Usually this took 4 reconnection attempts.

Telephone History

An interesting sidenote of the the rollout of telephones in the UK as opposed to other countries is that in addition to the two phone wires in your phone sockets there is also a ring wire. This is only used by pulse dial phones, rather than tone dial phones and is consequently useless if you are using any vaguely recent phone! The fact that this piece of copper wire is sitting there around your house and thats its potentially huge – my parent’s house isn’t particularly large but our telephone wire goes around the outside of the house and all over the place – means that it acts as a massive aerial! Your telephone line, especially if its a spurred design, is picking up a huge amount of interference. This essentially shits on the telephone connection. Its probably not that noticeable for voice calls, but it can cause a lot of errors for ADSL systems and consequently cause reconnection at a reduced speed.


The simple solution is to disconnect the ring wire from all your telephone sockets. If you have a spurred design then you need to do this at every connection, if you’re using an NTE5 then you only need to do it once. There are detailed instructions at the bottom of this page on rewiring.

For our internet it made a huge amount of difference. Having unwired all 4 ring wires our stable connection speed has gone from 640kbit to 1984kbit, more than 3 times faster. When you consider the maximum connection speed at the moment is still only 2mbit and we aren’t that close to our exchange thats pretty good. Because ADSL MAX and ADSL2 are both dependant on signal strength in order to get optimal performance, its likely that the benefit of this operation will be maintained after the changeover and I’ll probably measure this once its installed, I’m inclined to strongly recommend this approach to anyone using ADSL who has a star wiring setup.

December 20, 2009

Five Pieces of Music You should Listen To Over the Festive Season

Its official – Rage Against the Machine owned X-factor. Its an interesting campaign, one that I agree to in principle, but I chose not to buy a copy of Killing in the Name of. Why you ask? Well initially I didn’t expect it to have much success, and didn’t wish to be associated with the failure. As more details emerged I realised that there was a good chance of success, but unfortunately that one would still be giving money to Sony BMG, of whom Simon Cowell is a shareholder (well its technically Sony shares, but anyway). Further more Killing in the Name of is one of the world’s most overplayed songs. RATM have loads of great songs, especially surprising for a band with only 3 original albums, but its usually Killing that gets played.

Most fundamentally though – this battle has re-invigorated the singles charts – charts who I very disagree with the premise of. I don’t want to use popularity as an excuse to promote already popular songs. I generally don’t enjoy most of the music in them. By ‘beating them at their own game’ people have made a point, but its validated the idea of the christmas number one as being meaningful in the process. For all my dislike of Xfactor – they’ve made the Christmas number a really boring race – something I can avoid taking an interest in, something I can more easily dismiss. And this is before we get onto the inherent heresy that singles are. The best albums comprise no mere set of songs, they are interwoven thematically and sometimes musically.

Analysis aside, there’s quite a few pieces of music that I think in many ways are worthy of listening to, but don’t get enough discussion or playtime. Here we go …

1. Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts
An innovative album from the late 90s, trying to maintain a fundamentally Punk ethos, whilst altering the audio aesthetic fundamentally. The band’s left wing ideology is espoused strongly, furthering the idea that this album is revolutionary, rather than evolutionary.

You could also listen to: The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman. An album that takes a similar approach and is an early exampel of the Free Jazz movement. Lonely Woman is a particular favourite of mine.

2. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Slightly overshadowed in many eyes by his other by 1959 release, the pretentiously titled, “The birth of the cool”, Kind of Blue represents a pinacle of jazz achievement to me. An attempt to move away from the more rigid rules of Bebop without moving into Coleman’s free jazz territory, Kind of Blue positions itself as the archetypal jazz album: bold, and still very smooth. To quote the Fast Show sketch: “niiiice!”

You could also listen to: The birth of the Cool by Miles Davis. Does what it says on the tin.

3. Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No. 3
This symphony has an interesting history – composed in the mid 70s and ignore by people outside of the Polish Avantgarde music circle (which is probably about 3 people), then re-recorded in the early 90s and going on to comparatively widespread success. Compositionally this is a transitional piece, coming from Gorecki’s earlier compositions which are highly dissonant, and his later compositions, that are slower and a lot easier to listen to. Thematically this piece of music is about the separation of mother and children during a time of war – something that particularly resonates with me at Christmas time, since it is nowadays the longest period of time when I see my immediate family.

You could also listen to: Different Trains by Steve Reich. This juxtaposes the train journeys that Steve Reich made visiting his seperated Mother and Father with those that Jews in Europe were making on their way to Concentration Camps. The thing I like to reflect on with this, especially during my journey is that the worst I have to contend with is the poor standard of public transport – whilst my grandparents generation had more important challenges to contend with. Perhaps this is less important to people without Jewish grandparents.

4. At The Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease
Everytime I listen to the “The Swarm” I become convinced its the BEST … melodic death metal track … EVAR. That aside I think this is a strong album, more focussed and simpler than some of At The Gates’ other work it really stands out to me as a straight to business metal album that really gets on with its task at hand.

You could also listen to: Ride the Lightning by Metallica – a classic from the thrash metal era, another straight to business album. And seriously – who doesn’t like Creeping Death?

5. Roy Ayers – Everybody loves the Sunshine
I really wanted something fun for this list – and this fits the bill perfectly. Whilst writing this blog post I’m stuck in the midlands, lying in bed wrapped in a douvet because its the only place warm enough for my liking, with snow outside. I do love the sunshine. I do love it!

You could also listen to: International Thief Thief and Everything Scatter by Fela Kuti. These are both short, so I chose 2 of them! Afrobeat is in a bit of a revival nowadays and why not? Even I want to dance to these rhythms, and I hate dancing. Combined with the jazz and funk infusion. Another one to warm the heart.

