#No2AV Lie of the Week: Part 2

Given the campaign they’re running, it would be difficult for No to AV to come up with a more ironic slogan than this week’s we don’t want two votes, we want politicians who aren’t two faced.

There are actually two lies here: firstly, that AV gives anyone two votes. Secondly, that FPTP is the best way to keep politicians from lying. We’ll take them one at a time.

AV does not give people two votes

As I explained before, AV is derived from the Single Transferable Vote. The clue’s in the name. You have a single vote. It’s transferable. To claim that AV gives anyone more than one vote is to fundamentally misunderstand its intention. As its core, AV takes the simple preposition that for an MP to claim to represent a constituency, they should command the support of a majority of voters in that constituency. The only way to guarantee that one candidate will end up with more than half the votes is to only have two candidates standing. Of course, that would massively limit the choice of the electorate to express their views, so we allow more candidates to stand. By eliminating the last place candidates one at a time, we can narrow the field until only one remains, asking everyone to choose between those that remain each time, and eventually forcing a majority. Holding many elections would be expensive and time consuming though, so we simply ask everyone to write down who they would choose in the later rounds if they were still in the running. Thus, the AV gets its American name, Instant-Runoff Voting.

FPTP is the worst way to keep politicians from lying

As the current government and the expenses scandal have shown, FPTP does not provide fertile soil for honesty. When two thirds of MPs are under no threat of losing their seat, they have no accountability if they don’t work hard or fail to act with integrity. While no-one is claiming AV would eliminate safe seats, it would massively reduce the number of them. When MPs are in real danger of losing their seat, they will need to work harder to stay in power, and have more incentive to deliver on promises they made during the campaign. Evidence from the US (where AV has been slowly gaining ground, having been adopted by new cities in referendums every year since 2004) even shows that AV has given an advantage to hard working, community focused candidates, as opposed to those backed by big money.

No to AV updated on Sunday last week. I wonder what new lie they’ll have for us tomorrow?

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Could the Electoral Commission clarify…?

Dear Sir or Madam,

I notice that No to AV are claiming that, should the alternative vote be implemented following the forthcoming referendum, expensive counting machines would be required to count elections.

Having previously volunteered to count AV elections at my students’ union, I know it is patently false to say AV cannot be counted by hand. As such, I was wondering whether they are basing their claim on any evidence of a proposed move to electronic voting, and whether such a move would be planned only if there is a “yes” result at the referendum? Have you issued any guidance on how AV would be counted, should it be implemented?

Update 23/1/2011: The Electoral Commission replied to my letter

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#No2AV Lie of the Week: Part 1

In the top right hand corner of No to AV’s new web site is a box headed weekly reason to vote no. If the tactics of the no campaign so far are anything to go on, there’s no reason to expect that a single one of them will be true. And thus begins a new weekly series here.

This week’s reason is the Lib Dems would always be a part of a coalition government. It’s simply not supported by the facts. There is no reason to expect that coalitions would be any more or less likely under AV than they are under the current First Past the Post system. Australia, which uses AV has had two coalitions in the last hundred years, compared to the five we’ve had here. Canada, which uses FPTP, has had eleven.

As I explained in my previous lengthy blog post, there are two ingredients to a parliamentary democracy: the make up of the parliament and the voting system. In order to change the likelihood of coalitions in the House of Commons you would need to change the way seats are distributed. The proposed change to AV won’t do that. One directly elected MP will still represent a single constituency. Many people campaigning for a yes vote are in favour of a change to a proportional distribution of seats. Many are very much against it. All agree that AV makes MPs in the current system more accountable to their voters, and that it means more people will have their voices heard when they cast their vote.

Of course, it’s very likely this series will end here, when No to AV don’t maintain the weekly updates. There isn’t one reason to vote no, never mind 16, and they can only rehash the seven lies from their campaign leaflet so many ways. Otherwise, see you next time!

Edit, 21:44: it seems that while I was writing this post No to AV did actually update their site. I’ll make sure I write about the new lie before that disappears too.

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The myth of the ‘miserable little compromise’

Before the election last May Nick Clegg famously described the Alternative Vote as a miserable little compromise. Those who have a vested interest in keeping Britain’s political system broken are making much of that statement, as though compromise were in some way a bad thing.

Before you can have democracy you need to decide on two things: firstly the make up of the parliament (i.e. who will sit in it and who they will represent) and, secondly, how the vote will be conducted. In re-shaping the way democracy has been carried out in Britain for nearly a century, it’s only right that the public should have a say on both those things.

