Thursday, December 26, 2019

big cat, little cat

driving through the Mara, you surely get the impression almost everything is on edge. even the rhinos are wary, the hippos are nervous, the buffalo are cautious, the zebra skittish, the giraffes are gently prepared for a slow-motion getaway, and of course the topi, gazelles and antelope are basically breakfast on stick legs. So who's confident? well, the hyenas looked pretty chill, and the lions look like bullying heavies from a mafia movie - everyone stands still when they walk in the room. then to see a cheetah with six "teenage" cubs is almost like a quantum superposition of super-relaxed confidence, with the same wariness the warthogs exactly do not portrait. a lesson in cool.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Striking is Colluding with the Commodification of Higher Education.

a factory worker goes on strike, and the goods are no longer manufactered, the factory owner no longer gets the income and profit from the labour of the worker and the payment by the consumer, while the worker no longer gets the pay. It is a fair exchange, and the negotiation brings back symmetry to the power structure, that before striking basically entailed indentured labour (little to distinguish it from serfdom or slavery).

So when people go on strike in education, they withdraw their labour from teaching, research and administration. However two major pieces of the picture are completely different from the picture painted above.
1. there's no factory owner taking a profit - or (if you like) the whole world is taking a "profit" from having better educated people, but the metric (monetising that gain) is a massive error of judgement - we have no idea what any given education is worth compared to (say) a widget.
2. there's no consumer - oh, ok, there's the whole world - oops - so we don't have a balance between frustrated factory owner not making a profit, frustrated consumer not able to buy a product, and we don't have a product -

3. unless you say an education for a student is a product, then the student is a consumer. so then, if we are withholding our labour from students, they should withhold their pay from us. In the last strike in the UK, som students threatened this - however, this closes the equation down to the price they pay is the cost of the teaching&learning, and the value they get is what the workers delivered. i.e. we have a bunch of plug-compatible units called degrees, workers, students etc.....

The reaction from the admin of some universities makes it clear that already (actually for quite a while) the strikers are considered in this way (you don't deliver a lecture one day, you lose a day's pay - not even the coutersy of considering the way teachers in schools have to make allowances for background work, class planning, preparation of materials etc etc - let alone the fact that much work isn't teaching, it is research, which doesn't pigeonhole conveniently whatsoever.

But by taking strike action, the union colludes in pushing this model of higher education further towards a commodity.

I don't dispute the dispute is valid, but there were other forms of action (withholding marks, just for one effective example, or refusing to process admissions, which would directly hurt the uni admin) , which better followed the direction of power without distorting things towards a market in education. If it was a market, then we'd be competing on  pay and fees would cover pay, so if the universities UK really want that, they should come clean and say so. Half of them would go broke in that scenario, so they should think very very hard.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

not a rock star

like peter cook, i could have been a rock star but for the rigour - i couldn't take the rgour of replacing all the dead batteries in fx pedals and finding the broken guitar leads and fixing or throwing them away after every gig....

alas alack a day.

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.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

new dimensions in ethical dilemmas

We've been working on mapping science progress, and collaborations, geo-location of research contributions, and the rise (and fall) of institutions (labs etc) over 50 years of bibliometric data.
This is easy as we;re all so eager to be seen to publish that the meta-data about our work is all freely available through plenty of online databases and can be extracted in a very small number of accepted standard formats for magic processing - so we started here with a basic 5 year set of data (we've also looked at the Turing institute's publication data over the last 3 years, and now we're working on all of sigcomm's half a century of data. it would be easy to do more subjects and also more analyses.
First of two we're just adding is mentioned above, which is to look at the trajectory of research labs. So most people will be aware that Bell Labs is no longer the thing of beauty it once was. Nor is Xerox PARC. And some labs simply disappeared due to their corporate hq discorporating (Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment Corporation) or losing the plot (HP?).

So we can see his effect over time. We can use the data + other information, to train algorithms to predict the demise of labs too (in the same way this Euro S&P paper from oxford built an algorithm for mergers and treaties out of airplane tracking datasets and external news reports.

We can also see geographic variation in success at research outputs.

But we can go further - a second thing we can add is gender data, inferred from names (or by using data from web lookup of author name + institution or other public sources. And this could be useful for combating bias.

