Friday, November 01, 2019

undercover hippy parents

I'm beginning to suspect my parents were really not just slightly bohemian, but full on crazy 60s hippies in disguise. My dad was hardly ever out of a suit, even gardening or DIY at weekends, and my mum was dressed as if to go to the Albert hall to give a performance (which she did from time to time upon the Pianoforte).

But, then they took me to Hydra in about 1968, where i was told to sing by leonard cohen (see this brilliant film of leonard cohen and his muse marianne. And then they took me to this show at the ICA on robots and dance&music Cybernetics Seredipity. And to the Notting Hill carnival where we walked & danced at the front of the main parade. And then to see Hair in London. And my dad was an expert witness in the cases against Oz, IT and the Little Red Book. And my mum had a standup argument with Pierre Boulez in the Pompidou center about aesthetics. And we used to go to parties at the roof garden at Biba now closed, alas . then they nearly sent me to Bedales school, though i ended up a day boy at westminster - if you think that that is straight, let me tell you Shane Mcgowan from the pogues was there at same time.

This explains a lot...

Saturday, October 26, 2019

pagan rituals in modern government - parting gifts and

halloween 31/10 - the most imminent opportunity  for demonstrative postures and dedications of burned bridges and other votive offerings. sadly, since the avatars of the gods celebrated on this hollowed day have no corporate existence (they're ghosts, mum), the mess is left on the altar overnight and has to be cleaned up the next morning by migrant workers.

yule dec 21 - not yet repurposed on the calender by the fathers of Avalon or the Brothers of Blighty, nor the Sisters of the Smoke, but a likely date for burying bad news. As usual, more recent rituals will be used as a cover for darker movements.

candlemas fire festival feb 1 - unlike the new kid on the block of nov 5, feb 1 is the original date to appease the fire goddess. It hasn't impinged on the consciousness of the wickermen yet, but it looks like a likely backstop for an inferno of vanities - favourites to be burned at the altar are blond adulterers and latinate pedants.

vernal equinox - mar 20 spring - hope eternal as days and nights are of nearly equal length on this day - at stonehenge at noon, we will find the 24 hours divided into 48% moonlight and 52% sunlight. or is it the other way around? ancient stones do not lie, but they are not very accurate for casting runes, so we often find haruspication employed for precision prediction. The Hare, of course, needs be most afraid for its longevity at this time.

Le Poisson d'Avril - the original leavings, passed, almost without comment. More fool us.

May day went unemployed completely last time around. Perhaps this was to confound any mythos of nominative determinism?

midsummer jun 24 is, according to english heritage, when people look for lost property as the sun aligns over the megaliths and messes up everyone's selfies.

lammas aug 1 - i won't visit the space shoes of the gods again here, but suffice it to say that lammas would make an excellent time to find yourself on a greek island, or perhaps Sicily where the unusual use of umbrellas originated in Phoenicia to keep of the plagues of frogs and locusts and save them for dinner for the Grain Mother.

Harvest festival/autumnal equinox sep 22 - this of course, is now cancelled due to the lack of fruit pickers able to bring in the harvest.

Friday, October 18, 2019

i'm typing this on a 2009 Macbook running macOS Sierra connected to eduroam and then on the computer lab vlan, with a kerberos ticket so that I can access the department filer using NFS securely.
this is mostly so i can upload the picture below, which is a screengrab of my calendar as viewed in calcurse, a neat app that lets you graphically browse your calendars on a "dumb" terminal, which I often use (well, ok, a terminal emulation running a shell via ssh). The reason i look at my calendar that way is that it is a lot clearer than if I use the fancy calendar apps on OSX or android, or web based ones - this got worse in recent years when I started working in the Turing Institute where, like many "hi-tech" institutes, for mysterious reasons all the admin is done using microsoft office (365/Azure based or with web access or whatever). So I'm forced to use an Outlook calendaring system there. Luckily, it is possible to integrate this with one's Google calendar (yes, I have one of these too) and I can then export all the iCal data to a file and synch it via the filer in Cambridge. I can also synch outlook&google direct.

I also have a simple ascii text file in my home directory, which (derives from v6 Unix days) has a date in a standard unix string form at the start of each line - back in the day, Unix had a cron entry that e-mailed you anything in lines with matching dates for yesterday/today/tomorrow, as a todo reminder (this is 1970s tech, of course - still works, but now I have a perl script that translates the text file daily into iCal, and then I synch it to Google and then Outlook synchs that.

All of this is running in cloud servers running in data centers with millions of cores clocked at several Ghz each, and many petabytes of storage, connected by networks running at 10s or even 100s of Gbps, yeah, even as far as the 1Gbps wired ethernet to my desktop in my office.
That desktop used to be a 17" Macbook pro, which worked fine, but cannot run even OSX Sierra (despite being slightly younger than this Macbook, which can) due to Apple mysteriously not supporting that hardware in that OS version. who knows why - all i needed was the kerberized NFS.

So in a cupboard at home I found an 8-year old 15" Macbook pro which supports High Sierra, so I connect that to eduroam; need signon to the lab VLA; need signon; to the kerberos ticket server; need another sign on; to lab db servers (need another signon) =land now my desktop is ok.

So now on all these machines, with super fast cores (even the 10yr old machbook i am typing on has 100Mpbs and two 2.4Ghz cores) and a nice screen and NVideo GEForce graphics etc

and I mostly type text and look at my ascii calender.
it worked fine on the MHz PdP-11 44 with 2Mbytes of memory, a 10Mbps cambridge ring, and a glass TTY connected to a 19.2kbps serial port.