Alternative Vote, as the name suggests, is only a voting system. It only seeks to improve the process of electing single representatives to single constituencies. There will be no change to the makeup of the House of Commons.1 It’s sometimes known as instant runoff voting, because the process is similar to holding several rounds of runoff votes, excluding the lowest ranked candidate each time. Each person still only has a single vote in the final deciding round, but that vote can be transferred, as the rounds progress to the voter’s next choice of candidate, ensuring that everyone gets a say in the outcome of the election. There are no wasted votes in AV, and no need to vote tactically for the candidate you dislike least to stop the one you hate getting in.

STV, or more correctly PR-STV, is a combination of proportional representation (an elected chamber that represents the share of the vote gained by parties nationwide) and the single transferable vote (a voting system for multi-member constituencies). For an elected chamber to be fully proportional, it needs to be voted in as a single constituency. imagine a system where all local representatives are done away with, and the electorate simply vote by party, with the seats distributed by share of the vote and the parties deciding who sits in them. Clearly that’s not very democratic, as the people have no say in who actually represents them. PR-STV aims to find a balance, by using large constituencies represented by multiple MPs, but still having representatives directly elected by the people. For example, in my city of Bradford, the three city constituencies could be merged into one and represented by three MPs for the whole city. If I were a hard Labour supporter I could vote for three Labour MPs. If I were a disillusioned LibDem, I could vote for one LibDem, one Labour and one Green. The diversity of votes across the city and the country will mean that the parliament at the end will be much more representative of actual votes cast. The more vacancies per constituency, the less votes are wasted, and the more proportional the result.

AV, and this is where it gets really geeky, is an application of STV to single member constituencies. In the multi-member constituencies required for PR, the quota, or number of votes a candidate needs to be elected, is calculated by dividing the number of valid votes cast by one more than the number of available vacancies. Apply that formula to a single vacancy election and you get a quota of 50%+12 , or a simple majority. The fact that there are no more candidates to be elected also means there’s no surplus to transfer. By-elections in STV systems are by necessity single vacancy so, applying the STV rules, they are carried out using AV.

A change to AV may not be the full change that some electoral reformers working for PR-STV had hoped for, but it is still the most significant improvement to British democracy since 18-20 year olds got the vote 42 years ago. AV takes us to within a single reform of full proportionality, leaving only the change to multi-member constituencies to produce STV. To quote Nan Sloane’s brilliant blog from last week: “Democracy in the UK has not developed from the bottom up – it has been conceded, inch by grudging inch, by an establishment which has seen each slow and painful extension of the franchise as threatening.” The example of the greatest electoral reform in British history shows change here has always come in stages, with women over the age of 30 getting the vote in 1918, but full equality with men taking a further ten years to arrive. Once AV is passed, it will be up to the Electoral Reform Society and others to lead the campaign for the constituency change in the next parliament. The public deserve a say in whether or not we radically overhaul the make up of parliament, and I will be looking forward to seeing that debate taken to the people, but it’s not the same issue as how we vote.

For those who want PR-STV; AV is a step in the right direction, and not just in a mealy-mouthed, cop-out, sense. In the sense of actually introducing the the voting system you want to see. For those that want to keep the current direct link between a single member and his or her constituency, AV is the best method yet devised for conducting such an election. There is no reason not to vote yes.

  1. Actually, there will, but that’s as a result of governmental meddling, and it’s not part of the referendum. There’ll be less MPs at the next election, irrespective of whether or not we adopt AV.
  2. Number of valid votes divided by two (the number of vacancies plus one), plus one vote for a majority.
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Sutcliffe’s Shame

Woo. The Telegraph and Argus published my letter:

Last week, while most of us were enjoying the Christmas break, No to AV named and shamed 114 Labour MPs intending to vote for the status quo in May’s referendum on the Alternative Vote.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Bradford’s Gerry Sutcliffe was amongst them. Unsurprising because, at the last election, nearly a full 60% of voters in Bradford South voted against him. The Alternative Vote would make this kind of minority victory impossible, requiring MPs to gain the support of half the electorate.

Of course, Mr. Sutcliffe is not alone. Not one of Bradford’s five MPs obtained a majority last May. Hopefully the others will not share his disdain for democracy.

Thankfully, it’s not up to any of them whether Britain adopts the fairer system. At the referendum on May 5th everyone in the country will get their say. The Alternative Vote will mean an end to MPs’ jobs for life, and an end to tactical voting, giving us freedom to vote with our hearts as well as our heads.

I hope the people of Bradford will join me in voting for a change that lets us tell the politicians what we really think.

