Jul 032017

In Canada, where I live, the voting system for the parliaments is the easy to understand, but blunt, first past the post (FPTP) system (also called plurality voting). The person who wins the most votes (a plurality) wins the seat, whether they get over 50% or under 30%. I believe that it’s time we had a system that gives more people a more nuanced say in the government they get; tactical voting of various forms in a FPTP system only goes so far. For my own benefit I’ve written up the voting systems of 3 other countries in which I’ve lived. I don’t have a firm opinion on which one I prefer (yet).


At the Federal level in Germany, the voting system is a version of a mixed-member proportional system: voters get two votes. One is for a direct candidate (approximately half the seats), and works by the plurality (FPTP) system. The other is where the voter votes for a party. Each party has a list, and the appropriate number from each party list is deemed elected, depending on the number of votes the party got. There is a threshold for the list votes; parties have to get over 5% of the vote to get any seats via the second (list) vote, unless more than three direct candidates from that party are elected.

This system was set up to balance many aims. Among them are the principle of equal votes (each vote must have equal weight), discourage small parties while allowing them, and encourage balance between various political views. It tends to lead to coalition governments, and is good for finding consensus.


Australia uses preferential, or ranked, voting systems. The voter ranks the candidates in order of preference. If one candidate gets 50% + 1 (or more) first preference votes, they are elected. If not, the candidate who received the fewest first preference votes is eliminated from the list, and their second preferences are distributed. This process continues until one candidate does have 50% + 1 or more votes. There’s a variation for the Senate that I’m not going into.

Ranked voting gives people a chance to vote for a candidate they know won’t win, and give the second preference to a mainstream candidate, which makes it better than FPTP tactical voting. One downside is that you have to rank all candidates in order, and it is quite possible to miss a number, or make some other mistake. There are some people who number from 1 down the page, so the ballot has to be designed to take that ‘donkey vote’ into account.

New Zealand

New Zealand uses a different version of mixed-member proportional representation to Germany. (No, I’m not going into detail on the precise differences.) Each voter has two votes: one for a direct candidate, and one for a party. The party vote determines the overall number of seats each party is entitled to. There is a threshold, as for Germany, of 5% for the party vote, or one direct candidate elected.

There are also a certain number of seats reserved for the Māori electorate; those use the same voting system.

Personally, I think any of these systems would be better than the current FPTP system we have.

Jun 262012

This year’s Northern Voice was held downtown, and was smaller than the last couple of years. I like the small conference personally, it’s easier to chat with lots of different people, the lines at registration aren’t as long, and the conference as a whole feels more personal. This is the strength of Northern Voice for me, it’s a pleasant contrast to large conferences where keynotes are sold to the sponsors and there are advertising banners everywhere. Yes, Northern Voice has sponsors who show up and have a presence and maybe even a table, but they are all respectful of the spirit of the conference. For which I, at least, am grateful.

I spent the first bit of the conference helping out on the registration table. A certain amount of hectic, but not too bad. I then moderated Martha Rans’ talk on Copyright for Canadians did a good job, I thought, of giving information without overwhelming everyone. The Artists Legal Outreach site has more in-depth information, in what they call toolkits.

Lunch at the W2 cafe was great and the big wooden circles in the middle of the atrium space were full of people chatting while balancing plates and glasses. After lunch I sat in on MooseCamp for a while, knitting and listening and relaxing. And singing with Nancy and the ukuleles. I really must get back to singing, it’s been a long time since I sang regularly.

Another important talk was Daniel Cowen’s talk on privacy. A lot of the subject matter was familiar to me from my work at Sun, where I was part of a privacy and identity group, but Daniel took it a step further by seeing how much someone without specialised tools or knowledge could find out about someone online. In four hours they had a worrying amount of information about a woman they code-named “Tara”, enough to run any number of social engineering attacks or compromise any “secret question” systems. People in the session were genuinely shocked at just how much information is available online, and how many details, innocuous in themselves, can be added together.

Friday ended with the wine tasting and party in the atrium.

Saturday dawned bright and early with Blaine Cook’s wonderful keynote, celebrating diversity in culture, life, and technology platforms in the face of globalisation and market forces. He tied together architecture, rainforest, and people fighting to save their culture with the domination by large platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to encourage diversity and independence.

Shane Birley’s keynote was of a different style but had some of the same underlying themes, celebrating individual voice, charting his personal journey online, and encouraging all of us to try out new ways of communicating and sharing who we are. All delivered in inimitable Shane style, of course!

All in all, it was a lot of work and I was exhausted by the end of the two days, but it was all worthwhile. The energy and enthusiasm was obvious with all the discussions and interactions and it’s also been great to see all the tweets and blog posts continue.

Feb 222009

I’m slowly recovering from the whirlwind that was Northern Voice this year (I’m one of the organisers). All our hard work paid off, we had the usual last-minute glitches but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, to make new friends and contacts, to learn new things, to discuss issues they care about, and to have fun.