However, what happens when we start to relate overall trends of institutions to the arrival (or departure) of particular researchers? This could be turned into a recruitment (or promotion or dismissal) tool. That could be quite a bad thing (given there are natural reasons why there's variation in peoples' output or influence on colleagues output, which can vary over time, and are probably going to result in short termism killing more long term strategic type thinking).

what to do?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

dream time

Before he died, Uncle James wrote me this lovely letter. He wasn't really my uncle, he was just this rare thing, an old friend of my mother's who was also my friend. He lived in a rundown old cottage in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Brecon. He had been a quite well known british classical composer of that odd kind of post-vaughan-williams type of music, never as radical as Schoenberg or as out-and-out crazy as Boulez or Stockhausen, or as trendy and minimal as Steve Reich.

James was worried that his 40 year-old digital clock was dreaming. While it hadn't told the time properly for two decades, he kept it as the only form of electronic technology he had ever (before he retired) found useful.

For most of the 1990s, it had remained completely blank, but then suddenly, one morning he noticed that it was showing some strange symbols that could be read as a word. He got out his welsh dictionary and discovered that indeed, bwrw was a common term for rain. Unsurprising, he thought. but then a digital clock that predicted the weather, no matter how predictable, was (like the proverbial poor chess playing dog) surprising.

However, the next day, the clock read ffliw. And James promptly sneezed and was laid up for two weeks, until he recovered. Feeling much better, he decided to cheer himself up and his wife Mary, by writing a spring tune. The clock ticked,  and read duw. He had just been thinking of something inspired by religion.

James wrote to me, because, as he explained, I was the only person he knew who might be able to explain how a 1970s digital clock, probably made in China, was suddenly behaving like one of the cleverest AIs in the world.  I was lost for words. It was very sad that he had discovered an emergent being that, while locked in such an unprepossessing box, was expressive and helpful. I did not want to tell anyone about this at the Turing Institute, as they would descend on James lovey cottage with their logic analyzers and Turing tests, and would no doubt kill the goose that was laying such golden eggs.

Not long after this, James died, and Mary moved to Cornwall and threw out all his memorabilia, so maybe the clock is in some landfill somewhere. But maybe it is still dreaming on someone's bedside table, offering hints in a timely way on how their day may go. An accidental oracle from the orient.

Monday, June 24, 2019


no, i'm not talking about greener washing machine detergents.

i'm talking about the number of projects i've been asked to join recently looking at air quality in cities, and correlating it with transport, health, etc

I remember when they cleaned the victorian coal-smoke black off of Westminster Abbey.
I remeber when they got rid of led (anti-knocking) additives in petrol.
I remember when they banned smoking in public places.

I'd have thought it was completely obvious that we should have a lot less crap in the air. whether its from cigarettes, or diesel, or coal or just people talking rubbish.

lets move on to more important things like reliable safe water, sea level, extreme weather, and species extinction.

lets stop window-dressing (eco-washing - as in ethics washing) with these superficial, trivial, obvious problems which have solutions which happen as a side effect of solving the really big problems.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

frogboiling on multiple timescales

the country is getting used to being boiled a la frog.

we have the spectacle of the tory leadership campaign - today's news is that over 100 tory MPs are backing someone who has been fired for lying from one job, and made the country a laughing stock in his utterly useless (but offensive) antics as foreign secretary. he didn't totally screw up london while mayor, but he did throw £40M quid down the toilet trying to build a garden bridge for his rich buddies.

then we have the spectacle of brexit, a plan so without merit that it makes playing chicken with cars on the freeway look very sensible

then we have climate change - the last three days, people are probably thinking to themselves that 1.5C rise in average temperature really wouldn't be such a bad thing.

no. no. no. stop this. stop all of this. just stop.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

technological solutions to the Irish Border backstop/stopgap/barrier to an orderly brexit

A. Is the answer DLT (no, that isn't Deer, Lettuce and Tomatoe)

1. it's a multilateral problem (i.e. you have 3 or more parties) - obviously - the republic of ireland, the UK, and the EU (more if you want fine grain distinctions such as NI, etc) - so any tech for managing people, goods and services needs to deal with 3+ stakeholders.
2. there's no trust (if there was, we wouldn't be in this mess) - so relying on the ECJ, Dublin Courts or the British courts won't cut it
3. the solution has to last a while, and survive changes...