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Previously-Owned HD Coffins

Dear LucasArts,

Thanks for releasing the Monkey Island special editions. It’s great to be able to play through the games again on modern systems, with all the beautiful new artwork and voice acting. They look beautiful, the second one especially.

A screenshot of Stan's coffin shop in the special edition of Monkey Island 2.

There’s one thing I don’t understand though. In the bonus features unlocked as we play thorough Monkey Island 2: Special Edition we can view lots of concept art from 1991. We know from the commentary track with the original designers that the digital backgrounds in the game were just scans of these paintings. So, if you still had the artwork lying around to scan and feature as bonus content, why didn’t you just use that for the HD backgrounds in the new versions? It would presumably have been cheeper for you than recreating everything with new artists, and it would have allowed us to play through the games we first fell in love with nearly 20 years ago as you first intended them to be seen.

A screenshot of the concept art for Stan's coffin shop, as seen in the bonus features to Monkey Island 2: Special Edition.
A screenshot of Stan's coffin shop in the original Monkey Island 2.

Don’t suppose you would give the lovely guys at ScummVM access to the archives to knock up an HD version that would play with the files we already have and the new scans? No?

Guess I’ll just keep hoping Funcom still have the original 3D files to produce an HD version of The Longest Journey.

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The phishers are getting pretty brazen

This is incredible:



        Bldg: ____________________


        Unit#: __________    


        rent: $_________________     


        security: $______________     


        term:_______/_______/_______ to ________/________/________    


        Broker Name: _______________      


        Office Phone: _______________     



        Applicants’ Personal Information

        Applicant’s Name:_______________________________________     


        Social Security # _______ -_______-________  


        Home Phone:(____)___________________________    


        CELL Phone:(____)___________________________


        E-mail Address:_____________________________________________ 


        Date of Birth: ____/_____/________     


        Second Applicant’s Name:____________________________________    


        Second Applicant’s Date of Birth:_______/_______/________

        Social Security # ___________ -_______________-____________     


        Residential History 

        Present Address:______________________________________________ 

        City: ________________________  State: _______



        Landlord/Lessor: ___________________________



        Details of Employment

        Employer: _______________________________ 




        Date Hired:  ____/_____/_______   



        Banking Information      

        Banking Institution:______________________________________________

        Contact Name:________________________________________________

        Relationship: ___________________________


        I declare that the information I have provided is accurate. 
        I authorize the indidual or organization
        to whom this application  is submitted to: 
        (a)contact my references and all other persons that 
        I have names in this application; and (b)
        perform a credit and/or 
        criminal check to assess my suitability as a 

        Paid $100 credit report/administrative charges for above 

        Applicant’s Signature    


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Welcome to the future

An old CGI image of a dystopian scene.

In the future it's always 2am and raining.

In the very first PC magazine I bought in 1993 there was a review of Syndicate. It featured a screenshot very much like the one above, with the caption “In the future it’s always 2am and raining.” Welcome to the future.

(Wish I could remember who wrote it.)

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Steam Mac Beta Framerate Comparison

As promised, I re-downloaded the Windows versions of Team Fortress 2 and Portal and ran some framerate comparisons.

In Portal running on Vista under Boot Camp, I get a fairly steady mid 20s to low 30s FPS at 1680×1050, using the recommended settings: model detail high, texture detail medium, shader detail high, water detail set to reflect world, shadow detail high, colour correction enabled, no antialiasing, 8X anisotropic filtering, vertical sync disabled, motion blur disabled, HDR on full and bloom off.

TF2, presumably running on the same Orange Box engine, unsurprisingly gets a very similar frame rate with the same settings. I have field of view set to 75. Obviously it can drop a little in particularly busy fights, but with a decent ping it never becomes unplayable. With the same settings on OS X, I’m getting about 10-12 FPS, occasionally peaking at about 15, and regularly dropping to low single digits when the fight gets crowded. To my mind that is unplayable. The recommended settings on the Mac version are lower; with the game suggesting low shader detail, medium shadow detail and trilinear filtering. Using those setting gained me, perhaps, a single frame every second.

With the same settings as under Boot Camp, the Portal Mac beta frame rate drops to a similar level. In narrow corridors it can reach the low twenties, but in large rooms, or as soon as I start placing portals, it falls shockingly low. If you’ve ever experimented with the Source engine’s frame counter you’ll know that, as well as displaying actual numbers, the text is displayed in traffic light colours. In the Windows games it appears to stay red up till around 35, and doesn’t go green till nearly 60. Under OS X it turns green at about 28-30. It seems Valve have decided that a lower frame rate is acceptable on the Mac, which is disappointing.

