Friday, February 05, 2016

Cambridge University's Sustainability as world leader?

Three things lead me to question the sanity of the powers that be in Cambridge University

First of all, always recall that there is no Cambridge University. It is an emergent phenomenon, a hologram made visible only through the lens of the Scholars, the Colleges and the Departments.

The Colleges are a mix zone, where social things happen, and housing, care and feeding of scholars occurs. Departments do research and teach. At least they have been for 800 years. This is all changing, very very quickly, without any evident thought of the unintended consequences.

1. Pay

I'm not complaining, but note bene - I am paid 2 bands up in the prof scale in recognition of being FRS and FREng. However, in Cambridge, what this translates into is that I am paid below the average professorial salary in the top 20 universities (ranked by pay) in the UK - these are'nt dodgy universities but include most of Cambridge's direct competitors. See
this tool if you want to check (and infer my pay:-)

Does this matter? sure;y the honour of working for cambridge is enough? sure, if you can live in Cambridge, or near enough in commute terms (strictly within 12 miles of Gt St Mary's church spire, or an hour's horse ride, originally) - good luck with that - and the modern scholar isn't a lone monk. They have a family, kids etc - the colleges no longer accommodate them. Nor do many of them work near a college so even dropping in for lunch is pretty unlikely.

2. Land Use

the university is hell bent on filling in all the gaps down by the station leading out to Addenbrookes Hosptial, and out in west cambridge, leading to the M11. Yes, we need more new good lab space. We also like the environment of Cambridge (elegant old buildings surrounded by park space like Midsummer Common, or Parker's Piece, or the Botanical Gardens). So why do we have to put up with this vandalism ? This includes stupid failures to even think about wind tunnel effects (we're in Cambridge with horizontal freezing rain on some days. How nice is that?).

3. Transport

Transport around Cambridge is ok (by bike) but useless if you live in an outlying village and have to drive in (and your kids to school). Compare with london - where people can get around....although they might have to live in Plaistow for an affordable home on a london academic salary...

house price by london tube station

So there will be jobs in lots of high rise buildings no-one can afford to live near, can't commute to and don't like. No shops, restaurants, pubs, green space, school, nurseries, adequate bike routes, etc etc

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mass Observations

today I finished a 2nd book on Mass Observation

Book the 2nd was Worktown subtitled nicely "The Astonishing Story of the Project that Launched Mass-Observation", by David Hall

Book the 1st was Dark Matter&the Dinosaurs, subtitled The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe

Both of course are beautifully written accounts, one of the working class in 1930s Bolton, in their every day life, and the other of every day life&death at the end of the Jurassic amonst giant lizards.
Both are ended by dark events, the first by the 2nd world war, the second, by a 10km radius comet that struck the Yucatan coast at 20 Kilometers a second and wiped put about 85% of life on earth.

Both contain interesting theories, but more interestingly, make commentary on methodology- the first is on how to infer new possible models for the Cosmos based on very indirect obsservations - the second, based on how to understand everyday working people based on overheard conversations in the pub.

Both include a lot of sex as well, which is surprising, in a good way.

Monday, November 09, 2015

dangerous cult movement

people may have noticed (although they could be forgiven for not) that I've joined the movemberment

Little did I realize that this is a subtle and devious way to get people to look rediculous (more than white middle aged men with dreadlocks, or comb overs) and indulge in very expensive habits but also to need to seek relationship counselling and other support to cope with their loss of self esteem.

the whole moustache thing is incredibly competitive, mad and macho (mostly)

and while it may be literally truem I cannot say it is growing on me, figuratively.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

cambridge goes west

so i've dipped my toe into cambridge (including the river) twice in 5 decades -

first time was traditional experience of being at Trinity College, living right in
the middle of it all surrounded by the full on college and university expeirences of social and academic life mingling via the rich, messy ways they do.

the second time has been very department-centric, in the computer lab just after (15 years ago) it moved to the newly occupied West Cambridge site.
At first, this was a great experience, still zooming back to town for events in college(s) and doing formal halls here there and everywhere, attending seminars on everything under the sun (and the far side of the universe). Excellent.

