TG Lurgan, amhráin as Gaeilge

Coláiste Lurgan (Lurgan College) is an Irish-language summer school in Connemara; it has a musical project called TG Lurgan which does lots of brilliant translated covers. Here are a couple, worth watching even if you have little or no Irish 'cause they're obviously having such a good time with it!

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(I'd run across them before, but [ profile] eyebrowsofpower reminded me of them today.)

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Web fiction rec: 17776

I came across 17776 a little while back via [ profile] shockproofbeats. It's a startlingly original piece of web fiction: it's partly about the far future, partly about American football, and partly about the human condition and its affinity for play. I've heard it compared to Homestuck, although it's very much shorter - I think the main thing they have in common is that they're both making inventive use of the medium.

Some people mentioned they found it tough going at the start and gave up (the first episode is mostly a very long scrolling calendar, particularly bad on mobile, and there's quite a bit of embedded video and such; it may well work a bit better on desktop, although I read/watched the whole thing on my phone). It's worth persevering.

I reckon this is on my list of Hugo nominees for next year, if only I can work out what category to put it in.

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Liberal Democrat coalition rules

TL;DR: if you're concerned about another Con/LD coalition, you should know the Lib Dem constitution was changed a few years ago to make that harder. Details follow.

There was a conversation over on [personal profile] liv's journal about how the Liberal Democrats make the decision to go into a coalition, and in general lots of people have made comments along the lines of "I can't vote Lib Dem because they'll just go and prop up the Tories again". In May 2010, just after the Tories made a coalition offer, I wrote to my newly-elected Lib Dem MP (Julian Huppert) to say how scared I was about it, including this:

Their offer doesn't seem worth the price of a Conservative government with a working majority, and I'm concerned that if the Lib Dems accepted it we would not only alienate our base but also ruin our chances of electoral success for another generation by associating ourselves with the draconian spending cuts that seem inevitable. I could only even start to support an LD/Con coalition if there were a clear and believable commitment towards PR, in which case there's just a chance that it might be worth the risk. Otherwise, it seems like suicide.

So, er, yeah. But obviously I wasn't the only person in the party thinking this, and the rules were changed in 2012 to make it harder for the parliamentary party to enter a coalition without the consent of the party as a whole. It was really difficult to work out retrospectively what exactly had been changed, because Lib Dem data publication is not quite what it might be, but with a pointer from [personal profile] miss_s_b I was able to dig it out of old conference reports. I'm reposting that here as a top-level journal entry so that I can point people to it without others having to deal with the resulting comments, and so that nobody else has to go through the effort of trying to dig it up.

Here are my sources:

The old rules, dating from 1998, were that "any substantial proposal which could affect the Party’s independence of political action" required:

  1. A 75% (of the total number eligible to vote, not just of those voting) majority approval by both the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons and the Federal Executive; or
  2. Failing a), a two-thirds majority approval by those present and voting at a Special Federal Conference; or
  3. Failing a) and b), a simple majority by those voting in a Membership Ballot.

The new rules are that if the Commons Party after negotiation and consultation decides to support a coalition government, then it shall seek the approval of a special conference, and the motion requires a two-thirds majority of those present and voting at conference to pass. (See Article 22 of the current constitution for the details. Side note: Tim Farron moved the conference motion to add this article.)

This is a significant tightening: a two-thirds majority of conference is now absolutely required, whereas previously MPs and Federal Executive could act alone if they had a 75% majority among themselves. Even if Tim Farron is gung-ho to cosy up to the Tories (which I personally don't believe, but let's run with it), to think that another Con/LD coalition is likely under these rules, you have to not only believe that Farron and the rest of the parliamentary party would support it, but also that a supermajority of the most activist subset of Lib Dem party members - the sort who've spent the last couple of years working to claw things back from near-destruction at a national level - would want to do it all again after the last time with a party committed to exactly the opposite of our primary campaign message. Being cynical about politicians who are only out for power or whatever is one thing, but this seems a whole lot less plausible to me.

(Full disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem member and very low-level activist, i.e. I occasionally get sent out to deliver leaflets and such. I have nowhere near enough time or energy to go to conferences or gets involved with party policy. I have plenty to criticise in Lib Dems past and present, but I also want to make sure that my criticisms are accurate.)

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Small data hack: bin day calendar

I'm very lazy. Rather than having to keep track of Cambridge bin collection days manually, especially around holidays, I wrote a thing to convert it into an iCalendar file for me so that I could import it into Google Calendar. Here it is in case it's useful to anyone else:
#! /usr/bin/python3

from argparse import ArgumentParser
from datetime import datetime
import os.path
import re

from bs4 import BeautifulSoup
import dateutil.parser
from icalendar import (
import requests

parser = ArgumentParser(
    description="Generate iCalendar file for Cambridge bin collection days.")
        "Unique identifier for this calendar, normally your host name.  Make "
        "sure that this does not collide with any other calendars."))
parser.add_argument("address", help="Your street address in Cambridge.")
parser.add_argument("postcode", help="Your postcode.")
args = parser.parse_args()

now =
req = requests.get(
    params={"address": args.address, "postcode": args.postcode})
soup = BeautifulSoup(req.text)
cal = Calendar()
cal.add("prodid", "-//")
cal.add("version", "2.0")
cal.add("calscale", "GREGORIAN")
cal.add("x-wr-calname", "Bin days")
cal.add("x-wr-timezone", "Europe/London")
for div in soup.find_all("div", style=re.compile(r"^text-align:center")):
    desc = div.contents[0]
    when = dateutil.parser.parse(div.b.get_text(" ").rstrip("*"))
    while when < now:
        when = when.replace(year=when.year + 1)
    event = Event()
    event.add("uid", "bin-days/{:%Y%m%d}@{}".format(when,
    event.add("summary", desc.capitalize())
    event.add("transp", "TRANSPARENT")
with open(os.path.expanduser("~/public_html/bin-days.ics"), "wb") as out:
On Debian, this requires the python3-bs4, python3-dateutil, python3-icalendar, and python3-requests packages. You'll probably want to change the output path to somewhere that your calendar software can see (so if it's a web service such as Google Calendar then it needs to be something that corresponds to an accessible URL). The web-scraping is pretty gross, but it's the best I can do given the council's published data. Ideally this would itself be a web service that could generate calendars on demand for a given address and postcode, but like I say I'm lazy.