Honorable Mentions: Beethoven’s 6th Symphony – I love the first movement, it makes me so happy, Anything By Meshuggah – Polymetric face melting metal.

October 23, 2009

Question Time (aka Dear Nick …)

Nick Griffin’s Question Time appearance lived up to expectations, public passion, some good speeches against racism and the man himself couldn’t really defend his views. Having said that there’s a few key subtle points that differentiate Griffin from other politicians on the show – and his performance demonstrates exactly why politicians seem to have their own dialectic.

  • Too Much Honesty – when he admitted that homosexuals make him uncomfortable he exposed himself to much criticism. He was asked what his opinions on the matter were, and he gave them – but this isn’t how the game is played! If he had simply replied “I don’t believe it is any business of the state as to what people do in their own homes.” (which is his position on the matter) then he wouldn’t have been boo’d and might have picked up respect.
  • Not aware when’s on camera – the BBC cameramen frequently turned their gaze upon Griffin whilst he wasn’t talking, this is fairly usual when a point is being about a person, or an organization they represent. During this time Griffin was looking at his notes, or staring blankly. The most important thing when someone is speaking about you is to look like you’re listening. Even if you’re mentally sticking knives into a voodoo doll. This makes it looks like you are respectful and interested in what others have to say, rather than preparing your comeback.
  • Failure To Reframe the question – When faced with a difficult political question it is always more beneficial to reframe it in terms that support your perspective, party or interest group. For example when Nick Griffin was asked about whether the BNP were sullying the name of Churchill he addressed the concerns of people directly by describing the unpopular ideas the BNP has that Churchill shared. A far better line of attack would have been to talk about the benefits of a strong Britain and play on people’s concerns about immigration. The more a politician swings debate to areas where people have common ground with them the more votes they get.
  • Insulting your hosts – He commented negatively on the BBC, after they had gone through much trouble to have them on the show. Even if his supporters don’t trust the BBC (and recent surveys show they have a far higher than average distrust of BBC Journalists than most people) then he shouldn’t be making himself look impolite on national television. In some sense this is a sub case of being too honest.

The fundamentally interesting conclusion of all this is that the discursive approach that members of the public always want more of from politicians, honesty, directness etc. is exactly what gets you in trouble on political discussion programs. This applies to mainstream politicians as much as to Griffin and the like.

Gordon Brown isn’t a subtle politician – but he is honest, straightforward, hard working and tries his best. These are qualities that are often described as missing from politicians – but in the modern age politicians don’t control the channels of communication in which their message gets to you. So it doesn’t matter if you are honest and straightforward – what you need to be is manipulative of the soundbites that come out of your debates.

Nick Griffin got caught out in terms of his media interaction, in a way that I haven’t seen happen to a politician since John Major called some of his cabinet colleagues bastards and that made for an interesting evening.

October 22, 2009

BNP Bingo/Drinking Game

Its been nearly two months since I last blogged, far too long, but this Thursday evening Nick Griffin of the BNP will be appearing on Question Time. This appears to have caused considerable controversy that I shall not be addressing – but I will be proposing BNP Bingo Rules!

The aim of the game is to get 50 Points. Different events listed below are worth various points. If you are not watching question time at the time the event occurs, you are not allowed the point! I believe this could also be played as a drinking game, with 2-5 points worth a shot, depending on how much you normally drink.

  • 2 points every time Nick Griffin says “We are a legitimate party”. 20 points if the point is argued by anyone else, though this reduces to 5 if this is ironic.
  • 5 points every time someone claims that the party are illegal, due to the recent ruling on membership. 2 points if this is Jack Straw, 1000 if its Nick Griffin.
  • 5 points if a member of the audience insults Nick Griffin or the BNP directly, 10 points if its a member of the panel. 20 points if the BBC are forced to ‘bleep’ out a word.
  • 2 points if Dimbleby picks up Griffin on a point of policy, 10 if he refers to racism explicitly.
  • 5 points when the discussion goes totally off topic and turns into arguments over the BNP.
  • 2 points whenever the issue of the BNP appearing on Question Time arises, 5 points if its a question asked by the audience members.

August 23, 2009

TPHOLs + Munich

I’ve split this blog post into a section about the conference, and another about Munich so people can read whatever is appropriate to their interests. Its a big one guys.


I’ve just got back from TPHOLs, and I really enjoyed it. I only submitted an ‘Emerging Trends’ Paper, which doesn’t really count for anything, but the feedback from talking to people seemed worth while and positive. I even talked to a guy who had the rest of a compiler verified, using the same semantics as I do, and really wanted my work done so there was an optimising phase. Sounds like an excellent idea to me! Probably better focus less on this crazy bug fixing idea after all, and get back to some proper verification.

There were some really interesting papers, Quite a bit of low level code verification and techniques that viably work in ‘real world’ situations. Top of the list were the L4.Verified guys who were presenting two papers – one on extending their framework to include a separation logic for C and the other on their actual C Verification framework. I was surprised when talking to Gerwin Klein how few restrictions there were in their C subset. Allegedly they even have function pointers now – though it sounds like only verifying simple properties about them is sane at the moment.

One of the annoying feature about C is the non-determinism within the reduction of their expression semantics. Notably that evaluating an expression with a binary operator doesn’t have to evaluate its left hand side or right hand side totally first. Norrish’s original semantics for C capture this by bagging up side effects and then unbagging them non-deterministically – their new framework captures this, but for practical verification, they discharge appropriate proof obligations for common syntactic forms – eg expressions without side effects, functions calls with no reduction required in the arguments. This sounds like a fairly simple and reliable approach.

The Verisoft guys had some fairly heavy duty C verification tasks that they were undertaking as well – its good to see people attempting these large projects. They seemed to believe that they could finish in a year – quite impressive in my opinion.

