Snow and Global Warming

I’m reading reports that Tory MP Ann Winterton has made a complete fool of herself in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. She has suggested that the government should cancel “wasteful expenditure” on wind farms as the current weather clearly demonstrates that global warming is nonsense.

Despite being complete nonsense, this is an argument that I hear on a regular basis. It’s trotted out by someone every time the weather takes a turn for the worse. Here’s another Tory MP, Douglas Carswell[1], making the same claim during December’s snows. [Update: And here’s the the front page of today’s Express: Snow Chaos – And They Still Claim It’s Global Warming]

I was about to write a post pointing out the obvious flaws in this argument, but there was a feeling of deja vu niggling away at the back of my head. Then I remembered what I wrote during the snow we had last February.

[1] You might want to take a look around Carswell’s site. There’s a lot of nonsense there. I’m planning to cover him in more detail in  the coming weeks.

Ernest Marples Closed Down

The Ernest Marples web site has been closed down following threats of legal action from the Royal Mail. The web site had been providing a free postcode lookup service – you give them a postcode and they return the latitude and longitude of a point within that postcode. This can be used in things like a “find your nearest…” service.

Unfortunately, use this data is controlled by the Royal Mail and they like to charge exorbitant fees for it. The people behind Ernest Marples haven’t said where their data comes from but the Royal Mail are acting under the assumption that it’s an unlicensed copy of their database and have threatened to take legal action if the service continues.

It’s ridiculous that in the UK postcode data can be subject to usage restrictions like this. There have been a number of campaigns to free data like this but, so far, progress has been slow. I don’t the people behind the Ernest Marples site, but I suspect that they knew it was just a matter of time before the Royal Mail came after them and I also suspect that they are hoping to shine a little light on the absurdity of the situation.

There are a couple of things you can do to help the situation. Firstly, sign the petition asking for free access to postcode data for non-profit web sites. Secondly, go to the Free The Postcode web site and give them your current postcode and location. They’re trying to build up a list of postcodes and locations which doesn’t rely on any data from the Royal Mail. Currently they have about 8,000 postcodes in their database There are about 1,800,000 in the country. So there is a long way to go. But every little helps. Please do your bit today.

Global “Warming”

Weather like we’ve seen in the UK over the last twenty-four hours seems to effect people’s cognitive facilities. There’s one particular nonsense that I can almost guarantee you’ll come across in the next couple of days. That’s a climate change denier saying something like

Well this weather at least proves for once and for all that global warming isn’t happening.

I’m sure that all of my readers are intelligent enough to punch a few holes in that logic, but here are a couple of rebuttals that leapt to mind:

  • Thirty years ago, I remember weather like this happening every couple of years. We now have winters without any snow at all – which is why we are so unprepared for this weather and why it is such big news. Anyone who can remember thirty years ago can therefore see for themselves that the climate is changing, And fewer cold winters would seem to indicate that it’s warming up. No-one ever said that warming would mean we never get cold weather.
  • When people started talking about climate change, they made the mistake of calling it “global warming”. It’s true that the planet will, on average, get warmer, but that temperature rise could actually lead to cooling in some places. And the UK is a prime example of somewhere that could end up getting far colder. For our latitude, the UK is far warmer than you would expect it to be because of the warming effect that we get from the Gulf Stream. Some climate change models predict the Gulf Stream slowing down or even stopping altogether. If that happens, then the UK will become a far colder place to live.

Political Web Sites

It’s the BBC Mashed hack session this coming weekend, so I suppose lots of people are trying to think of a project to work on. I have an idea that involves UK political web sites.

I expect that most MPs have a web site. A far smaller number of them have a blog. Some of them use blog-like software to publish news and other similar web feeds. Part of what I want to do is to build a directory of those URLs. I can’t see any way to do this other than trying to track down each of the 646 MPs on the web and poking around on their sites to find all of the interesting URLs. I’m hoping I can get some help with that.

But there are also sites about MPs that are run by other organisations. These ones are easier to track down. For example, They Work For You has a page for every MP. The page for my MP is

So that looks easy enough. You just use the name of the MP and the name of the constituency. Public Whip has a similar mechanism. My MP’s page on Public Whip is

Then there are the news organisations. The BBC has a page about my MP. It’s at

In this case there’s a magic number (35) and in order to construct these URLs for other MPs, you’d need to map these numbers to MPs (or constituencies).

The Guardian has two pages. One for the MP and one for the constituency.,,-3146,00.html,,-696,00.html

Again, each of those contain magic numbers that you’d need to get a complete list of. And I assume (or, at least, hope) that these pages will one day be given shiny new URLs like other parts of the Guardian site.

It’s this second part of the problem that I want to concentrate on first. Building URLs to external sites pro grammatically. And this is where you, gentle reader, can help me. I have two questions that you might be able to answer.

  1. I’m sure I’m missing some external sites. To be honest, I haven’t really looked very hard yet. I’d be surprised if some of the other national papers didn’t have similar pages to the Guardian. Do you know of any other good sites that have pages dedicated to each individual MP or constituency?
  2. Do any of you work for organisations that publish these pages? If so, is there any chance that you could sent me lists of the “magic numbers” that appear in your URLs? What I’d need is something like a CSV file (or whatever format is convenient for you) that maps your magic numbers to a recognisable name for an MP or a constituency. I can then map your data to my list of MPs. I know it’s a bit cheeky, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

There’s still one part of the puzzle missing. A surprising number of people don’t know the name their MP or even their constituency. So an important part of the system will be a search engine. At the very least, I’ll need the ability to convert a postcode to a constituency (or MP). All of the sites I mentioned above do this. It would be great if one of them made the look-up available as a web service.

Of, and one last thing. If you’re going to Mashed and don’t have a project to work on and this sounds interesting to you, then please get in touch. Feel free to link up with me on the backnetwork site.

Update: If you listen, you can probably hear the sounds of my kicking myself very hard because I forgot to check the They Work For You API before writing this entry. It does a lot of the kinds of things that I will need. There’s even a Perl module – which makes me very happy.

Newspaper RSS Feeds Updated

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve made some fixes to my UK newspaper RSS feeds page. The fixes include

  • Adding Daily Star links
  • Fixing the Sun links (tho’ as I said yesterday, the Sun RSS feeds are still completely broken)
  • Some tweaks to the Times and GU parsers

The Independent section is currently broken. They have re-organised their RSS links page into a hierarchy and I need to put a bit more work into parsing it. Hopefully I’ll do that tomorrow.

I also need to revisit all of the other papers’ sections to ensure that all of the feeds are being extracted.

When I started this project a couple of years ago, each paper published a handful of RSS feeds. And only the broadsheets even bothered. Now the tabloids are in on the act too and with typical tabloid fervour they have gone completely over the top and are publishing huge numbers of feeds. It’s clear to me that my single page format is only barely manageable at this point and I need to rethink how this site is going to work.

But anyway, today’s version is an improvement on yesterdays. Hope you find it useful.