Monday 23 January 2017

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Northern Ireland Assembly

First of all, apologies if you don't live in Northern Ireland, because you're not going to care about this in the slightest. However, over the past week, at least several people have asked me who they should vote for in the upcoming elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it has become apparent that the reason for such a flurry of questioning is that most people (ie at least 2 of my acquaintances) don't actually know what the Northern Ireland Assembly is, or how it works.

Thankfully, WhyNotSmile is here, as ever, to help.

Secondly, i have no special insider information on any of this; I just read it on Wikipedia. So don't take it as Gospel.

1. What is the Northern Ireland Assembly?

The Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA) is a group of people who've been elected (of which, more presently) by the rest of us to keep things running. So they keep an eye on things like schools, hospitals and, apparently, heating systems. There are some things they're not allowed to meddle in, because it's important for Westminster to have something to do, so, for instance, they can't suddenly make us use funny currency, or declare war on the Isle of Man. There's a whole list of things that they can't do ever, and then there's a list of things that they can't do yet, but might be allowed to do in the future if they demonstrate that they wouldn't make a pig's ear of it, and then they're allowed to do everything else, unless they do something that no one's thought of yet but that it seems unwise for them to meddle in, in which case that thing might be added to one of the first 2 lists.

So, the Assembly has 108 members, called MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly). It has recently been decided that we could live without some of these MLAs (in general; not specific ones), so the number is being cut down. But we'll come back to that. They all have debates about what they think they should do, and then the DUP override it with the Petition of Concern (which we'll also come back to), and every now and then they all have a Proper Fight and the whole thing collapses for a while while they go to a fancy hotel and figure out what to do next. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it means more Mark Devenport on my TV *swoon*.

Now, the things the Assembly is allowed to do are divided into Departments, like the Department of Education and the Department of Sports and Other Kinds of Fun (they keep changing these names; these are just examples). So, every department has to have someone in charge of it, and the people in charge of the departments are called the Executive. I shall explain later how they decide who gets to be in charge.

So the Executive are in charge of departments, and then they all have sub-committees (which I think are made up of some of the other MLAs, and maybe some Civil Servants and stuff; I dunno) to actually do stuff, and the Assembly debates what stuff they should do. Roughly.

2. How Does The Northern Ireland Assembly Work?

Now, before we start, it's important to establish that, when it comes to how the Northern Ireland Assembly "works", we need to somewhat broaden our definition of the word "works". In your average situation, when we say that something "works", we imply that it functions, in a reasonably consistent manner, in order to achieve something useful. In this case, though, that's expecting a bit much. The Northern Ireland Assembly "works" in the same way that my 2-year-old "helps" when I'm doing the vacuuming: energy is expended, noise is made, and a lot of praise is accepted at the end, but if we're being honest, the whole thing would proceed much more efficiently if he could be plonked in front of the TV and remain uninvolved. However, also like my 2-year-old, there are large swathes of Northern Irish society who are much better when kept where we can see them, and putting them in the Assembly is (marginally) cheaper than putting them in prison (there being, of course, an uncommon proportion of our Elected Representatives who have tried both).

So, what happens is this: we have elections. Northern Ireland is split into 18 constituencies (soon to be cut to 17, though I'm unclear who we're ditching). A constituency is an area, like, East Belfast (yeo), Fermanagh and South Tyrone, or South Down. Each constituency has, until now, been allowed to choose 6 MLAs, but this is being cut to 5, to save money or something. So this will give us 85 MLAs instead of 108. Each party can choose some candidates to stand for election in each area, and random individuals can put themselves forward too. Then they all spend a fortune putting posters up all over the place, because it is well known that people often think "Oh, I was going to vote for Candidate X with all those great policies they're putting forward, but now that I've seen an actual photo of Candidate Y I will vote for him instead". I suppose that's what happens when you have candidates who look as responsible, efficient and majestic as Jim Allister and Edwin Poots.

Then we all vote, or at least 12% of us vote (in some cases, several times each), and the winners are announced. Now, it is worth considering the method of voting which is used, because this is one of the key bits that no one seems to understand. The Assembly Elections use a system called the Single Transferrable Vote. I plan to explain this in more detail in a future post, but for now it can be summarised thus: you vote by putting numbers instead of an X. So you can vote for lots of people, in order of preference, and if your first choice doesn't get in, then your second choice counts instead.

