Thursday, November 17, 2016

christmas special show pitch

while you're all here, maybe you could review my pitch for a christmas
special for a certain long running tv

The real reason the Millenium bridge[1] had to be closed shortly after it
was opened
was that it turned out that it was not just wobbly - it was wibbly[2] too.

Early signs something was a miss was when walking across the bridge
we found ourselves looking across at the earlier London bridges from
time to time, e.g. 50AD, 1209, 1831 etc, or even bridges over rivers on other systems --

We now know that there's a beautiful suspension bridge of sighs over the
chasm of oblivion on a gas giant circling Altair V, or, nearer to home,
the short crossing over the ornamental pond in the Palazzo Schifanoia in 1477.

The trouble really started when it seemed the bridge did not just go from the
Tate Modern to Saint Paul's Cathedral, but to many other worlds as well.
And if we could go there, they could come here. And some of them would
confuse art with religion, sometimes wilfully.

This had to be stopped and there was only one gallifreyan for the job...


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The European Onion - A New Start.

I'm proposing that the UK start a new global movement which for want of a better name I am calling the European Onion (the EO, not entirely unconnected with the excellent american satyrical magazine of similar name). This is quite a serious proposal

Starting with (say) England, Estonia and Greece (for example) we would create a new set of technology based systems of governance.

1. Digital citizenship - based on the estonian system, you can choose levels of citizenship, and pay towards them appropriately - for example, non resident can have some rights, but to get healthcare, you need to be resident and pay tax (or have unemployment insurance, which you may have a right to depending on past history) - this might permit scotland to "stay" in the EU and be part of the UK, whilst England and Wales would be part of some new systems (the bootstrap citizenships of the EO).

2. Currency - a new digital currency, perhaps based on something like rscoin (etherium variant), with various incentive systems, and ability to be used both anonymously, and as an identified part of a distributed ledger, and with the capability to carry tax towards something (e.g. local, or regional, or towards some group affiliation - e.g. a legacy nation or federation, or a new clave).

3. Free movement of people, goods and services will be determined both by the block chain, and by some peering or customer/provider relationships (see "Border Gateway Protocol" bgp) - geographic regions have various local properties (land, resources, schools, hospitals, work, entertainment etc), and can support given populations - movement of people is obviously often beneficial, but on varying timescales - new infrastructure has to be included in the cost, so if an area supports ingress of people, the source of those people has to contribute to the cost of new infrastructure - of course, if the source had contributed (e.g. education) then that has to be factored in to the ingress cost in a fair/balanced way. Peering regions (or legacy nations, e,g, countries staying in the old EU) would have simple free movement, whereas in the new system (the EO) we would have checks and balances.

4. Virtualized Jurisdiction allows complex, nested and intersecting rules to be applied to any relationship between individuals and groups. Legacy jurisdictions (e.g. constitutional systems in legacy nations) can be factored in, but new arrangements can be made - for example, this would be a way to allow Northern Ireland and the Republic to keep an open border and the free movement of people with free residential rights in england (and maybe scotland and wales - depends on them) and voting rights. It would be just like contract law is today, when, for example, companies setting up business relationships (e.g.) between Hong Kong and London might choose to agree that any disagreement is settled under law in New York. Except that we can make up new jurisdictions based in new groupings and new mixes. This could include virtual extradition, border control, tax and criminal law. And rules about surveillance and sousveillance by different groups..

5. Information flow control can be applied using rules similar to Wikipedia, to allow transparent evolution of news and educational material, but to prevent monopoly ownership of sources of verifiable facts and methods.

6. Intellectual property is just another part of the previous rules.

7. The systems will be evolvable - for example, at the least, we could expect new rules to emerge in the currency, jurisdiction and flow control arenas - the DAO stands still for no clave.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The EU didn't exactly help....

