apologize or else

ranting - talk radio for the dea[fd]

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Big Bad Food

latest debate about Big Food making Big People - article about this in press recently says "government regulation of food industry would be interference in the free market" as an excuse for not intervening in the advertising of causes of obesity to children (amount of sugar hidden in some goods) - the market for food is not free, and even if it was its already regulated for safety for short term problems (e.g. food poisoning / sell by dates) so why isn't this just part of the exact same regulation? Misrepresenting things too is normally not regarded as something that happens in a "free" market....

usual disclaimers apply - if you aren't a free thinker, when you read this, you may find it difficult to digest:)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

3rd world war

the rise of the right across europe in the recent elections is a bit scary - when you look at their sophistication, but also their historically rooted, and yet mutated motives, the psychic resonance with the past is worrying:

1. we were all ripped off by the international bankers - we (e.g. Precariat and Middle Class) bore the brunt of the (nonsense) austerity measures, when productivity and risk in the real world were good, and only the casino banks were really in trouble - instead of solidarity against the old school evils of untrammelled capitalism, we now have the spectre of the far right who are anti-intellectual (sorry, but I doubt they've read Daniel Kahneman or Thomas Pikkety)...couple with

2. the enemy is no longer the banker who is a jew, but the muslim who has become a fanatic. Who made him that fanatic? We did, but not objecting to the demonisation that the Blair/Bush new liberal nutters unleashed on our behalf

Reading The Muslims are coming and The French Intifada, for example, one can see that this was by no means inevitable. Even now, some peace and reconciliation process is conceivable. But not by the new righter-than-right by any means. These guys are much more dangerous than they realize.

Who has really failed us? both the small "c" conservatives and the liberal left. Both have been obsessed either with the axis of evil, or running scared of the IMF. Both are spineless, gutless, and (in the words of Marx) we should combat their liberalism as it has led to this appalling state of affairs and affairs of state, and it is not funny.

I predict more than a riot.

Friday, April 25, 2014

creeping precariousness

reading the precariat charter and its increasingly obvious why the usual tension between conservative and socialist parties is failing everyone. to translate this into UK University "employee" terms, the increasing casualisation (e.g. uncertain contracts of research assistants, unspecified hours/duties of faculty, not to mention anciliary staff - e.g. in our canteen on zero hour contracts) isn't being fought by any political incumbent group...

pathetic lip service by the tories and even more pathetic by labour, just doesn't cut it-

here's a simple example why even (what Guy Standing calls the "Salariat") the senior academics aren't immune from this creeping evil:-

each year, I fill in a Time Allocation Survey, where I  am given a random week to choose, and I write down the hours I spend on a variety of tasks, loosely grouped into teaching, research, administration, including preparation etc

so then this is collated and normalized to some standard euro-week (e.g. 37.5 hours) to avoid revealing the fact that we're working more than legal hours (under working time directive etc)  - for me, I can't find a week in the last 10 years of filling in these forms where I see less than 65 hours.

I don't mind "working" 65 hours  - actually, (as per Standing's book) a lot of this time is "ludic" or something some people wouldn't regard as work, but do pay me ok for - on the other hand, a bunch of stuff people do regard as work (pointless timesheets for euro projects) is not accounted for in my list of duties

lets not even get started on billing my time on research contracts

then there's the erosion not just of our salaries, but of the terms&conditions (e.g. pension scheme - our pathetic union bargained away parity with civil service and medics 25+ years ago in exchange for retaining a final salary pension - well, good luck with that thin end of the wedge, and that's going too slowly).

The conservatives who welcome this flexibility do so under some false notion that the ability to move jobs at a moments notice, or be moved, more like, means people are motivated to work harder - no evidence whatsoever of that - the uncertainty just means people spend more time worried/stressed, which is the opposite of conducive to effective thinking/working.

The socialists think that everyone should be doing labour, and have no respect for the fact that most people spend most their time doing things that matter, but aren't 19th century industrial revolution style factory-make-work any more, so the majority of our effort (e.g. caring for relatives, counciling stressed colleagues, helping plan stuff, clearing up after a staff party) is not accounted its social value.