The other thing I was surprised at was people making an effort at verifying properties of continuous maths, as well as traditional Computer Science. It somehow seems obvious with hindsight to define real numbers as a co-inductive definition, and operate on them co-recursively but I would probably have never made that intuitional leap myself – probably a side effect of not really reading any papers in that area. I always wonder how hard it would be to prove implementations of floating point arithmetic correct against a real number spec correct – I’m tempted to see if anyone has considered this kind of thing before, seems highly ambitious.

The conference organisers really deserve some credit for their efficiency – the directions were excellent, the hotel well chosen, things generally ran according to plan. We went on an excursion to a lake, which I had the utmost belief would result in people getting lost, but I don’t think anyone was at all. This was a complete masterpiece that totally validates my stereotypical belief in german efficiency. At certain key points, eg when a train would turn up or when we had to turn a corner – Stephan would clap his hands, and then all the local organisers would clap, and people knew what to do. The lake was picturesque, the Buccheim Museum interesting and the banquet excellent. Though I still haven’t figured out whether Zander is the German name for a fish I’ve eaten before, or a new fish.


I managd to forget to bring my camera, so any pictures I recall to put in will be efficiently cribbed from the internets. I visited the Englishgarten, which is a park near central Munich, containing a some splendid nature and a few interesting buildings.

I also had a wander through central Munich, which contains a few old buildings of varying architectural interest.

I had decided not to visit the workshops on the Friday of the conference, since I have less interest in Coq and none in Computer Algebra. I consequently spent the day acting as a tourist. I walked slowly, accidentally bumped into people, mumbled under my breath about the length of time it took for the road crossing lights to change and I even saw some of Munich! In the morning I went to the Deutsche Museum – which is a technology and engineering museum with a bit of SCIENCE thrown in for shits and giggles. This is what we should have more of in the UK.

We used to take family trips to Techniquest as a child, which was ok since it provided ways to play around with a cool demonstration of basic scientific principles, but I found it somewhat simplistic even at my young age, and I can’t imagine particularly enjoying it today. This place on the other hand went into low level detail about all sorts of engineering stuff – and had cool things for kids to play around with! Things like water wheels, boat sails, planes, damns, bridges, railways. This is really cool, and even gave me an idea for a simple physics game where you build a bridge. I’m sure its been done before – but might be cool to write anyhow maybe I can finally get round to learning some proper physics.

In the afternoon I went through the Residenz Museum, which is based in the Palace where Bavarian Royalty used to live, The Residenz. Unfortunately we bombed it to hell during the war, and its still being slowly restored. For example the facade is painted on plaster in some places, rather than being the original ornate part. Fortunately some of the interiors, and most of the fine art and furniture survived by being moved into the country. Really nice in some places, and it tells a bit about the way the Bavarian Dukes lived back in the day.

Afterwards I visited the hofgarden, beside the Residenz, walked around for a while, then sat down in the sun to have a beer. At this point in time it decided to rain … awesome. I managed to migrate myself so I was protected by a parasol and then ate a rather awesome slice of cheesecake. It was larger than my face. Then I wandered back to hotel via another park. Managed to get off at the wrong station on the train to the airport, its platform was marked with the word ‘flughafen’ which is German for airport, and I noticed this – it seemed a bit weird but I rushed to get off. I then realised that the sigh was saying “Flughafen Glies” – which meant it was the platform for going to the airport, rather than Munich city. Thankfully I had plenty of time, and trains were every 20 minutes. Plane flight back was ok.

July 27, 2009

WOMAD 2009

Here’s some typed up gig notes from this year’s WOMAD. Note ratings are entirely opinion, and I didn’t write notes for every gig I heard.


Music from the Penguin Cafe

Brief reformation of many of the Penguin Cafe musicians under Simon Jeffes’ son. Good set, especially since it was on the pre-programme. Really ought to listen to some of the original band’s stuff.


The Skatalites

WOMAD really has a habbit of attracting aging pop musicians, but who are really competent with their instruments. Despite the name the band actually plays a mixture of Ska, Reggae and Rocksteady. Some really nice soloing here. Every year I consider listening to more Jamaican music, but end up getting put off by the pop/dance focussed reggae that seems to have been the overly popular product. Damn you Bob Marley.



Victor Deme

Based on writeups I labelled this guy as some what of a wannabe Ali Farka Touré. Impressive soloing, somewhat more traditional compositionally, and I’m sure some of the lyrics would be blatant efforts at catches (what an outrage!) if I understood French. I also listened to his late night saturday set, that was much better – guitarist was showing off more and the audience were into it a bit more.



Fado + Flamenco outfit, nice acoustic sound for the mood I was in at the time, can’t really say they stood out for any reason though.


Mariem Hassan

Soulful, Bluesey singer from Sahara. Nice, but meh.


Eliader Ochoa

Former Buena Vista Social Club member, included a few of their songs in his set list. Similar style musically – ought to check out some of his solo stuff.


Carrivan Palace

How do well sell gypsy Jazz to the younger generation Brain? We do what we do every year Pinky – we put a hot singer on the front and a dj playing incredibly tedious dance beat behind. Crowd were really into it though, and good stae presence.


Rokia Traore

Does have a good voice, slightly meh otherwise. Allegedly collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, maybe I should listen to that.


The Black Arm Band

Collaboration of Australian musicians presenting a show hilighting aboriginal issues. If Billy Bragg were an australian – he would have been here. I was somewhat disappointed that a lot of the music itself felt very inspired by western protest movements. There were the ballads glorifying the common behaviour of the abused group, we had verses structured as lists of things that had a gone wrong. Pretty basic stuff. But they had a good didgeridoo player, so its all good right? Gave rise to much thought as to whether human rights and poverty issues within third world countries and 1st world countries demanded the same approaches, and the ethic of it all. Heartful performances by all the musicians that really came across live.