...very much - so this current debate is (I think) multi-faceted, but much of the heat is because people are "fed up with this or that" - what are these "thises or thats"?

well, one person puts it down to precarity of the working class. Actually, i think that that is definitely one of the this. but not just for working classes - the middle classes too - we have lost ground on quality of life, but also on predictable futures - this comes from many things - threats to our future in terms of health and welfare, in terms of our kids chances at schools, universities, housing, in terms of our job and personal security, and so on and so forth.

people want to blame someone, so they picked on the elephant in the room - the EU.

however, the roots of our precarity lie elsewhere - from Thatcher (and Reagan) seting in place monetarist policy and deregulating financial services, dismantling our manufacturing industries, and weaking workers rights (unions). Through Blair (and Clinton) doing nothing to reign in the rampant privatization of many state services that actually worked ok. On to Clegg (and Cameron) failing to remove the unelected upper house and failing to remove university fees, and failing to re-regulate the finance sector, and failing to do much about the axis of evil created by Blair  (and Bush) boys own adventures in war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. and on to Osbourne (but not Obama) Austerity programme, with no house building (despite having half a million polish builders ready and waiting) and reduction in real welfare and salaries of state sector and reduction in local government (education, policing, housing) democracy (voting people in who have no money is kind of pointless - which is why a vote for brexit is really really dumb - you'll get poor neo-liberals, which is even worse than rich ones).

So the EU did little to help. Indeed, the troika's stomping on any attempt to fight back against the banks (and loans to ireland, portugal, greece) removed what little fig-leaf of democratic power we thought there still was.

That said, the EU didn't cause any of the above in the first place, and in many ways may have mitigated the harm - it is hard to tell, but my guess is that the overall stability (people shouting about eurozone crisis completely fail to take account of the longevity of the success of the zone, and the trade agreements) has been a force for good that reduced the damage done by all those previous stupidities, which we did. The UK. us. not germany. not france, italy, spain. not the EU. Thatcher. Blair. Clegg. The tories. labour. the lib dems. the brits.

shame on us.

we need the EU to damp down our very own madness.

Monday, June 13, 2016

cognitive dissonance of "balanced" reporting

here's a typical example of "balance" in reporting where the BBC basically completely confuses the reader - in covering the speech (not yet made) by GOrdon Brown, their webpage has five other points, randomly including a fear campaign/gravy train comment from the EC President, a commercial concern (with a union) worrying about business and jobs, a (probably dodgy) prediction of immigration numbers (i.e. 5M more people - wonder where the houses for them wil lcome from eh? and a statement from a tory and labour leader about the campaign....not one of these points is actually germane to Brown's speech, but you could be forgiven for not being able to make use of any of this information in any reasoned response to the referendum vote decision, since it is presented so uncritically, and randomly. Very very poor journalism, whichever way you're voting.
for this example...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nobody likes a quitter...

Probably unsurprisingly, I shall be voting to remain in the EU - I am flying back early from a trip to HK especially so I can vote in person.


Firstly because the vast majority of what has happened in the European Union has benefited most people enormously, from increased peace and prosperity to better health and happiness.
Given the flaws (plenty) are fixable, and there are plenty of people willing to work on them, I think
the experiment should continue. The last 8 years has seen turmoil in the economy and in the movement of people. It is simply incorrect to blame the EU for these. The banking fiasco started in the US and infected the UK (and notably, Iceland), and because of poor policies on housing in Spain and Ireland, they took a beating. The Greeks got in a mess, and the EU tried to help probably in the wrong way, and still is trying. But notice this. Most of the economies survived and indeed started recovery, despite some obnoxious national austerity policies. The EU has not crashed and burned.
And the migrant crisis that has hit us was from the war in Syria (and Eritrea and Yemen, etc etc) - not caused by the EU, but the opposite - many in the EU are trying to help. How is this not a reason to celebrate our resilience and humanity? 5M refugees would represent less than 1% of the population of the EU, not only not a significant burden, but a contribution -- as is the free EU labour movement, where people go through all the upheaval of moving country/language/housing, schools, to better themselves, and therefore to better the nation they arrive in. I work with people in many places across Europe (Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, at least) and it has been a pleasure, I hope that can continue. I've been in Paris, Brussels and Helsinki for example, more than once each this year already. I just see great things happening all around there. The sky is not falling. We receive students from all these places and more - both when I was at UCL and now in Cambridge, and it is great that it is not such a hassle for them to come here as it would be were the EU not to be there, or we not to be  a part. Or for us to go there - to work or study or retire. There are so many things to like, so few to dislike, in reality. Our quality of life (when I compare it with being a kid in the 60s and teenager in the 70s) is amazingly better. This is in no small part due to being part of the world's largest social, economic and cultural union. It is fantastic.