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Counting on my fingers

Happy Christmas and happy Hanukkah (they coincide this year)! This is not especially festive except that I was reminded of it at Midnight Mass while counting verses of a rather long litany.

When I was a teenager, I invented what as far as I know is an original method of finger-counting; at least I was unaware of having based it on anything else and I haven't seen it used anywhere since. No, please stop backing away slowly, I promise I'm not dangerous. I don't remember exactly why I bothered, but it may have had something to do with being a cellist and therefore occasionally having to count off long rests in a reasonably discreet way that was harder to lose track of than just counting in my head. I still sometimes use it in similar circumstances.

My method goes as follows:
  • Begin by counting off the three segments of each finger on your left hand by touching the palmward side of them with your left thumb: 1, 2, 3 for the tip, middle, base of your index finger, 4, 5, 6 for your middle finger, and so on. This takes you to 12.
  • Touch your left palm with your left thumb for 13.
  • Now return to your left fingers as before, but this time touch the backs of the segments: 14, 15, 16 for the tip, middle, base of your index finger, and so on. This takes you to 25 on a single hand.
  • If you need more, use your right hand in the same way as a 25s place. The upper limit is therefore 625.
I was certainly aware of binary and hexadecimal bases by that time and reasonably fluent in both, and I thought of finger binary independently, but converting between bases can take a bit of thought, and the point was to be easily usable in situations where I didn't have much spare brainpower available, for example when in the middle of an orchestral concert with lots of other stuff going on. I basically wanted to be able to delegate the job of counting to a simple motor task and be reasonably sure of getting it right.

This method has several nice properties:
  • 25 is very decimal-friendly, at least at smallish values. It's pretty rare to have to "manually" count higher than 100, and that's just 0 on the left hand and 4 on the right. Most numbers one is likely to need to count to come out easily. Wikipedia tells me that there are Asian systems that use finger segments in a similar way to reach 12 on each hand, but that's not as decimal-friendly.
  • Only involves small movements, mostly within the natural crook of your hand. You can quite easily count this way in a context where other methods would be awkward or gauche, and probably nobody will notice.
  • Reasonably useful upper limit with a single hand. (As a cellist I was usually holding a bow with my right hand, but during rests my left hand was free.)
It is, I suspect, not at all useful for communication: distinguishing between two different sides of a finger is quite easy by touch but probably not by sight.

Am I weird? Is anyone aware of a previous base-25 system like this? Feel free to only answer the second of those questions.

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Letter to my MP on the EU referendum results

I wrote this to my MP (Daniel Zeichner, Labour, Cambridge) today:

Dear Mr. Zeichner,

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the Remain campaign. Although I'm normally a Lib Dem voter, I'm quite in agreement with your article in today's Cambridge News: this was likely a protest vote in many areas, it should never have been a referendum in the first place, and it is a disaster for the country.

I'm scared now that parties of the Left will move sharply to the right in appeasing a perception of voters' intents. We're already seeing signs of this kind of thing: the "Lexit" campaign focusing on the theoretical structure of the EU at the expense of the human costs of leaving it, the Shadow Home Secretary saying that this is a vote for "real change on migration policy", and the constant refrain that politicians must do more to react to concerns about immigration rather than leading the national debate and fixing the underlying issues of deprivation and austerity that cause people to cast around for somebody to blame.

Please could you do all you can to hold the line? I would vote for a politician with the courage to assert parliamentary supremacy and say that a 52-48 referendum result is indicative of widespread public criticism of the state of the country but not a mandate for massively destructive constitutional change. But failing that, we need the Left to stand up for social justice and ensure that the vital protections formerly afforded to the underprivileged by the EU are preserved in some form. The Right are quite capable of campaigning to "reform" immigration, demonising those who want to come here as scroungers, and stripping away the human rights of people who are already here. The Left, and Labour in particular, doesn't need to help them; it can only make itself irrelevant by trying.

Thank you.

ETA: Zeichner has stated that he will be voting Remain when this comes before parliament. Good news!
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Once Upon a Time

ghoti and I have been watching our way through Once Upon a Time. It's basically televised urban fantasy, subgenre "mining folk mythology for fun and profit". The central conceit is that fairy tales are real and their characters live in other realms, until an event where an ensemble-cast-ful of them are cursed into our world and lose their memories of the Enchanted Forest. Each episode interleaves the main present-day plot with flashback sequences from the fairy-tale past, which are used to great effect to develop individual characters. We're up to season four at the moment and still thoroughly enjoying it; the setting means that the show's creators can mix in new underlying tales from time to time, which does a good job of keeping things fresh.

Today ewx linked to a news article about a paper on phylogenetic/linguistic analysis of the roots of folktales. With this recent TV consumption, the main thing that jumped out at me was Collapse ). If you're willing to accept the poetic reading of "time" as something like "recorded history" or "civilisation", "Beauty and the Beast" being around 4000 years old also puts a nice gloss on the Disney song "Tale as old as time / Song as old as rhyme" (which I only just found out was sung by Angela Lansbury in the film!).
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