Portico Quartet

Excellent set. Womad used to run a lot of classical music, most notably Indian Sarod and Sitar players, in the evening performance slots – but the change of festival director 2 years ago seems to have purged them from the programme. This is a real tragedy since it used to be a real hilight of the festival for me. This is one of the few late evening slots that I’ve really felt has lived up to that quality of musicianship. The band themselves make a lot out of their use of the hang – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hang_(musical_instrument) – an instrument I’d come across before, but never really seen showcased rather than used occassionally during performances. Here it sets the soundscape and is interspersed with and juxtaposed against some avant-garde jazz sax and bass. I’ll definitely listen to their previous album, and their new one when it comes out in October.



Zambezi Express

Lively show, telling the story of a boy trying to avoid working in a mine by becoming a footballer.

Music itself was pretty boring djembe rythms – 4/10

Dancing and live show was excellent – back flips whilst skipping is quite pro – 8/10

Oumou Sangare

Traditionalist singer. Audience not really into it at the start (it had rained a bit just before the gig) – but she whipped them up a bit and then everything got into full swing. Not really my type of thing but good vocalist. There aren’t enough purely instrumental sets at womad anymore.


Peter Gabriel

Aging rockers always put on good live sets, think its because live sets used to be really important to a Band’s fanbase in the 70s and 80s. I blame MTV for everything. Weirdly Gabriel has now appeared twice in 3 years at WOMAD, previously to celebrate its silver anniversay, and this time round to support his charity .


Enkh Jargal

Pro mongolian singer and horse fiddle player. Hilarious horse impressions on stage when trying to explain what his instrument’s strings were made from – awesome.




Combination of modern dance and minimalist jazz. Not really my kind of thing, but was an interesting set nonetheless.


Ba Cissoko

Excellent progressive Kora player – really going in different direction to his contemporary Diabate. Occassionally picked up the talking drum during set as well, when he was singing. Good stuff.


Youssou N’Dour

Yeah, and its not the first time I’ve seen him either. Screw you!

Once you get past the pop crap (the sung the chorus to 7 seconds and thats all in this set) – you realise that he’s actually rather a good musician, and he’s surrounded by good musicians. Last time I heard Youssou N’Dour he was playing more traditional, griot oriented stuff – this set was more modern, mblax focussed stuff. He works the audience well to, just a shame it was raining. (Why do idiots bring umbrellas to festivals, rather than ponchos?)


Roy Ayers

AWESOME. Second time I’ve heard him live. Started off with minimal actual playing (I was unduly worried, though he barely touched the vibes during his opening number) and playing some of dance/funk/pop numbers that he’s famous for, including the obvious irony of ‘everyone loves the sunshire’ whilst it was raining heavily in wiltshire. My Dad and I had been singing the song all afternoon – I was ridiculously up for this gig. The gig then turned into a 20 minute cover of classic jazz standard ‘One night in tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie which was basically an excuse for some seriously epic jazz soloing.


June 04, 2009

European Election Predictions

Polling in the UK is far less reliable than the US, and for that matter national support for Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP is incredibly erratic at the moment, but here goes. Percentages are for national voting average, and won’t directly correlate to number of MEPs.

  1. Conservatives – 29%
  2. UKIP – 18%
  3. Labour – 17%
  4. Lib Dems – 16%
  5. Greens – 10%
  6. BNP – 7%

You can’t criticize me for not being bold! UKIP are in second place on the back of their strong polling over the weekend, and Labour’s troubles this week. Lets hope Brown’s reshuffle works out for him, so the next election is in some way competitive. He was actually quite good in Prime Minister’s Question Time .

I find it rather saddening that european elections are always an implicit referendum on British involvement in Europe, and political parties current national status, rather than being related to the issues involved in Europe. Oh and …


May 28, 2009

Poor man's /ignore in trac

IRC generally has the useful /ignore command (this may be clients, but I don’t really care) that allows one to ignore people who are particularly annoying. Sometimes public bug trackers have the same basic issue – that you really need to ignore someone, in order to get on with more important issues.

The computing society website uses the trac system for bug tracking and wiki provision. We really just use it as a bug tracker, but its fine for that purpose on a small project. Trac allows custom reports to be written in a sql-like language, and the report of win is report #3 – which orders everything by milestone. In order to implement /ignore follow the following steps:

1. Create a new report, and call it something trolly like “Serious Tickets”, give it an appropriate description.
2. Copy the report query from report 3, and paste it into your query box.
3. Within the where clause of the report add the clause: “AND NOT reporter LIKE ‘silver’”

Hey presto – life is grand!

May 27, 2009

European Elections

In the past, I’ve written about council elections and this election cycle we have some european elections going on. If you live in the Coventry area there are no council elections this cycle. Interesting update from last year, the whoberley wikipedia page still needs more information. Clearly I should do this at some point in time.

In the european elections there’s a party list, so you don’t get to necessarily vote for a specific candidate, as far as I can tell, but its still worth looking at the candidates and parties I think. Currently the west midlands is represented by 3 Conservatives, 2 Labour Party members, 1 Liberal Democrat and a UKIP member, within the next parliament we will be loosing one of our representatives, through shifting demographics. Interestingly enough if the treaty of Lisbon had passed, it would have the West Midlands another seat, maintaining our current level of importance. The BBC provides a helpful grouping of different european party affiliations on its website.


Of the existing representatives, all but one are looking to get re-elected to their positions as MEPs.

The Conservative Party

1. Philip Bradbourn

Number 1 on the Conservative party list, Bradbourn has been a member of the European Parliament since 1999. He has also advised Wolverhampton City Council, and stood for elections at a national level in 1992. When caught smoking inside the EU Parliament building, he allegedly said “I’m a member. I make the rules.” Richard Nixon would be proud.

2. Malcolm Harbour

2nd on the Conservative list, Malcolm Harbour worked as an engineer before his election to the European Parliament. He has stated strong support for software patents.