Why would I not?

I've already written on this blog about the leave campaign. It is often intellectually dishonest concerning the reasons for leaving, and almost completely bankrupt in terms of any actual  longterm strategy about what to do after an exit by our lone island. Many consequences (likely dismantling of the UK as Scotland leave) are dismissed. Problems creating trade agreements as the 5th largest economy, instead of being part of the largest, are bizarrely claimed to be non-existent. Recognition of the enormous benefits for us to go there, as well as people to come here is absent. The wealth of culture that we inhabit as a part, the fact that the UK is in any case a mongrel nation and English a mongrel language and indeed, one of the most successful at absorbing/integrating just about anything and mutating it into something better  - these are all to be thrown out, with only a vacuum to replace them. Nor do I trust a single one of the leaders of the campaign. Many of them live to the right of the Austrian wannabe president. Despite that we have control of more aspects of the place than most the rest of the European neighbours, with our own currency, language, sovereign, army, borders, judges, health system, education including world leading Universities, despite that all these operate while we have been in the EU and have gotten markedly better every decade for the duration, even during the last period with the aforesaid banking fiasco, those wanting to leave do so with a visceral hatred of the evidence. For some (I suspect UKIP voters) it is sour grapes - they only got 1 MP in the general election. For others, it is sadly, simple xenophobia, though how, given the number of people that visit or move here, and the number of brits that go to the continent for summer holidays, I do not understand.  I am amazed at the vehemence of the quitters. Often, bizarre conspiracy theories appear. Perhaps this is just the UK infected with the US online hysteria.  I hope that is all it is.

Friday, May 20, 2016

leavebots on the line - how to tell when a brexit campaigner isn't a "real" person

so if you engage with online campaigns, you will be aware that much of cyberspace (the twitter sphere etc) is full of bots - it is also full of people who are paid, or lined up one way or another, to "manage" the discussion, rather than let it flow from the population at large.

At one level, this is good, as it can help prevent trolling or other forms of abuse.
At another level, it is bad, as it puts a (deliberate) chilling hand around the throat of human discourse - indeed, methods were developed by Putin in Russia and by the government in China to police social media, and these are showing up around the US and UK online political debating channels increasingly. Amazingly, the linked study of chinese control of media gives 5 examples of methods, and here I paraphrase very slightly, so you can see how much these are used in the brexit campaign social media content:

1. Taunting of Foreign Countries, to take critique of this one:
e.g.  This country "has ijk million people, the more they rise, the more difficult it will be for us to eat, because the earth’s resources are limited."

2. Argumentative praise or criticism
e.g.  "The system automatically had you follow xxx & yyy populist online social media users,
this is a standard tactic of indoctrination and brainwashing,
I suggest you unfollow"

3. Non-argumentative Praise or Suggestions, that are a bit off topic - e.g. (yes, in china)
"...the housing problem"

4. "Factual" Reporting
e.g.  "we suggest you follow the opinion of leader C, with his selfless dedication to moral character and hardwork" - remind you of anyone (boris?)

5. Cheerleading
e.g. "Many heros fought bravely to create the life we have today - respect these heros" - used by both sides relentlessly

A simple clue is to look for "automatic" use of trigger terms - for example, in the brexit campaign, there are some tropes setup by the campaign managers (accuse critics of being a fear or scare monger, of being deluded, or of just being on the gravy train, etc etc

If a response doesn't address anything specific in your content, then it is suspect. If it is long, but appears so soon after your comment on fb or twitter, then likely it was cut and paste from a campaign document - check for this, as then you can draw attention to any of these behaviours, and detract from them, or indeed, get people to start filtering content coming from such non genuine participants.