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Lets Play: Steam client for Mac OS X

Update 4:24am: The ‘not much to say’ thing is no longer true. See the last couple of paragraphs for details of the first third-party titles coming to Steam for the Mac

My invitation to the Steam for Mac beta came with an explicit statement that there was no embargo. I was implored to take screenshots and write up my impressions etc. The thing is that there’s really not all that much to say at this stage. I think the gushing excitement in my previous post on the subject adequately conveyed what I think this might mean for the whole games industry, and for Mac gaming in particular. All that will only be more true if the rumoured Linux version should also come to pass.

At the moment though, the Steam for Mac Beta is essentially just that. A beta of the Steam client for Mac OS X. We won’t know how big the revolution is until the public release next week, when we get to see how many games make it in to Valve’s Mac store; and more particularly, how widespread is the support for the ‘Steam Play’ cross-platform license.

With all that in mind, the rest of the article follows roughly the mould of that highest form of videogame writing: the ‘Lets play’. There follow large screenshots, pointing out tiny differences between the platforms, and frame rate comparisons for the currently available games on my ageing MacBook Pro 2,1. If I were a professional blogger then I might have spent the weekend testing the games on a variety of Mac models. As it is, I can compare performance under OS X and the the same machine running Vista with Boot Camp.

A screenshot of the installer window for Steam for Mac, showing the application and an arrow indicating it should be dragged to the Applications folder.

The installer is pretty standard for a Mac app.

So, starting at the beginning, Steam’s install process will be familiar to anyone who’s ever installed a decent OS X application, and entirely alien to most Windows users. The download unzips into a folder containing the application and a symbolic link to your Applications folder and, as the above screenshot indicates, you need ‘simply drag’ the one onto the other. This is the start of a precedent that’s generally held throughout: Steam for OS X obeys most Mac UI conventions. As was noted when the beta was leaked a couple of weeks ago, the exception to this is that it dumps all its data files in the user’s Documents folder, rather than in Library where they belong.

A screenshot of the login/account creation screen displayed on first starting Steam for the Mac.

This will be familiar to anyone coming from Steam for Windows.

From here on in we’re into familiar territory for anyone coming from the Windows Steam client. On starting Steam for the first time we’re presented with a dialog asking whether we want to log in or create a new account. There’s nothing here any different from the new Steam for Windows released last month, apart from standard OS X window controls in the top left. I’ve had my existing account enabled for the beta, so I want to log in with that.

A screenshot of the log in screen for the Mac OS X Steam client.

An existing Steam for Windows log in works here.

A screenshot of the Steam Update News window on the Mac, promoting the new Steam update for Windows.

There's a deluge of 'news' to be negotiated before we can start playing.

Having logged in, there’s another site that will be familiar to users of Steam for Windows: the update news pop-ups. There’s a deluge of these before I’m allowed at the main Steam window. Thankfully, the Mac store page isn’t operational yet, so I can’t be tempted into spending any money.

A screenshot of the temporary beta homepage, where the Mac games store will be when the beta is over.

As per the rules of 'Valve Time', the April launch date for the Mac game store has now become May 12th.

Once we’ve closed the Steam update news window, we’re presented with the Steam storefront window. Except there is no store at the moment, only an invitation to try Portal for free during the beta. I already own Portal, so that’s not really necessary. I’m interested to find out how it runs on the Mac, however. While we’re here though, we might as well observe what appears to be the biggest difference between the Mac and Windows clients: Steam on OS X is using Helvetica where the new Steam on Windows uses Ariel. Otherwise, standard OS X user interface conventions apply: the window controls have moved to the top left, and the menu bar has moved to the top of the screen. The file menu being renamed to ‘Steam’, of course, has happened in the new Windows release too, and was the first thing that got my hopes up when I signed up to the beta back in February.

A screenshot of the Steam games list, showing The Longest Journey, with a message letting us know that it's not available on our current platform.

Most games are listed as 'not available on your current platform.'

Switching to the Library view, we can see all the games in my regular Steam for Windows collection. Selecting any of them gives the same info screen as the new Steam for Windows, only with a message at the letting us know that they are ‘not available on your current platform.’

A screenshot of the Steam games library, showing Portal as available for download under OS X.

One game is available.

As indicated by the front page, there is one exception. Lets get started on downloading Portal and see how it plays.

A screenshot showing that I have barely any hard disk space left, but that it is just about enough to install Portal.

Hopefully this will let me reclaim some of that disk space from my Vista partition.