This is important in Northern Ireland, where vast numbers of people base their view almost entirely on who they don't want to win. Traditionally, one would spot a new, forward-thinking, progressive party, and one would think "I would like to vote for them, but then that's one less vote for Us Lot, so it's basically a vote for Them Lot, so I shall not vote for this new, forward-thinking, progressive party, but instead I shall vote for Us Lot, just to be safe". Under the Single Transferrable Vote system, one can take a punt, as it were, on smaller parties (I don't mean literally take a punt, before someone tries to sail up the Lagan on Naomi Long), and then put the big parties towards the end, so that if the smaller party candidate doesn't win, then your vote gets passed on to the Us Lot party of your choice.

Then someone, somewhere, does some complicated maths, and figures out which 5 people have won in each area. Those 5 people become MLAs.

Next, we have to form the Executive. Now, there are 3 "groups" of parties in Northern Ireland. There's "Them", there's "Us" and there's the "Wishy Washies" (each MLA declares which group they're in). The biggest party in the group with the biggest number of MLAs gets to nominate the First Minister. This is considered Brilliant, although it's never been entirely clear to me what the First Minister does. Having said that, I'm not sure what the Prime Minister does either, but I'm fairly sure it's broadly similar. The biggest party in the group with the second biggest number of MLAs gets to nominate the Deputy First Minister, who does roughly the same as the First Minister.

Then we need to put someone in charge of each department. I'm not entirely clear how this works. First, I think each party has to decide whether it wants to be in the Executive (so a party could, in theory, get loads more votes than everyone else, but decide they don't want any actual responsibility, and therefore not go into the Executive; this puts them in Opposition). Then, of all the ones that want to play, they get allowed to choose some Departments, in proportion to how many MLAs they got.

So, let's say that there are 3 parties who have agreed to go into the Executive. Party A has 25 MLAs, Party B has 15 MLAs, and Party C has 10 MLAs. So 50 in all. Then, let's say there are 8 departments. Party A has half the MLAs, so they get 4 departments. Party B has 15/50 MLAs, so that's 3/10, which is about 1/4, so they get 2 departments. Then C get a fifth, so that's one department. Then there's another formula to figure out how to split up the spare department. I'm not sure how they decide who gets which department; maybe it's like picking teams in school, where you take it in turns to choose. I dunno.

What I DO know is that no one is allowed the Department of Justice unless they're one of the middle ground parties, because it's obvious to everyone that Us Lot and Them Lot wouldn't trust each other with a bucket of water, let alone actual justice. Probably with good reason, let's face it.

Now, the one aspect of all this that we haven't discussed is the Petition of Concern, which was designed to stop Them Lot ganging up on Us Lot, but seems to have morphed into a way of big parties stopping anyone else from doing anything at all that they don't like. The key here is that if a party can get 30 MLAs, they can use the Petition of Concern all over the place to stop anything they just don't like the look of. Other parties have proposed changing the PoC so that this can't happen, but obviously the proposal was blocked by the people who are Quite Happy with how things are, thank you very much.

There's also the Speaker, but I have literally no clue what they do; I think they're essentially a glorified referee, but don't quote me on that.

So, to summarise: you're voting for the people who'll run the place, and it's all designed to be very representative, so basically you should vote for whoever you want and not vote for whoever you don't want, and it'll all be more or less fine.

I trust this helps.

Sunday 13 December 2015

What I Want For Christmas, By the mother of a 1-year-old

So it's the festive season again, and Facebook is again going nuts over whether we're allowed or not allowed to say Merry Christmas. Here's a clue: we are. I've never seen a convincing example of anyone, ever, being told they weren't allowed to wish someone a Merry Christmas (apart from, like, in the middle of June, because Sod Off), or of anyone actually being offended by being wished a Merry Christmas when they don't actually celebrate it. But why let the facts get in the way of a good Facebook share, eh? Also, if you have, like, Themmuns in your workplace, is it really the end of the world to wish them Happy Holidays instead? You know, I used to do some work with a Jewish guy; this one time I even told him to have a happy Hanukkah. We all appear to still be here. Makes you think.