3. Anthea McIntyre

3rd Conservative on the list, not currently an MEP, Stood in the 1997 election and lost. According to her website, she wants to keep the pound and encourage the single market – but wants no further integration within the EU.

The Labour Party

1. Michael Cashman

Former East Enders) character actor Cashman, has been an MEP since 1999, where he has worked on the Civil LIberties committee. He was elected MEP of the Year for Justice and Fundamental Rights by his peers in 2007.

2. Neena Gill

Another member of the 1999 MEP intake, Neena GIll sits on the Urban Housing intergroup in the European Parliament, and was also a Vice President with the Anti-Racism and Diversity intergroup. She is also listed as a Friend of Football.

3. Claire Edwards

Currently a Rugby Councillor, about whom it is hard to find further information.

Liberal Democrats

1. Liz Lynne

Yet another 1999 intake MEP (I wonder if this trend is nationwide), Ms Lynne is a former MP. She is currently a Vice-President, for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and the disability intergroup. She has also worked with Amnesty International.

2. Phil Bennion

Has a fascinating website that I advise everyone to read. As a working farmer with a PhD, including alleged expertise in BioMass – which I think means shit, Dr. Bennion stands out instantly. He was agricultural affairs advisor to Charles Kennedy, also a former Lichfield councillor, where he campaigned against local post office closures.

3. Susan Juned

A former Avon and Warwickshire Councillor, Dr. Juned has a PhD in environmental sciences, and plant biology and is quite focussed on campaigning for environmental issues.

I think the next two parties who have a chance of electing someone are UKIP and the BNP, and I don’t want to publicise their racist views, otherwise I hope this has been helpful. I might return to this topic again soon. It has stirred some thoughts within me as to what issues the European Parliament could have an impact on.

May 15, 2009

Hotspot Print Assembly

Since google fails at providing this information, and I haven’t blogged in a month:

It is possible to print assembly produced by the SUN Hotspot JVM’s JIT Compiler. In order to do so you will need a debug enabled JVM from http://download.java.net/jdk6/binaries/. The magic flag is +PrintOptoAssembly, and since its a JVM flag it needs a -XX: prefix. Additionally, code is only printed out as assembly if it gets JIT’d – so if you want everything printed, then you reduce the compile threshold. Consequently, an example command look like:

java -server -XX:+PrintOptoAssembly -XX:CompileThreshold=1 SomeJavaClass

Hopefully this is helpful to other people

April 13, 2009

Economic Stimulus

Towards the end of last year the government chose to attempt to stimulate the economy using fiscal means – that is to say that spend more (creating jobs) and tax less (incentivizing purchases and harder work). This is a traditional remedy in time of economic strife – action that the government can undertake to encourage the economic to grow faster, or shrink less in this case.

The conservatives opposed the measures on the grounds that they would increase government debt. Debt they argue is bad because it its hard to repay, it requires that at some point in time in the future one must either raise taxes or cut spending – either way the economy will be damage by the inverse effects of the stimulus. Some commentators pointed out that the stimulus would only increase the fiscal deficit (ie the amount added to national debt) by 1/15 of the amount that it was going to rise by anyway, and the Conservatives weren’t opposing the ‘stabilizers’, ie the natural reduction in taxation and increase in spending that happens during a recession. It seemed obvious to me that that was merely political expediency, that they didn’t want to be charged with sacking doctors and teachers for example.

There exists only a limited amount of investment capital, the kind that is required to fund businesses and drive forward growth. Since the cause of the economic issues was fundamentally related to the debt markets, and banks in the Uk that have had financial issues have generally been over-exposed to the debt markets there currently exists a climate of irrational negativity with respect to investing in firms, and in general to spending money. The government’s monetary policy, the cutting of interest rates to their lowest rate ever, is an attempt to provide some disincentive to saving, and thus encourage spending and investment.

This all seems to ignore one critical aspect of the financial crisis that has been, in my opinion, heavily overlooked. When a flight to safety occurs, when investors look towards companies that are unlikely to go under during times of economic hardship, the British government’s bonds are always in demand. People already want to invest their money in buying government debt, because its comparatively safe, why encourage this trend? It crowds out the private sector from much needed funds, both in terms of medium term investment and short term spending. Given the size of the deficit during the coming two fiscal years, and the fact that someone has to buy the debt that is issued, there is a lot of money thats going to the public, rather than private sector.

One could argue that since the government are committed to injecting all the debt that they are accruing, via deficit, into the economy it actually isn’t something to worry about at all. Private sector companies are laying people off in ordering to save costs, whilst the public sector can simply plough on, injecting capital where it is needed. If one accepts this duality between debt and spending, however, it means that the net benefit of a government running a deficit is actually the different between its deficit and the amount of bond capital that wouldn’t have been investing in the economy, ie the amount that would normally be stored in some kind of savings account. Since we are currently bailing out banks because they lack these kind of funds … epic sigh.

So having thought about it a little more maybe we should be less gung-ho about using a fiscal stimulus in the current climate. Not that i believe that a fiscal stimulus is useless, but in a situation where there is a such a virulent flight to safety the effecting of crowding out the private sector could do more harm than good. Of course, interest rates have already reached their lowest level ever and can’t really help. I’m still somewhat uncertain as to how exactly demand is going to be stimulated by quantitive easing. To quote the great and wise Bender Bending Rodriguez, “We’re boned!”

March 17, 2009


As an experiment I’ve started microblogging at Identi.ca. My microblog’s url is:


March 09, 2009


Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen_(film)

Its been a while since I last posted something worthy on my blog, and even though there have been many issues cropping up, especially with the economic crisis I’ve not really felt much like actually blogging. Hopefully this, and the need to avoid planet uwcs getting completely overun by Dan will kick start things off again.

Caveats: minor spoilers & I’ve not read the comic book.