The charter (linked above) calls for a new Voice for this (i.e. a renewal of collectives that can speak (and presumably bargain) for us - this is interesting - the various movements (indignados, occupy etc) are namechecked as emergent pieces that might lead to such a thing, which would be good - one thing (seeing the many people going through UK University right now, exiting with debts higher than I ever had in my life, with, in some cases, several years of unemployed or unpaid employment to look forward to), the constituency for such a movement is not  the proletariat anymore (if there's much left of such a thing anyhow), but contains a large fraction of pretty well educated people (even more so in, say, Spain and Greece).

Interesting times....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Global Eyes-ation & Stuff

Latest readings from the University of Fenland include:
1. How to rebuild the world from "scratch" if not everyone and everything is destructed:- The "knowledge", but not for london cabbies:)

2. Arguably more useful, and certainly more, how to cook&eat your way around the cuisines of the world - a bit quirky, in the best possible way, and v. funny
The Edible Woman^H^H^H Atlas

3. Do you know the origins of the terms Bear and Bull, as in markets? It seems no-one is sure, but it seems also that they correlate with Anabolic and Catabolic
processes in the human body, in a Bad Way, (as in the oscilliation between dog and wolf (Quebecois for Crepuscule too - entre chien et loup)) - read
the dog ate my home loan:)

4. Any book that accuses the labour party of a century of stupidity, but is somewhere to the left of karl marx must be worth a read - this is better than that - its radical in the best possible way:
feeling precarious?

5. Barely fictionalised accounts from the front line returnees - this is the effect:
redployed

6. while this is most of the cause - a cause not worth fighting for at all - the muslims aint....coming, that is

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bibliometrics and Science - Failure to Understand the Basics of the Discovery Process

SO I've read yet another well meaning article on bibliometrics (like the H-Index) and why they might be ok for evaluating groups or sub-disciplines (disagree) but they are definitely not ok to evaluate individuals (agree, but for different reason).

This time, this paper on Bibliometric Indicators of Young Authors in Astrophysics: Can Later Stars be Predicted? hit the twittersphere, hence caught my attention.

Look, all these papers treat the research publications world like some high school statistics project. Ok, why not raise the game a bit.

Let's suppose that scientific discovery is a complex natural phenomenon. Let's suppose there is such a thing as progress :-)

OK so what would the time series of discovery look like? My simple minded hypothesis is that it is (like many other natural processes in a complex world) a self-similar arrival process.
So how do we characterise such a time series? well, it isn't captured in a single statistic like "mean", or even two (mean + variance) - the point of such, essentially fractal structures in time, is that they are characterised by very complex descriptors, and, crucially, prediction is hard - exactly why the weather, and associated phenonomena like flooding, and volcanic eruptions, are hard to predict on an individual basis, although, collectively, we can model broad trends. Surprise surprise (literally and figuratively:)

So science doesn't depend on a random walk in a well structured but sparse or even poisson point random space, where walking faster gets you more results. Nor does success depend on hard work (more sweat, more kudos). While a slightly more random walk might get you an inherently more surprising result, it isn't necessarily going to yield more results. And more work only pays off after the discovery, when you want to present it properly (I am sure history is littered with holes made out of discoveries that were cool, but so badly reported they were ignored and lost).

So predicting the next big discovery by a specific scientist is a bit like saying that a raindrop is going to fall on a particular rain gauge at a particular minute of a specific hour on a special day. OK if you are the bookie setting the odds, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

writing like its in the bag

there's this type of informal writing that just missing the goal, the target, like it wants to enagge with you visciously, but the speaker hasn't quite got the peg to hag the metaphor upon, and some words are just de trop, perhaps naive manque.

normally, as if there is such an as if, the problem comes around to framing, err, the problem - sometimes, the audience is abused, left holding their misapprehensions in their handbags, but usually, its just that the writer can't. that is. write. for sh. it stand's to reason, isn;t it, that some people just don't have the gift of the grab-all, the momentricious blue steel glare made of pure glyphtitude, that indietinguished suits you SIR epidemic enthusiasm for exapansionist gestures. oh dear, there i gove again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Towards an Inviolable Internet

Resilience and Privacy - Jon Crowcroft 18.3.2014

Building an inviolable Internet

1. We want generational computing:-

Sublime reason
i) According to Vikram Chandra (geek sublime) there are 300,000 Sanskrit manuscripts
on palm leaves...  vanishing at the rate of several a day due to corrosion