Anyway, people keep asking me what I want for Christmas, and I have to say that once you have a child, things change, although not in the ways you might think. I mean, some mothers will say "All I want for Christmas is to see my child's face lighting up with the magic of the day". Those people can feck right off for a start, along with the "All I want is for my friends to be happy" brigade.

Most of the things I want are unobtainable, of course. Baby Smile to sleep through the night, for instance. A nice warm jumper that a) I like and B) doesn't cost the earth. My house to be about 2 feet wider so that the bedroom has room for the cot and therefore Baby Smile might actually sleep in it and not all over our bed. A extra hand, lol. But there's no point in dwelling on what one cannot have, naturally.

There also exists a long list of things I do not want:

* Anything that occupies actual space in my house. Ain't no room for THAT at the inn, let me tell you. This inn is all full right up with plastic toys in various shades of lurid. If we could turn all that plastic back into oil, we'd have enough resources to provoke an international conflict and blame it on Themmuns.

* Anything involving effort, like a spa day. I saw these advertised "For Mum For Christmas". Please, no. A spa day, like. If I'm using up a full day's worth of babysitting, I want to use my time to nap, read and color in, not go to the effort of getting dressed in proper clothes and then driving across town so I can lie naked on a bed sniffing a candle that's infused with the scent of some forest I'm not in, while someone rubs hot stones all over me. And it doesn't help if you offer to babysit, by the way, because let's face it, I don't trust you with my one and only child. If you want to try babysitting, go find someone with 4 kids; they'll hand them out like Smarties if it means they get a quiet half hour.

So, here are some things I'd like:

* A retractable clothes line. I've actually asked my mother in law for this, so here's hoping.
* A nap.
* To not be invited out to all manner of Christmas Events. Trust me, it's extremely unlikely that I'll find any of these preferable to an evening on the sofa. I can cope with Christmas Day if I get a good rest in the run-up, but all else is hassle.
* To make a gingerbread house which doesn't fall apart before being eaten. I've bought all the bits for this; just need to Google how to do the icing. Gingerbread houses are not hard to make (if you buy them flat-packed from IKEA), and they make you feel all Pinterest Mom.
* Some way of cutting my baby's nails that doesn't involve me having to either sneak up on him in his sleep (thus making him scared to go to sleep, and my life getting immeasurably worse) or trying to do it while he's awake and stabbing myself in the face while I try not to cut him.
* Self-ironing clothes which can also be tumble dried and which don't look like plastic. It's almost 2016, science. Get your act together.
* A couple more small wet bags for nappies. I meant to ask for these and forgot. Preferably ones with elephants or foxes or owls.
* A bar of chocolate the size of my head.
* After Eights. I fricken love After Eights.

That is all. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Friday 16 October 2015

How To Solve a Very Specific Computer Problem

It's too early to say "I'm back" to blogging, but, y'know, "Hi. How've you been?". I'm thinking of writing a series of posts about Pregnancy, Childbirth and Baby Management, and then making them into a book so I can make loads of money. But I probably won't get round to it.

In the meantime, a Thing went wrong with my tablet (Google Nexus 10), and i tried all the Things the internet suggested, and none of them fixed it, and then I fixed it myself, so I thought I'd throw my method out there in case it helps the grand pool of knowledge created by humankind.

So, the problem was thus: tablet charger broke. Tablet ran out of power. Ordered new charger. Waited. Charger arrived. Charged tablet. Turned tablet on. Tablet won't stay connected to WiFi for more than 20 seconds.

At some point in this process, the tablet upgraded to Android Lollipop. I think it was after charging it up, and before the WiFi disconnecting thing.