On Friday I spent most of my time on the registration desk, apart from introducing the conference and listening to Stewart Butterfield’s keynote. Saturday was a little different; I made it to lots of sessions (both keynotes, Aidrie’s panel, my own panel, bits and pieces of other talks/panels). What I took away from all was a sense of community, a sense that the people attending are truly interested in sharing their knowledge and experiences, in being genuine. Even though some blog from a purely personal standpoint, and others from a professional, there was discussion about how to be genuine, how to show who you are within whatever limits you find reasonable (some people blog about their children, others don’t, for example). I’m looking forward to watching the videos of the sessions I didn’t manage to make it to; we only had three sessions concurrently but lots of good topics. The energy in the whole space was amazing.

Saturday night after we got home, we found Vancouver was in the top ten for two trending Twitter topics: Northern Voice and the Canucks. As someone tweeted (sorry, can’t find it now), that really shows that Vancouver people understand how to use these tools for communication. I feel proud, as one of the organisers of Northern Voice, to do my little bit to help, by giving people who care about these things an opportunity to get together and discuss them. And it’s fun – at a Serious Conference we could never get away with putting out a basket of yarn and telling people to make their own lanyards (yes, we had some of those white elastic things for those uncomfortable with the notion). Lots of people gravitated to the bright fluffy stuff, or used multiple strands, creating their own bit of wearable art. And then there was the Moose collection — Rahel Baillie donated her collection of moose as a fund-raiser for the conference, so we had these moose statues and ties and kitsch spread over one corner of the registration desk. Again, not something you can do at a Serious Conference. Which doesn’t mean to say we didn’t talk about serious topics, there were lots of those, and lots of discussion about them.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Northern Voice.

Dec 312008

We spent Christmas and a few days either side in Sakatchewan, land of -27 C days and even colder nights. But, as it turns out, little snow. Driving along Highway 1 you could see the stubble of plants sticking out of the slim white covering, giving the horizon a green-brown tinge. There was more snow in sheltered places, dry and feathery, the sort of snow that doesn’t get you wet when you fall in it as it brushes off so easily.

Coming home to Vancouver it was a different story. We missed out on being there for the almost-record snowfalls (I gather we only need another 2 cm to beat the record set in 1964), but enough remained on the ground to require lots of snow-shovelling. Maybe next year I’ll break down and get a real snow shovel with better ergonomics; my back muscles are groaning using our emergency folding one with its too-short handle. Snow at temperatures around zero C is wet and sticky, not at all feathery, and it doesn’t brush off easily. In places the snow has the choppy look of whipped egg whites that have started to break down, in others like smooth piles of icing sugar, 60 cm (2 feet) or more thick. On the roads it’s a dirty grey colour, piled high in spots, interspersed with pockets of water that can’t make it to the storm drain and pockets of ice where the sun can’t reach.

It was the first coast to coast white Christmas since 1971, and we’re in the middle of another snowfall warning with snow forecast for the next three days (which should easily break that record). I’m glad I work from home.

Jul 242008

It seems that August is conference season, at least for me. More precisely, one week in August. First Balisage in Montréal (for which the online registration is closing next Friday) August 12-15, and then Vinocamp here in Vancouver, at the UBC Botanical Garden, on August 16th. I’m speaking at the former, and helping organise the latter (for which numbers are limited to 120, so don’t wait too long to register). The premise for Vinocamp is a friendly conference about wine, put on by a bunch of techies; this is its first year. Both conferences should be fun! Entertaining as well as educational, and a certain amount of good food and wine in both locations. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a week in August.

Jun 192008

There’s been a lot of discussion in the papers about the newly-tabled Bill on Canadian Copyright; suffice to say there are lots of issues with it and it needs to be sent back and turned into something that meets the needs of the citizens and residents of this country. If you’re living in Canada, I’d recommend you read some of Michael Geist’s blog, particularly the summary of last week, and then email your MP about the issues that concern you the most. For me, it’s the potential that playing DVDs from a region other than Canada could violate the law. If I’ve bought the DVDs legally, or had them given to me, why should playing them violate the law? Why should getting a cell phone unlocked violate the law? Why should backing up my CDs violate the law? This is one of the few issues I can remember where it seems that every newspaper has the same tone to the editorial – and it isn’t complimentary to the government.

Mind you, my local MP isn’t exactly known for listening to his constituents (there’s still a lot of local anger at his crossing the floor after being elected), so who knows how much good my email (a heavily edited version of the one at that used to be found at http://www.copyrightforcanadians.ca/action/firstlook) will do.

Update: it looks like the Minister supposedly in charge, isn’t – Canadian Industry Minister lies about his Canadian DMCA on national radio, then hangs up – Boing Boing.

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