We click on the install button and, again, everything is familiar from Steam for Windows. First, a dialog showing the disk space available and the disk space required. I’m hoping I might be able to reclaim some of the space wasted by my Windows partition if it’s no longer needed for gaming. Sadly that doesn’t seem likely for the time being, and we’ll get to why in a moment.

A screenshot of a progress bar, as Steam prepares to download Portal.

Steam for OS X prepares to install Portal.

A screenshot showing Steam's download confirmation dialog, letting me know that I can carry on using my computer and the download will continue in the background.

My three year old MacBook Pro will very shortly be running games natively!

Having stepped through all the same stages as on Windows, Portal is finally downloading. Note the Dock icon has changed, in the same form as the the notification area icon on Windows. Here it’s large and shiny though.

A screenshot of the Steam overlay running over the Portal menu screen at 1680x1050 resolution

Only noticeable diferences here are the Mac window controls and the Helvetica.

This is where it starts to get a little disappointing. Portal has downloaded fine, the game has loaded beautifully. But it’s defaulted to a pretty low resolution. The overlay runs in native resolution over the top of the lower resolution game, which is a nice touch. It certainly can’t do that in most games on Windows, though it’s been a while since I ran any Source based games in anything other than native resolution. So I switch the game resolution up to native 1680×1050 and, oh… Oh dear.

Now, I know that my three year old MacBook Pro 2,1, with its 256MB ATI X1600 and it’s 2GB RAM, is not exactly a top of the range gaming rig. But it ran all the Orange Box games at native resolution no problem in Vista under Boot Camp. I can’t remember the exact settings I used (I’m downloading Portal again as I write, so I can test it properly), but certainly Half Life 2 ran a dream on maximum settings. Everything from Lost Coast onward required turning down a little to get perfectly smooth, but I don’t think anything in the Orange Box was that far down. Recently I’ve been playing Left 4 Dead 2 fine in native resolution with everything else turned down. Probably not at a frame rate pro gamers would love, but it’s enough for me to have fun. I can’t imagine that being the case under OS X based on the performance I’ve seen here. And certainly I don’t expect to be playing Portal 2 under OS X.

A screenshot of Portal running in a Window under OS X.

Portal running natively in a Window on the OS X desktop.

Running at lower resolution, or in a window on the desktop, the game was playable. But, much as I hate doing it, I’d prefer to continue rebooting to Windows to play in native resolution full screen. I guess I’ll just have to get on with saving for that 27″ iMac.

Running the game in a window did reveal one other curious thing, however. When I started the game, Steam (or maybe Source) seemed to noticeably colour shift my screen. You can’t see the effect here, as everything, including the screenshot, went back to normal when the game quit. It explains why the above screenshot appears to have a dark tint though – when the game started everything, including the Steam Window and my desktop background, took on a noticeably bluer hue.

A screenshot of the Mac Games list in the Steam for Mac beta.

At the moment only two games are available.

Valve don’t seem to have publicised it yet, but Portal isn’t actually the only game available to download. Selecting the Mac Games category in the Library reveals that TF2 is also available for download.

A screenshot of Team Fortress 2 running in a window on the OS X desktop.

TF2 is clearly still in beta

As the above screenshot shows, TF2 is clearly at a much earlier stage than Portal, and I strongly suspect Valve won’t be delivering their entire back catalogue to Mac users on launch day. I guess we’ll be seeing incremental releases for the next few months, presumably cumulating in the release of Portal 2 on both platforms simultaneously. Hopefully there’ll be improvements to the frame rates as well, which affect TF2 just as much as they do Portal. The colour shift happened here as well, so, again, that explains the tint on my screenshot. TF2 did seem to receive a fairly large update as I was writing this, so I’ll test it again, and see if I can measure the framerates compared to Windows and do another update in another day or two, if I’ve not been beaten to it by then.

Also while I was editing this post, something rather exciting happened:

A screenshot of the the Mac Games category on Steam for OS X, which has grown to include several third-party titles.

I guess this means these games are confirmed for Steam Play.

Yes, the Mac Games category has grown to include several third party and indie titles. This is good news. I bought Touchlight in the Christmas sale and haven’t played it yet. Hopefully it’ll be run at a playable framerate on my ageing machine, and won’t suffer the issues Source games seem too. Machinarium was one of my highlights of last year, and probably my favourite adventure game since The Longest Journey. Hopefully Peggle Nights is a sign that Popcap will be bringing their whole collection to Steam Play. And since I took this screenshot, the entire Civ IV series has been added to the list, so hopefully the same goes for Firaxis, or maybe even the whole of 2K. I can dream.

Exciting times.

So, who want’s to buy me that iMac?

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