In my opinion the film adaptation of the watchmen was always bound to never be considered as influential within the medium of film, or even within the genre of comic book adaptations, as the comic book is to comic books. When people mention The Watchmen with reverence, they consitently mention its post-modernist content (self concious and self-reflective defiance of convention) and violence. One can see both of these attributes within the adaptation, but this isn’t anything new in the current climate. It was decided before 2009 that all comic book adapations worth their salt had to delve into their characters dark past, and attempt to create interesting characters, either by setting in a wold realistic and situation enough for one to empathize with them (for example Batman fighting terrorism with technology) or by making them charasmatic enough for one to like them (Hellboy’s cigar and willingness to sticky it to Jeffrey Tambor). I can’t really decide whether it is an innate failure as a film on these grounds, or merely minorly disappointing because of its flaws – perhaps I am setting the bar a little too high.

The story itself follows a group of super heroes trying to save the world from nuclear warfare between fictionalized American and Russian super-powers in an alternative Cold War. There is much to like about this scenario, the dangers are to humanity, by humanity, rather than a threat caused by a super-villain. The heroes themselves are second generation, allowing the story to deal with the issue of having to live up to the expectations of ones parents. The scenario itself has Nixon in a 5th term in office, having won the Vietnam war with the help of the super heroes, and American on a moral and social decline. It forgoes the now cliche’d origin-story in favour of an opening montage, possibly the best part of the film, combined with occassional flashbacks. All but one of the heroes is essentially an superior mortal, rather than an übermenschlich.

The one other hero, Dr. Manhattan, has had the mandatory radiation exposure and consequent super-powers that seem to prove remarkably statistically likely to happen in comic book stories. His character plays an important role in the film, a God with existential angst, loosing his humanity and unable to decide on what his true position in life is. I felt his story was well portrayed with the exception of a hard to swallow turn towards the end of the film. I was also highly appreciative of the use of some of Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniqatsi, since Dr. Manhattan genuinely is life-out-of-balance. Unfortunately this is really the only attempt to meaningfully reference popular culture in a level above the superficial.

Rorschach is another character worth mentioning – apart from his masked face he is essentially a prototypical hard boiled detective, complete with the kind of narration one would expect from Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately he doesn’t get all the trappings of the film noir genre, and the cynical and amoral world that exists around The Watchmen is used to neither counter point their fundamental belief in justice, nor as a reflection of their frailties in comparison with traditional superheroes.

An interesting comparison could be made between, The Incredibles and The Watchmen. On a stylistic level these have nothing in common – the watchmen is moody and dark, whilst The Incredibles is as jazzy and exciting a film as I’ve ever seen. In the incredibles, humour is naturely part of the setup, while Watchmen artificially injects bad jokes into the fabric of a serious film, fundamentally undermining the emotional payoff of several scenes. In both films, however, self-reflection on super heroes is put to the fore-front, but while The Incredibles explores Nietzsche (“When everyone is special, no one is”), watchmen looks more broadly at what super heroes would be like if they were more human, perhaps less morally absolute, afraid of living up to their parents, or unsure what to make of themselves. For me, this is where Watchmen falls down – its an interesting ‘what if’, brilliantly visualised and intelligently conceived, but I don’t want to go and see a film to gain insight into the lives of super heroes, I want to gain insight into the real world around me: people, politics, philosphy and I can’t say I leant anything meaningful about them from this visit to the Cinema.

January 20, 2009

Bush Out!

January 01, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions – but I thought this year would be a good time to start. It’s also about time for another blog post. (Side note: this blog will very soon be three years old, so happy birthday.) I think in order to check what you’ve actually achieved you really do need to write down your resolutions. By doing it in public – it gives you more incentive to succeed.

1. Finish PhD

Very few people actually finish their PhD within the three years that they, presumably, set out to. Gordon Brown, for example, took 10 years. At the beginning of October 2009 the first three years of my PhD will be up. I’m going to aim to finish writing up by then. This will require the level of productivity that I achieved in my 4th undergraduate year, but frankly, haven’t gotten back up to since.

2. Get a Job

This obviously depends on (1) – but more importantly it depends on me figuring out precisely what I want to do with myself. Its quite tempting to try and continue an academic career, but it’ll be hard to obtain an interesting position given the poor student numbers. I’d also like a job with more hard deadlines again for a bit. Industrial research seems vaguely interesting – usually good application and plenty of good people doing work there, but in the current economic climate I’m sure research will be cut back on. Certainly this will suck up much of my musing time in 2009.

3. Complete Uncompleted projects

I currently have a whole load of partially finished personal coding projects lying around between my desktop and my laptop. I need to pick two or three of these and actually sit down and finish them off.

Good luck in 2009 readers.

December 14, 2008

Banks and Regulation

One of things that has stood out to me recently, is the propensity of members of the public to trust government regulation as a universal panacea for the ills of the banking system. The argument, as I understand it, goes as follows:

1. Industrial Leaders cannot be trusted to make sound judgement because they have a perverse economic self interest for short term gain.
2. Regulators don’t have that self interest and can thus make sound judgements in the public interest.
3. Consequently we should trust regulators and government over Industrial Leaders to do, ‘the right thing’.

I am inclined to believe in (1). There is an excellent case made in The Roaring Nineties that observes the combining of accounting and consulting firms as generating an economic incentive to not audit firms properly. This was a lesson that was perhaps more in the front of people’s minds at the time, soon after the Enron and Worldcom accounting scandal – but it is a problem that continues to face us now. Hopefully the IFRS clears up some of the issues involved.