However, in the past few years, West cambridge has gotten more and more distant from town, and has become more and more of a hi-tech island, isolated from the University, indeed, from time to time, almost cut off by buidling work As I type, the normal cycle/footpath route into town is blocked (and has been for months) by annoying building work o nthe new physics of medicine building. Plans for new bus ways to Cambourne look all set to massacre the area again. The proposal to fill in the Paddock in front of the Vet School threatens us with a wind tunnel (without recourse to the nearby Whittle lab) and no greenery to stare at when lost in thought, and yet more glass/metal buildings, hey, we might as well be in downtown Cambridge Massachusetts, not rural Cambridgeshire, England. West Cambridge, 15 years in, still has zero shops, zero restaurants, zero social spaces worth talking about, zero pubs, zero Cambridge style. It is pretty terrible.

The treatment of the (I believe) 3000 or so people that work and study here is 2nd class - I do not hold out a lot of hope that future developments will prioritize people - they will be about "impressive" builds (stupidly, given we don't have the money to compete on that basis with the likes of Harvard or MIT), rather than nurturing the social, the heterogeneous, messy, cultural weirdness that makes Cambridge University what it is (or should I say was, as it is vanishing).

This is not a good thing. And I am not saying this coz I am unhappy here - its great. It is just not as great as it was in several ways.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

True Cycling Advice

1. turn left on red at 4-way (take a cue from the US) -
i) make sure no cyclists are trying to cut on your inside
ii) make sure no cars going across (it is their right of way)
(check there's no filter light for oncoming to turn right!)
iii) make sure no pedestrians, pets or children within 10 meters
iv) make sure no boy racer nutter is acccelerating behind you to turn left the nanosecond the lights go amber
v) just go.

2. going ahead a t a junction when light is red -
i) Make sure no pedex action
ii) make sure no trucks with extra wide loads crossing
iii) if green box, go to far edge
iv) if yellow box, go about 20% into it
v) when no traffic crossing, just go

3. there are laws, then there's reality:
90% of car drivers ignore green box (its same as yellow box for them)
50% of car drivers turning turning either way fail to signal

this doesn't justify anything, but sure makes you feel less bad:)

4. always have good visibility clothes,
and reasonable (not ultrabright) lights.

and make sure your brakes work.

and own the road space (lane) you are in,
don't hog the kerb, or the parked cars.

everything else on the bike is optional.

5. if you see bad car/bus/taxi driver behaviour
and have a camera (phone)
and feel like you want to take a picture to have evidence
to give (to police, or your mum or your pet cat)
check your escape routes, as some drivers become violent
when their evil is being outed.

cycle carefully.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Peer Production and Post Capitalism - between snark & a boojum

Reading about Post Capital and the proposal by Paul Mason to restructure society around peer production to get rid of the:Precariat which appears not to be able to rise up, on account of Acquiescence causing all such occupy/indignados movements to fizzle out, despite the rediculously offensive Capital++ details.
(indeed, there's a whole other blog entry to be written about how the post modern disruption by surkov is remarkably similar to the US employment of shock doctrine, and the EU follows like a poodle....

Anyhow, I have to disagree with Mason's key idea, which seems to be based on the same false premise as Charles Stross' accelerando, that information markets can exponentiate in "value", and have zero marginal costs, so replace capital or labour systems of value.

The problem is that you cannot eat or drink bits. Bits of information do not fend off rain, snow, tides or enemies. Knowledge doesn't keep you warm, although it may reduce the chances you catch diseases.
The problem is that a knowledge economy is built on the same quicksand and lime as the whole financial service industry - indeed, the financial service instruments are exactly that - pieces of (often faulty) knowledge (algorithms for trading), that do not link either to time (labour) or wealth (capital). In the end, humans have to trade time for money, or money for time.

Plus Mason makes no proposal to solve the social inertia, that humans are either driven by greed (for more toys) or by altruism (wish to be liked == greed for more social capital). A new economy needs to have a sound social basis. Even Russell Brand had at least a better stab at that. Maybe we could just revisit socialism (with modern technology) and see how syndicalism might be made to work (it nearly did in Spain until Franco backed, by the Nazis and unopposed by the Brits or the Russians for shameful reasons, killed it. In a modern world, such a movement might be able to resist the IMF.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Turing Institute for Data Science

trying to work out which of these two pictures will represent the sort of work the ATI will do most

1/ tamagochi hive mind
2/ astro turf wars

answers on a post card...