Friday, May 14, 2021

drone of silence

 say we don't want to be overheard? go on, say it...

ok, so we could go to a sound proof room. or we could get everyone around us to wear noise cancelling headphones (good luck with that). or we could design a noise cancelling drone.

we'd put our phones on the table in front of us, and run an app that transmits the sound from all the phones' mikes to the drone, which then computes the audio  signal that is being propagated from our table, and (using a phase array speaker system) transmits the reverse phase of that.

it has to e on the drone because a) that's hip, cool, fashionable and fun and b) you can't run it on the phone or the people you are talking to across the table wont hear you either.

you heard it here first. or maybe you didn't.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

efficacy is rather annoying as a metric for a vaccine during a pandemic that lasts years...

 the various vaccines now being deployed across the world to cope with the pandemic are typically accepted by medical regulators when their Phase III trials deliver an efficacy of over 50%.

What that means, as far as I can tell, is that for the duration of the trial, out of the 2 groups, one given a placebo, the other the vaccine, the fraction of people that did not get infected in the latter group compared to the former. so if there's no infection in the vaccinated group, then it is 100%. if there were 100 people infected in the placebo  group, and only 50 in the vaccinated group, its 50%.

But that efficacy is firstly only  binary (did or did not get infected), and only for the period of the trials (e.g. at the end of the trial of say 3 months) - but the pandemic is ongoing for much longer than the phase III trial. and the outcome isn't "got infected or not" - people can get infected but be asymptomatic, or mildly ill, or die, whether  vaccinated or not. And the disease changes over time too.


So you have two things varying over time - the level of immunity (not just binary) and the level of infectiousness of the current main variant(s) of the disease.

A true binary outcome metric would be "At the end of normal life expectancy, how many people vaccinated compared to those given a placebo, are still alive"

Other measures might be concerned with the severity of disease, short of fatality at some time period after vaccination, Some sort of half life (like radioactivity) maybe?

And those are the selfish or singular metrics - the other thing a vaccine might do is reduce infectiousness (both for people that don't get the disease but cary, and for people that get it more mildly - obviously people that die find it hard to infect others),

Of course, the reason to care about efficacy is to have something fairly simple to evaluate fairly quickly, to then let medical regulators make a decision about if a vaccine is worth adopting or not.

But in the long run, it would be useful to express some other measure, concerned with the reduction in excess mortality over the length of the pandemic.

And of course some quantification of the reduction in incidence of severe versions of the illness ('long covid").


Of course, explaining these more complicated descriptions/metrics would tie up lots of science/stats popularisers for months and years....but it might help reduce the sort of headlines we see where someone says "efficacy of vaccine X on variant V is only 10% so it is useless" or "it doesn't work on old people", when in at least two recent examples, the said vaccine reduced mortality to zero, which as far as this writer is concerned, is a rather important positive result, even if said "efficacy" was near zero. 

Making something not scary seems good to me.




Monday, January 04, 2021

It is a truth that Universties should be acknowledged...

 ...to be an efficient and effective way to get basic research done.

basic research is inherently very inefficient - in a naive sense, it is a random walk through a very lumpy landscape full of local minima, and some very very steep hills. like evolution, it takes a long time, and wastes a lot of resources along the way. just like universities. however, universities do several other things 

  • a spot of higher education
  • creating communities
  • offering advanced advice to governments and industry
  • curating the next world class comedy teams
  • keeping social misfits busy & off the streets
  • etc etc
So provided you have the right mix (as per Humboldt's original german vision, and as quite a few  of the classic latter half of 20th century UK universities achieved), people can switch between these activities, just often enough to make good us of their time (efficient) but not so often as to interrupt their chain of thought (effective). As with most social organisations, the distributions of people and these activities are unfair (heavy tailed) in the sense that people and institutions that are more effective at basic research attract people who can carry it out, but who also are not too bad at teaching the sorts of students those institutions attract. Of course, these things (institutions, people, activities of interest) change over time, so baking-in which should be long term rewarded for what mix is a really really bad idea.  The next internet, vaccine, carbon capture technology, you name it, will not arise where you expect it (those darn lumpy landscapes:-)

i.e. down with the REF -

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Camden Lock Down Stories

some i wrote during the current events are about 2 pages long soo there's no excuse for not reading them if you read this.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

comments on UK Research and Development Roadmap

The government just published, and asked for comments on their not much of a roadmap, more just a list of things we do in some weedy use case studies, rather than some sector-by-sector analysis of what strengths (and weaknesses and opportunities etc).


Sadly, the document contains virtually no recognition of:


1/ where people come from and go to - some sort of map of various career paths for typical successful UK researcher (including threading in and out of positions in other countries)...