Banks have a peculiar financial incentive to make risky investments. The government is obliged to bail them out in times of financial hardship. This is very obvious in terms of the so called nationalisation of the banking industry that has recently happened, but it is important to not ignore the Savings and Loans Crisis . Here the problem couldn’t be blame on complicated financial instruments (the bane of any regulatory authority is that they don’t control them) – but was mainly organisations being unable to appreciate that if they don’t have sufficient assets to back the loans that they are giving out and some of them go bad they are in trouble. Again, recent market deregulation, in this case the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act acted as an enabler to systemically poor judgement on the behalf of those lending out money.

Its not hugely surprising that some of these companies are instinctively risk loving when you look at their history. Bank of America famously expanded in aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake by loaning money to people on trust and without proper knowledge of their financial histories. The bank’s founder, Amadeo Giannini, was the only serious bank in town at the time, since he had taken the personal risk of death in order to get the bank’s gold deposits out of San Francisco during the earthquake.

I have more of an issue with statement (2) however. It is frequently the case that supposedly independant regulators are either controlled by former industrial leaders – people who they have been regulating, or their independence is undermined by lobbyists. In 2004 The US Securities and Exchange commission increased the debt to capital ratio for banks from 12:1 to 30:1. Its chair at the time was William H. Donaldson – a former chair of the New York Stock Exchange.

Henry Paulson, current US Treasury Secretary, at first requested congress allow him to personally distribute the $700 billion, with the guarantee that there was no way he could be criminally charged in relation to its distribution. In other words he was requesting to be able to give tax payers money to his friends and not be held responsible to any standards of oversight. As the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs he is another industrial leader who is unable to recommend policy with an objective eye.

The US Congress should, in theory, be an independent oversight on the actions of such people, but it is estimated that the banking industry spent $30 million on lobbying in order to pass the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999. Some of this legislation increased competition in the banking market, however, the spate of mergers that resulted certainly decreased competition, and increased the recent contagion within the financial markets.

I am thus left asking myself several questions. Why should we trust a regulator if they are intimately linked with organisations that they are meant to be regulating? How can government be made truely accountable in the presence of well funded lobbyists and pervasive public ignorance? Is it possible to institute legislation that prevents systemic bad judgement?

December 08, 2008

Virgin Killer

Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Killer

I have mirror the wikipedia page the scorpions album Virgin Killer If you wish to view it without the offending image, but with the remaining text in place I have a mirror of that as well.

Google have also continued to cache the page At the time this is posted, amazon have still the image up on their sales of the cd.

Wikipedia offer a description of how users can block images whilst continuing to read the text of an article.

The ability to easily publish content is an important aspect of the web’s success as a content distribution medium. I highly encourage other people to mirror the content, as I have. I think its also important to mirror the page without the offending image, as one of the most ridiculous aspects of this entire debacle is that it would be easier to leave in the text itself, and just ban the url of the image. Though that is also entirely your own prerogative.

November 04, 2008

US Senate Elections 2008

Yes its finally that time, US elections this evening. First lets look at the Senate races. The democrats currently hold 49 seats, with two independants caucusing in their favour. Consequently they need to look to pickup 9 seats to achieve a filibuster-proof majority, whilst the republicans need to pickup 2 seats to regain a majority.

Likely Democratic Swings


An open seat formerly held by a republican. Democratic former governor Mark Warner will be running against Republican former-governor Jim Gilmore. Warner was a popular governor, and flirted with a run for US president. Whilst governor Warner worked in a cross-partisan manner and left office with a high level of popularity. Demographically Virginia is trending democratic, due to increasingly large urban areas in northern virginia. Further Jim Gilmore only narrowly won the republican nomination with 50.3% of the vote. Consequently I have a strong democratic pickup here.

RCP Average: Warner 61.3 vs Gilmore 32.7
My Prediction: Warner 64.5 vs Gilmore 35.5

New Mexico

Incumbent Senator Pete Domenici isn’t running for re-election, leaving this an open seat. Tom Udall, the democratic candidate, is expected to beat Steve pearce, his republican opponent. I believe that Udall will be running above the democratic party identification bias of 8%, due to the popularity of New Mexico’s democratic governor Bill Richardson. New Mexico is also trending democratic at the moment, due to its increasing hispanic population, and strong anti-immigration rhetoric being pushed by the republicans within the last election cycle. Whilst many hispanic voters are catholics and can be considered social conservatives, this election cycle should see them firmly in the democratic camp, since economic issues are being considered more important.

RCP Average: Udall 54.3 vs Pearce 39.7
My Prediction: Udall 56 vs Pearce 43


With incumbent Republican senator Wayne Allard announcing he wouldn’t run for re-election we have another open seat, and another Udall, first name Mark, running for office. Neither he, nor his republican opponent Bob Schaffer had a primary challenge, and consequently the race here has been more competitive than New Mexico. A lot of similar issues to New Mexico present themselves here – demographic changes, democratic funding advantage, a strong democratic presidential campaign also in town.

RCP Average: Udall 50.8 vs 38.3
My Prediction: Udall 54 vs Schaffer 43


Ted Stevens has now been indicted for not revealing gifts that he was given. He was already running close in this election, but the polls have swung away from him after the court case’s result was revealed. Mark Begich his opponent is quite inexperienced, but the race hasn’t really been about him. Lets not forget that at his last election Stevens won 78% of the vote, to his democratic opponent’s 11%. I’m predicting a little above the RCP average, because news events are swinging Begich’s way.

RCP Average: Stevens 41.7 vs Begich 52.0
My Prediction: Stevens 41 vs Begich 58

New Hampshire

In 2002 this was an open seat battle between former governor Jeanne Shaheen and John Sununu, which Sununu narrowly won. This year we have the same candidates, different overall electoral picture. In 2002 the republicans had a strong advantage in fundraising and identity due to the recent September 11th attacks. The fallout from republican congressional corruption, War fatigue, and most recently economic crisis have swung things to Shaheen. Consequently She’s ahead in line with democratic identification and presidential polling. I’m putting this quite a bit closer than RCP due to Sununu’s strong campaigning late in the day.