Trivial pursuits...
ii) my life bits  - formats, kids - grandma's degree from st Petersburg 1971 etc


=> Resilience - tolerant to faults/flaws -> Integrity

2. We need information resource availability and correctness "5 nines" & better:

Seriously
i) the internet is my memory bank
my house deeds
my bank
my shopping
utility controls

Trivially
ii) and a source of end of endless pub disputes about facts

=> Availability

3. We have been sold centralised systems (the Cloud)
which aren't incented to do 1 or 2....

i). we can suddenly lose data if a central company goes broke (loss of generation)
ii) our DSL line is down or cell phone coverage is poor...(loss of availability too)

4. We'd like Confidentiality - privacy....(why - see later)

Trivially
i) Central cloud services are tempted to mission creep
targeted adverts and analytics (market research undermine confidentiality
accidental breaches leak massive data sets to the entire world

ii) Government mission creep leads to massive surveillance


Q. Are there alternatives?
A. Yes

1. Encrypt all human related data when stored as well as when transmitted
=> trustworthy encryption software
=> key management complexity
=> can we extend encryption to "safe" processing?

2a. Own the storage - whether in home, pocket or cloud
=> payment if centralised [because central cloud server no longer has analytics/advert revenue)
=> what are costs?
actually, a lot less than you think -
take google+facebook revenue/number of users (conservative (high) estimate
=> 3 euro per month  << internet access bill for broadband or cellular
=> could bundle with network access
=> Problem - central site is still open to
Coercion, Corruption, Connivance with Big Bad Agencies...
(coerce to weaken crypto or reveal keys etc etc), so how to tackle that...next, decentralize:
2b. alternative:
Decentralise - i.e. peer to peer
=> what are the incentives?
actually mutual benefit, but
could pay (much less than 2a, due to lack of need for big servers
soem electricity cost increase to home server (<< 2a)
=> what are risks?
store some other person's bad or embarrassing data
encrypt
=> efficiency
interesting approach is to "code" data so k/n is sufficient to recover all
much lower overhead than central (full) copies
=> Mutually Assured Destruction
Eternity service was envisaged e.g. to store
e.g. BBC + VOA + Al Jazeera on same servers
can't remove one without removing all:)

3. regulatory, legal and economic  control of breaches (sever penalties)
you would have different terms & conditions with central encrypted storage provider
or peers...


4. Ethics:- "You have nothing to hide, so you have nothing to fear"
This statement is nonsense -
The problem is that something on the Internet is not just not hidden,
it is effectively broadcast. This is problematic

a). Social
It is human nature to present different persona to different people
Removing this right is psychologically toxic

People have different points of view - this is normal

b) Personal
We live and learn - we have the right to make mistakes
(even to commit crimes and misdemeanours)
and have them forgotten (mainly) - many such
"embarrassments" -
minor drugs offences, terminated pregnancies
treatment for STDs, depression

c) Government (and law) change

Do you want to go back to the chill of not discussing socialism in McCarthy era USA (the real cold war)?

or civil rights in southern states?

or workers rights in 1930s England?

or if you are right wing libertarian, the removal of coal miners excessive union power under Thatcher?

or the government of South Africa having discussions with  Mandela in prison about handover of power , or of England with IRA about northern Ireland peace agreement?

d) Who polices police?
LovInT incidents

Worse - again, one click leak of all data  -
could release location of abused partners
to dangerous men, or of people under witness protection programmes
or of information that was gathered for intelligence,
but not intended as meeting laws of evidence (i.e. insufficient
for court, but bad enough for newspaper).

Conclusion.

Recent revelations mean that the governments (esp. of UK and US) have
"weaponised the Internet" against civil society.
They have broken the social contract about
what is reasonable to do, and the Internet must be fixed

To do so will mean that it becomes much harder for government agencies to track genuine bad guys - this is their fault - had they stayed within bounds of lawful intercept and civil society's understanding of that, there would have been no need to make the Internet and the Cloud inviolable.

The NSA and GCHQ  have forced that requirement on civil society and will have to work with the consequences. That is, after all, their job.