So I Google it (in increasingly irritating 20 second bursts), and I find that this is a Known Issue with Android Lollipop, and I think " Well, good, then, there'll be a solution ". But I can't find a solution; I can only find " suggestions ". I decide to try them, in the following order:

1. Switch tablet off and back on - nothing
2. Switch modem off and on - have to wait for Mr Smile to go to work before I can try this, so he doesn't think I broke the internet. Still doesn't help.
3. Switch router off and on - I'm not sure how this is different from switching the modem off and on, so I skip it. Come to think of it, I don't really know that that was the modem I switched off in step 2. Anyway, we're no further on.
4. Get the tablet to forget the network and then reenter it. This step doesn't work because my tablet is a freaking encyclopaedia of networks, apparently, and it doesn't have the " forget" option anywhere.
5. Try switching it off and on again.
6. Connect to the modem directly by entering the IP address, and change the channel the network is broadcasting on. This is almost guaranteed to end in disaster, but thankfully the tablet won't connect to anything.
7. Update all your apps to the most recent version. I'd love to do this, but I have 37 pending updates and can only update in 20 second bursts. I struggle on gamely through the first 3, and give up.
8. Fiddle with the WiFi settings. This sounds suspiciously vague, but I'm willing to try anything by this point, so I toggle things on and off at random. I come across something that tells me to press the WPS button on the modem, and I do it anyway because Sod It All.
9. Rewind your operating system to KitKat, but back up your data first. This involves a process so complex that I can't even be bothered sitting through the 300 20 second bursts that it'll take to read about it, so I give up.

So the internet is Out Of Ideas, but I am not. Here's what I did next, which fixed it:
1. Went to my sister's house. Realised my tablet was happily connected to her network. Started downloading updates.
2. Got interrupted by my nephew wanting to play the animal game on my tablet, so stopped downloading updates.
3. Went home. WiFi disconnecting immediately, and I realise I only let about 4 updates actually download. And they're stuff like the Asda app, which are hardly likely to be causing the issue.
4. Became despondent.
5. But realised that the problem seems to be only with my home network.
6. Concocted plan to get a neighbour's password.
7. Opened WiFi settings and looked at the network again. Decided to type in the wrong password, in a bid to anger it. It whined that it couldn't save the network settings because the password was wrong.
8. And then the WiFi stopped disconnecting.

You're welcome.

Saturday 3 January 2015

Still blogging

A few people have asked me recently "still blogging?" and I'm like "well, yes, but not, like, actively of anything".

I realised I forgot to announce the arrival of Baby Smile back in August, but yes, he's here now and extremely nice. I keep doing weird things since he's been born, like being almost in tears at the thought of entering a baby in a "Most Beautiful Baby" contest, because imagine if you did that and then your baby didn't win. One day I cried because he kicked his sock out of the pram and lost it, and then the following week I was walking along the same road and found it.

Anyway, I'm vaguely working on the WhyNotSmile Guides to Pregnancy and to Baby Care. They're going to be fabulous.

Thursday 12 June 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The World Cup

After the raging success of the WhyNotSmile Guide To The Elections (which went what I call "viral", receiving upwards of 19 hits), it has been requested that I produce a Guide to the World Cup, which is a football thing that starts today. So here goes.

We need to begin by understanding the concept of football. Essentially, football is a sport which involves 2 teams battling it out to see who can get a ball into a net the most often. To make it twice as easy, they have a net at each end of the 'pitch', but they also allow you to keep one of your team members in the net at all times, to try to stop the ball from going in.

Things get more advanced than this, of course. For instance, if you kick someone else and they fall down, then they get to have a special attempt at kicking the back into the net, called a penalty. Sometimes you're allowed to line up all your players between them and the net, to try to block the ball, but this doesn't always happen, and I'm not sure why. Also, at the end of the allotted time, if both teams have got the back into the net the same number of times, then they get to do a penalty shoot-out, and then Germany win. I'm not sure why this happens either.

Then there is the offside rule, which I'm not supposed to be able to understand because I'm a girl. In reality, of course, I understand many things which are much more complex than the offside rule, like the rules of social engagement, which appear to pass many footballers by; the reason I don't understand the offside rule is that I just don't give a fiddler's fart.

In addition to the two teams, there is also a chap called the 'referee' who runs about and tries to make them stick to the rules. Fans have lots of chants about referees, many of whom appear to be "bankers".  I assume this is why football is often played on bank holidays.