Once you've learned the ropes, then you may get some rewarding discussions from thoughtful people, and maybe change your mind, or theirs. And that's how participatory democracy works, folks......

At some point, I might fire up our botnet detection software on some of these sites, but I am reluctant to start reporting them for abuse, as every now and then it looks like a real person has just quoted from stuff they've seen unwittingly, but that doesn't invalidate that person's view one bit. well, only just a bit...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

brexit - how very really unacceptable a campaign.

So the awfully named brexit campaign is led by UKIP, who hired neil hamilton,of cash for questions fame, and part funded by aaron banks, who said on record that he wants to privatise the NHS, and spoken for by boris johnson, who has no political role right now, and who's legacy as london mayor basically consisted of implementing plans others set in motion (ok, he did the bikes, but that was red ken's idea - and the olympics ran themselves), whose own magazine decried his unacceptable attack on President Obama. how can people have any respect for these people - oh yes and they are in bed with galloway. doh. and iain duncan smith who is under investigation by the police for implementing the back-to-work tests against advice, possibly a wilful neglect of public duty by an official.

you want to vote for a campaign led by these people? really?

one last thing - they all go on about Sovereignty. We have a Sovereign - she leads our armed forces. She's on our currency. The police on the street and at the borders enforce her laws and her realm. We speak the Queen's English. Far be it from me to criticise the brexit campaigners' extremely poor comprehension of basic ideas - I leave that to inconceivably cleverer people, who are also funny.

[later addition - it seems that both sides will make very poor losers - both are accusing the other side of being traitors. this sort of hyperbole is both unpleasant threatening behaviour, and complete abnegation of the whole democratic thing. shockingly so :-( ]

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

political selfie

Some of you might have noticed me trolling around social media trying to engage with people in meaningful debate about the forthcoming referendum on the EU. I've made a few observations (most the people prepared to actually have a discussion about the pros/cons are women. most of the men on the remain campaign are boring, most men that react to anything critical of the leave campaign get offensive almost immediately - both "sides" repeat a lot of stock (cut&paste) phrases that don't mean much).

A vast generalization of the two sides is that the leavers are emotional (have gut reaction, not always just xenophobic, but mostly not about evidence) and the remainers are over-rational, citing factoid after factoid. One thing i tried was getting an emotionally compelling argument for staying (e.g. "all us christian nations should stick together", or "we need to keep the English Language alive in Europe" etc etc), but that didn't work much - mostly led to people taking me seriously, or just being puzzled. Presenting the leave campaign with facts is a total fail.

So I tried a new approach I've called the "political selfie"

See, looking at the broad bruss emotive arguments ("they come over here, take our jobs, use up our NHS", or "we don't have any sovergn power" or on the other side "we're more secure in Europe" and  the 'scare-mongery' "If we leave, we will hit huge trade tariffs&barriers") - these don't speak to individuals, they speak to national organisations making decisions. Individuals have their own experiences - did you lose a job because of the EU? Did your company get some great deals in france last year? was your holiday saved because you got easier emergency medical treatment? do you know any colleagues who you depend on at work who came over from the EU? did you're research get scuppered because of ludicrous EU red tape? etc etc - these are questions people may have come across in their every day life. And this actually elicits sensible answers. Surprisingly. This leads me to hope that, since most peoples experiences are that the EU had no personal effect on them whatsoever, (directly), they will not vote to leave. I hope :-)

Friday, April 08, 2016

if music be the food of love, it probably isn't for peace and understanding...