2/ interconnectedness of ideas/funds etc would be obvious if they'd looked at

computing (games/cgi/mobile app industries, and school & university programs to match) or health/pharmaceuticals, or even sports and entertainment tech...


As anyone who'd actually worked in R&D could tell them, the UK's problem isn't in the basic Research. It is :

a) that industry (not government) massively under-invests in its own work compared with e.g. Germany or China or just about any industrialised nation, and 

b) the UK fairly badly under-promotes work from basic research into commercial exploitation compared to the US


These are two quite different things that need fixing...and need different remedies:


I'd claim 

a) is partly cultural (trying to get money out of BT for example is like blood from a stone even if you are Cambridge, but trivial if you are MIT -why?) - there's no longer a tax barrier, so its not about money  - I hesitate to suggest it (due to perverse incentives) but maybe tax people for R&D

investment abroad when there is local capability?

b) is much harder - until we realise that we actually have successful examples in biomedical so export that system into other worlds/sectors somehow - learn from successes. 


Part of it is having a big enough local customer base to grow work too a place where you don't see "being acquired by a big US outfit" as the only viable exit strategy - this works for health because of MRC/NHS/CancerResearchUK/Welcome eco system and I believe it works in sports tech because of the football league... so how would one build that up for computing, or environment or...?


The other (not unconnected too the last point) is the total failure in the roadmap is to have a plan B for what happens in 2021 if the government fail to negotiate membership of the EU research funding schemes (at least they admit that that is the preferred option) given the fraction of things funded that way today (not just in HE), a fairly thorough  contingency plan is essential.


So like a lot of things this government does, dismal.Could do better.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

what the dickens? new lessons in the banality of evil, and the nobility of good.

It was the best of times,
It was the worst of times

These two incidents in the same events, UK BLM marches exemplify the straightforwardness of  a noble and brave act, with the utter banality of evil. I'm not going to say that the "gentleman" who chose to relieve himself  against the plaque commemorating a policeman who died preventing a terrorist attack against government is, himself, evil. However, he chose too go with people o na march against BLM peaceful protestors, to take part in "defending" statues, none of which were at risk of any more than annoying graffiti at worst. He chose to drink (apparently) 16 pints so that when he got to his ironic role (where his "side" were throwing rocks an fireworks at the police, who are actually employed too protect property (like statues) and people, he literally had no idea where he was or what he was doing.

In contrast, the chap who rescued someone possibly of the same ilk, from very serious injury, and risk to himself, was utterly aware of the risk, and the significance of his act, contrasting it to the US cops who stood by while their colleague murdered a member of the public.

The contrast in awareness and attitude could not go deeper.

These are not two sides of a debate. This is right and wrong. There's no need to give the wrong side any platform. They have nothing to offer. They are a void. They are Brexit, Boris, botched pandemics, Britain that was never great, brutish, bald-faced and banal.

Monday, April 06, 2020

So it really was 5G after all

We're often reminded that Isaac Newton did some of his best work whilst Cambridge University was closed during the plague year of 1665. But has anyone considered that we have not done our causal inference correctly. What if plagues are actually caused by an excess density of information? And it was that excess information that led Newton to discover gravity and calculus, written on the wind. So the Black Death of 1346-1353 was really the result of the impending wide availability of books to the great unwashed public. And the Spanish flu was a symptom of the incurably informed,  due to the forthcoming advent of radio broadcasts of news. The later avian and swine flu epidemics were no such thing as cross-species transmission of viruses: these were a side effect of the Internet. Of course, if we regard information as a form of life, then this should be unsurprising, since life is a form of information, and both spread virally in any case whether by syzygy or other means.

Coming back to the present, has anyone checked? Maybe Wuhan was the first city in china to have 5G deployed? But I'm not talking about the network - I'm talking about the handsets. Let's do some numbers. The mean life of a smart phone in the developed world is about two and a half years which is about 900 days. in the UK there are 65M people, so that means new handsets are arriving at the rate of about 70,000 a day. now what if the handset manufacturer didn't employ enough telephone sanitisers? What if they'd all gone home because of Brexit - maybe like fruit pickers, telephone sanitisers are like, seasonal zero hour contract workers. So there's your vector - 5G handsets. I know what you're saying: what about countries without any cellular networks yet, or precious little Internet, or poor satellite coverage? You'll note I've already discussed that above in earlier events. A high enough density of information in  the near future is sufficient to disrupt things in the present. The very idea that there may be very ideas coming over the horizon is worse than the early warning of an earthquake so well known to alert even the dumbest of our pets.

If only we'd been on the B-Ark, the telephone sanitisers, all this tragic loss would have been averted. Remember, people - be careful out there - too much knowledge can make you ill. Wisdom is often fatal, especially for the elderly, just when they've acquired so much of it - no coincidence there.