RCP Average: Shaheen 50.8 vs Sununu 41.2
My Prediction: Shaheen 52 vs Sununu 48

So we should see the democrats pickup at least 5 states.


North Carolina

Incumbent Elizabeth Dole is considered to have taken her re-election for granted early in the campaign, during the 2006 she was more focussed on chairing the National Republican Senate Committee, whilst being in the embarrassing position of losing control of the senate. Her seat should be safe, since its been in republican hands for 35 years, however, since the recent economic downturn her opponent, Kay Hagan, has been ramping up the polls. Furthermore democratic funding parity during the current cycle has wiped out an expected Dole advantage.

RCP Average: Hagan 49.3 vs Dole 45
My Prediction: Hagan 53 vs Dole 46


Incumbent senator Gordon Smith has had low approval ratings, and was considered an easy democratic target. However, he has fundraised well and his opponent, Jeff Merkley, faced a strong primary challenge. Consequently Smith has been holding his own for most of the race. That began to swing away during the financial crisis, when his vote for the bailout could be used as a whipping stick. I’m going above RCP since the race is swinging towards Merkley. and Obama is qutie a way ahead in oregon.

RCP Average: Merkley 47.8 vs Smith 42.5
My Prediction: Merkley 53 vs Smith 46


My dream of jesse ventura entering senate unfortunately didn’t happen, but Al Franken is a good enough. Unfortunately, polls seem to be swinging away from him again and towards Norm Coleman again in one of the most expensive senate races ever. Franken has been accussed of not paying his taxes, and clips of him swearing whilst on his radio show have been offerred as evidence that he is “out of control”. Franken has countered that Coleman voted with Bush over 90% of the time, and has focussed on policy such as healthcare improvements, though he has also been playing dirty with frequent mention of a lawsuit that alleges that a top donor funnelled money to Coleman’s wife. There is also the independance party of minnesota candidate, Dean Barkley running, who appears to be pulling support from Franken. This is a genuinely hard to predict race, but I’m going for a narrow Coleman win.

RCP Average: Coleman 42.0 vs Franken 39.2 vs Barkley 14.4
My Prediction: Coleman 43 vs Franken 41 vs Barley 15


Saxby Chambliss (great name) beat his 2002 opponent narrowly, but has been fundraising well. The race narrowed considerable whilst Obama was pushing resources into the state in an effort to force McCain to play defense. He has since pulled out, since it seemed unlikely that he would actually be able to pickup a win there. The interesting aspect of this is the voter registration drive, which will have a big impact on this race. It is generally expected that southern black democrats will be out in force this election, and Jim Martin, the democratic candidate is seeking to capitalise on that. Furthermore, Chambliss was a strong supporter of the bailout plan, and Martin has been using it at every opportunity. The democratic senatorial campaigns committee has been backing Martin to the hilt, which has levelled the fundraising gap that Chambliss achieved. I’m going against polling here and for a narrow Martin win – if this comes true, it will be a dark day for the republicans.

RCP Average: Chambliss 47.8 vs Martin 44.0
My Prediction: Martin 49 vs Chambliss 48


Few republican senators are associated with the incumbent policies than Mitch McConnell – their minority leader. His opponent, Bruce Lunsford, is running against these ties, and against the bailout, whilst McConnell is arguing that Kentucky will do better with a senator who is high-up in the republican pecking order. An interesting proposition, given Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, has stated he would make people pushing for porkbarrel projects “famous” by vetoing their legislation. At the moment McConnell is leading, but polling here tends to have a very high proportion of undecided voters. I believe they will swing towards safety in the form of McConnell, especially since Kentucky hasn’t been as subject to the strong Obama voter registration efforts.

RCP Average: McConnell 49.5 vs Lunsford 43.8
My Prediction: McConnell 53 vs Lunsford 47

Likely Holds


A special election to fill Trent Lott’s vacated seat. Ronnie Musgrove, former democrat governor, goes up against Roger Wicker, former congressman. The state hasn’t voted for a democratic senator since 1982, and this seems unlikely to change, despite democratic headwind.

RCP Average: Wicker 50.0 vs Musgrove 39.7
My Prediction: Wicker 55 vs Musgrove 43


Initially a top republican target, Mary Landrieu looked vulnerable with low approval ratings, and a very narrow victory in 2002, especially since Louisiana has been swinging increasingly republican in presidential elections since 1992. furthermore a considerable number of democrats left the state after Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu’s opponent John Kennedy was formerly a democrat and switched teams in order to run for this seat. Early polling had him competitive, and even ahead for a while. Since the stockmarket crash, however, the election has increasingly swung towards Landrieu.

RCP Average: No Average, last Rasmussen has Landrieu 53 vs Kennedy 43.
My Prediction: Landrieu 57 vs kennedy 43.


Maine consistently votes democratic in Presidential elections, but both senators are female moderate republicans. this year’s incumbent, Susan Collins isn’t hugely associated with any Bush policy, and though her opponent, Tom Allen, notably voted against the invasion of Iraq whilst a member of the house of representatives, This election has seen little national attention, and should be a GOP hold.

RCP Average: Collins 55 vs Allen 40.4
My Prediction: Collins 57 vs Allen 43


The democrats couldn’t evict the republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Governor Rick Perry in 2006, and I am skeptical that they will remove John Cornyn now. Texas has become a republican stronghold, and that doesn’t look likely to change. Furthermore the democratic candidate Rick Noriega isn’t particularly well known, being only a state senator, and Cornyn has out-fundraised him.

RCP Average: No Average, last Rasmussen Cornyn 55 vs Noriega 40
My prediction: Cornyn 55 vs Noriega 45

I think all other senate elections will be held by their incumbent party, many of these candidates have large leads, so I expect a respectable 8 seat swing to the democrats.