Where did we all go wrong?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

we are all mechanical turkeys

When Amazon setup the Mechanical Turk, they were making a play on the fake, chess playing robot, and of course, being ironic, in more ways than they realized (or less, given Ed Byrne's excellent observational humour). Like much of the gig economy, in this post-work world in which we find ourselves not living (despite labour saving devices reducing the need for farmers and builders and factory workers to a %age of what they once were), the mech turk represents exploitation by the owners of the means of production - the peoples' labour is only worth anything because of amazon's vast global platform. However, they (and uber and deliveroo etc) don't represent the pinnacle of the achievement of post-truth capitalism. That prize is won by the cloud services that give you nothing for your labour, your likes and reposts and retweets and the rest. Don't mistake that work for a social interaction with your friends/peers. Mostly, it is part of a system that is engineered to deliver things to you so you can train The Algorithm. The Algorithm is not an AI (artificial intelligence). It is simply a machine, learning from our behaviour. It isn't even a very clever machine. It doesn't typically learn to play chess. It just tunes what it delivers next time to everyone so it can earn advertising revenue for The Platform, when it manages to (fairly badly - e.g. 98% accurately) recommend stuff to people who could have just asked their friends.

Why doesn't it pay you for your labour? Because we are all mechanical turkeys. Like the legendary birds who were told about Thanksgiving Feasts being such a great social occasion for all the family, so fattening up, so they can be that feast, voting for Christmas too, we are the fodder. We are not the produce, we are the produce. We are the livestock, that fattens up the Softstock, to maximise shareholder value for the platform owners. It may look like chickenfeed to us, but it is a whole hill of beans to them.

Of course, the side effects are appalling. This is a rubbish way to do non-creative work, consuming vast amounts of energy running The Algorithm. I Think I shall refer to it from now on as the Artificial Dumber Downer. Take the collective intelligence of the human race, and create something less intelligent than the most stupid person in the population. And fool almost all the people, almost all the time while doing it. And take the money and walk to the bank, don't run.

Monday, August 19, 2019


Dave was really worried. the latest batch of SSD he'd received to put in the server farm was turning up way lower capacity than the last one. What was wrong? He zoomed some friends in friendly cloud providers, but found it hard to hear what they were saying. He ran some error diagnostics on the storage systems - weird, the bad blocks were all over the place, then the diagnostic tool crashed. He tried to reboot the SDN controller net and then tried a re-install. Nothing worked.

Luckily, he had an old AM radio tuned to a local rock classic station that played vinyl only. He tried to find a news station, but they all seemed to be down. so was all the internet. He went outside and got on his bike and cycled over to see some friends on stanford campus who have a clue. They were all hunched over a scope looking at the waves off of a probe.

"Hi Dave, look at this" they said pointing at the very wavy line on the old screen. "It looks like we can't see truth and falsity anymore" they quipped - indeed, it seemed as if the laws of physics had subtly altered so that electronics that distinguished "1" and "0" could no longer do so reliably.

"we're not in a binary world anymore, dave" said the trans in charge of the lab, semi-humourously.
"I wonder if this is because of those experiments Q was doing last week", suggested encrico.
"Q? the guy who's been pushing the bounds on eliminating de-coherence effects, probably" asked dave. "yeah, so we think that what her experiment actually does is to rapdily switch which universe we are all in so that the QC she's using is usually right. The problem is it now means that everything else is frequently wrong"

"Well that about wraps it up for computer science, doesn't it, surely?, asked dave.
"oh no - one quantum computer should be sufficient for everything we ever want to do again", quipped TJ. "so like Q - do or die". "no, god doesn't play die".

Saturday, August 03, 2019

polar bot extinction

Some smart folks at Warwick have done some very large scale analysis of digitized
historical texts and more specifically to this post here, polarization in political speeches and surveys showing perhaps unsurprising things like war correlates with falls in GDP and falls in happiness, but also that (at least in the US) there's a marked diversification of political opinion in the disappearing center of politics, while the "leaders" concentrate at the poles, the behaviour by the larger population is more akin to anarchy.

what this suggests is that, over a sequence of political tweets, one might expect a bot to take a consistent position on a bag of topics, but a human to show lack of adherence to a party (pole) position. a very light (LDA is probably overkill) approach to the set of tweets should see the divergence of real people from the political would be interesting to compare this with more complex (e.g. deep learning) approaches.

One problem for the party machine is that they cannot significantly dilute or randomize the belief tropes they exhibit for fear of losing cult followers, so one should be able to filter (unfollow/mute, whatever) them permanently, fairly effectively - certainly, anecdotally, this is what i see in the twittersphere. e.g. in recent politics in the UK, accounts that are high probability bots (low lifetime, small follower cadre, auto-timing retweets etc) also bundle together beliefs (e.g. with brexit, goes "NHS health tourism" "the UK is too crowded with immigrants" and cliche/propaganda phrases like "take back control" and "soveriegnty" etc - so need to take each of these sources over some number of successive tweets and compare with known non-bots to see if real people are more diverse - i think they will turn out to be so. if it works for speeches, should work for microblogging and social media too...

Friday, July 26, 2019

Myth and Magic in Senior Academic Promotion Processes

of course, the origins are lost in a dim past of Mesopotamia, with the ritual sacrifices and rites of the Ur god of wisdom, Bloki, often drawn with his glance akimbo, holding the chisel with which he will inscribe the third review on the hierophant's forehead.

There is certainly no truth in the scurrilous rumour that there is any sexual element to the procedure, nor is there a cat called Taboo (at least, not any more).

But there is a room, above a vortex.

There are boiled sweets.

And there are huge cauldrons full of scalding black liquid.

That is all I can say, as I have been sworn to secrecy, although perhaps I will confirm that all numbers are forbidden in the room, being instead replaced with the bouquet of fine wines, and discernment between the merely vernacular, and the supernacular is an essential skill amongst the cabal.