The Teams
Now, for the World Cup, there is a team from every country who want to send one, but of course they can't all play each other in a fortnight because there are, like, 200* countries who have football teams, so if they were all going to play a sort of knockout tournament where the winner of each match progresses to the next round, then there would have to be 8 rounds, but the first one would have, like, 100 matches going on, and in total you would have 255 matches, and the wallchart would just be too big for the wall.
* I don't know. I made that up.

And even worse, if you had to insist that each team played every other team, then there would be, like, 200! matches happening, where 200! means "200 factorial", and not just 200 said with a gasp, and since 200! is too big for my calculator to even work it out, we would basically be watching football forever.

So instead they have matches ahead of time to see who is good enough to qualify for the finals, and teams like Northern Ireland fluke their way through every now and then, but mostly it's teams who are actually good, and also England. I think they let England play every time because they invented football or something.
It's always important to establish who's actually still in the thing if you want to sound competent in work when the topic comes up; I once spent a fortnight supporting Republic of Ireland before being taken to one side and told they hadn't qualified that time. In some workplaces, of course, they'd just have given me Ireland in the office sweepstake (of which more later) and been done with it.

So if someone asks you which team you're supporting, you want to say the name of a country; preferably one that's good at football, or England.

The 2014 World Cup
Now, each time they have the thing (which is every 4 years), they have it in a different place. This is decided by some manner of corruption or something, rather than by my preferred method of keeping it like Eurovision, where the place that won last time gets to host it this time round. Anyway, this year it's in Brazil, and if you fancy going over to it you should probably take a paintbrush and be ready to give them hand with painting the lines on, for it is widely believed that things Aren't Quite Ready Yet. Next time round it's in Qatar, which is a real place and is too hot to play football in.

World Cup Traditions
Now, regardless of whether you like football or not, you can still get into the spirit of things by involving yourself in one of the many time-honoured traditions which have sprung up around it. These include:
  • Sticker albums: produced by Panini, these are like scrapbooks, but with spaces for stickers with footballers on them. You can often get the album for free, and then spend approximately £3800 on stickers, in a futile bid to collect them all. The stickers come in little packets, and the idea is that you swap them with your friends in school until everybody has all of them; naturally, the people who make the stickers ensure that a chosen few are really rare, and these become valuable currency in playgrounds across the country. It used to be that sticker albums were the preserve of the pre-teen boy, but now with EBay and everything, access to stickers for "swapsies" is wider, thus restoring the dream to adults as well. Note to adult males: women do not generally consider this to be impressive behaviour.
  • The Office Sweepstake: this happens in every office in the land when the World Cup is on.  Basically, you get a list of all the teams who are playing, and then throw them in a box (except usually you can't find a box, so someone cups their hands and you put them in there), and then you allocate everyone in the office a team or a number of teams. Everyone pays a pound and whoever's team wins gets to keep all the money at the end.  More advanced systems involve 'seeding' the teams, or having first, second and third prizes, but this really makes no difference, because there's always one person in the office who always wins, every. freaking. time. (yes, Alex, I'm looking at you). Obviously a challenge is presented if you have more people in your office than there are teams playing, but this can be resolved by sub-dividing the office into more manageable groups.
  • Wallcharts: a staple of every World Cup, ever, the Wallchart usually comes free with The Mirror about a fortnight before it all kicks off. Even I have been known to end up with a World Cup wallchart, and take great delight in filling it all in.  The essential components are: lots of pictures of flags; some enlightening commentary on each of the teams; and the actual Chart bit.  The Chart bit lists the various 'pools', and the scheduled matches, and there's a little space for you to write in the score for each match. Then when it all progresses to the quarter finals and so on, you get to write in the matches and the winners and stuff.  For some reason, it's all completely glorious fun.
  • Anthems: every time, some trendy band are asked to write a World Cup anthem for everyone to sing when they cheer on England to their certain victory.  It's usually crap, so then some band that no one has heard of comes out with something much better and unofficial, and everyone sings that instead. The vital ingredients are references to: 1966 (the last time England won), the hurt which has engulfed the nation ever since, curry, beer and a lot of cheering because this will be Our Year.
So the World Cup kicks off tonight, and you can now prepare yourself for every conversation you will have between now and July 13th.  I trust this helps.