so in the past year I read Berverly Martyn's biography (sweet honesty), that reveals what a toerag John Martyn was, and also Barnie Hoskyn's excellent Laurel Canyon, and now Small Talk (woodsmock), which shows what a lowdown double crossing son of a gun half of the CSNY, the Eagles, and then Bobby Dylan himself all were - only human, I hear you cry, but these guys were part of the self-declared Love Generation - but the women came and went  (they're foot servants too), and outside in the cold distance, etc etc

so moving along, then we read viv albertine's fantastic tales about her like, then Kim Gordon's Girl in the Band lament and it seems that the 70s and 80s did not bring much in the way of enlightenment to menfolk about the role of women at work or in the home

reading geezer (jah wobble) and Anger is an energy (john lydon) it seems at least these guys may have been a bit less crap, despite starting with less advantages, and being somewhat confrontational types - it would be interesting to get their respective partners' viewpoints, but is there a lesson (louder, harsher music, nicer guys) ?

and of course, lydon's well known views about hippies  - from the evidence, he was/is right....

shame, coz the music is gorgeous couldn't love you more

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Yes, they have no Exit Strategy, those brexit people.

i think a tactic for us that like being in the EU is to try is to write the brexit script - 

What are the exit strategies? oh, and some data

  1. law in uk affected by EU legislation
  2. impact of immigration on UK (net positive, a lot) and also note that there are about 5M UK citizens living abroad, roughly 2M of whom are brits in the EU, who will have to apply for visas, work permits, pay for healthcare, etc etc - add that to the mix, please.
  3. UK science cost of leaving UK
Current stats not at all clear:-
What's clear is that if the leave vote wins, there will be massive massive fractures in the UK (scotland, wales, london will beg to differ big time). Also begs the question why the outgoing tory mayor and the tory candidate are brexit campaigners when their (prospective) constituency isn't. How does that work, pray?

Now, what were those things the brexit folks have to have answers for:-

  • Where do we get our young employees for all those jobs the immigrants are doing? 
  • Where do we get our collective defence. 
  • How do we negotiate to not be outside the trade zone? what are the quid pro quos?
  • What do we do about healthcare costs for 300,000 retirees in spain, and more across all of Europe? 
  • What is it like to buy a holiday home in the EU if you aren't in it? 
  • What do our passports look like? Who's paying for that? 
  • What do we do without the 3B subsidy to NI&scotland? 
  • What do we do without the 1B science money the UK gets from EU? 
  • Do all EU citizens who want to go to a UK University now become full overseas fees? How does that work?
  • What do we do with border controls diferentiy than now (given we're not Schengen anyhow) ?
  • What do all organisations do about understanding the new legal/regulatory framework(s) they have to now add once the UK isn't in the EU so is subject to both if it is to do business? 
  • What happens to working time directive? do we now all get junior doctor contracts?
  • What happens to the channel tunnel? 
  • What happens with other joint industries - e.g. AIrbus?
  • Will Heathrow airport be a hub if it isn't in the EU? 
  • Ditto Eurostar/St Pancras - how does that play with HS2
  • Will the City be a financial center of the world if it isn't inside the EU? 
  • What happens to EU nationals married to UK citizens when we leave the EU- do they have to get visas? 
  • Are we kicked out of the Eurovision song contest ? (Oh, no, wait that would be a good thing now we don't have Wogan anymore:-)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Migrancy & the UK

They come over here, take our jobs & our homes, pay nothing (almost ) in tax
yes, I am talking about foreigners like the people from the middle and far east that park they capital in property in london as an off-shore investment make it unaffordable for local people to live there, and the americans that run US-based cloud business in the UK, and pay practically nothing in corporation tax.
These are the migrants the government should be doing something about, not the EU or other citizens who come here to do jobs there wasn't a UK person to do, who are a net benefit to the country.

we should stop the benefit scroungers who drive property prices up, by taxing empty property at some decent percentage of its capital value (say 10% per year), and we should levy tax on people based on the profit they claim in their home country if they choose to operate here - it wont drive the latter away - its a percentage of profit, so they still make money. it might stop the former, who need to go away as they contribute nothing to the economy and are the worst kind of rentiers.

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.