All these are pre-conditions for choosing blockchain (or distributed ledger) technologies. superficially.
however,, going the other direct, blockchain systems are typically run by people we don't trust (e.g. bitcoin miners are mostly in PRC), or are centralised by US based companies (Etherium and Hyperledger services run by Amazon or IBM or others), or don't scale fast enough to cope with the transaction rate (all of the above fail this test too).

So that rules out blockchain.

B. What does that leave?

Quantum entanglement and SQuID based sensors would be cool if we could afford them (but if every accountable radish has to have a 100,000 pound supercooled widget attached to it the size of a small fridge, that's kind of a bit overkill.

C. I propose Maxwell's Demons, as reported in 1867. These are small, cheap, and have the added advantage of being a British Invention. They can be employed everywhere, taking very little space and using next to no energy at all - hence this is also a sustainable solution. If it works, we can see it being adopted all over the world - for example, a first obvious customer is Donald Trump who can use it on the Mexican and Canadian borders right away for a small license fee.

D. Of course, this doesn't deal with the actual problem, which is (as discussed here) non-technological, but it will get the politicians to stop wasting us Geek's time with stupid questions

Monday, April 29, 2019

how to review papers you havn't even read...

with apologies to Pierre Bayard, who wrote much more amusingly about how to talk about books you havn't even read and covered all the territory and more.

First, you've seen the title and abstract, so you can extrapolate from your deep knowledge of the area what a good paper on this topic would look like. of course, as an editor or esteemed member of the program committee, you would no doubt write such a paper but someone else must necessarily have made some small or even more significant errors in framing the problem, or overlooked much related work that could have led them to a better result, and so you must point out your previous work to them in some detail.

Second, you've seen a talk about this subject recently, and so of course this paper is really too late to the table, and can't bring anything new, deeper, or surprising that wasn't already in the talk.

Third, you read a monograph, book, or even survey paper of this area recently, and the topic is completely as dead as a dodo - there really can't be anything new to mine here anyhow.

Fourth, this paper has been submitted to this venue, which isn't very good anyhow, and you resent the extra work, so you expect it is full of mistakes and the abstract looks like it was written in Word anyhow, so it can't be any use.

Fifth, the idea sounds good, so you better reject the paper and finish your work on the same topic super quick or else you will have been gazumped.

Sixth, the words in the abstract look very much like words in wikipedia that you've seen recently, and you strongly suspect plagiarism, so you cut and paste a review you wrote of a similar paper.

Seventh, the title includes a word spelled in an unusual way, and you guess that the author's first language is Cobol, and that therefore they have had no new ideas since 1971, although some of those ideas did make quite a bit of money, which means they really don't need any more publications or a bigger H-Index.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

skipping stones

the stones skipped over the lake. quite making it to the far shore.

Time and again the girl tried to out-do her brother, but time and again, she drew.

She packed up the picnic things and went back to the cottage to carry on with her easter homework. Her book tells her:

It seems that every 65-70 million years on earth, there is another mass extinction event, when 75-95% of the species of the planet are destroyed. This is followed by a rapid period of evolution when huge numbers of new species emerge, and then a long slow period of stability as creatures and plants find their niche in the new eco-system. This has become known as "punctuated equilibrium".

She thinks back to the anger she packed into each throw of a sliver of slate, imagining it striking the surface of the water like a time bomb, exploding a piece to bounce away again, leaving ripples spreading outwards from each impact.

There couldn't be a link, could there? 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

becoming an expert....just how much does it take?

a typical university pub discussion descended briefly into the "you can't criticise domain X because you have no expertise" yesterday - maybe fair enough, maybe not - in this particular case, domain was economics - so how much does one have to read to have some informed view on economics?
I realize that in some subjects/disciplines, there is also the underlying "cannon" or even several churches of the true faith (Adam Smith, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Friedman, Kahneman etc etc, which i've actually read:) but perhaps doing an economics degree gives some magic edge?

I'm not so sure - firstly, doing any degree at all gives one the training to know how to study a further subject on ones own, and to find form and structure, and critically  absorb. Secondly, disciplines are constantly changing, and so it depends how long since one worshipped at the alter of this or that font of academic wisdom, whether the official qualification has any especial value over being "self taught". Of course, I'm assuming basic numeracy, literacy, and critical thinking - but that is what anyone with a BA or BSc in anything has.

So just for background, here's some of what I've read overlapping economics and my own "expertise" (computer science, maybe, and cyberspace, perhaps) because I like to stay informed - in the last 5+ years (this is a subset - in some cases, I went and looked at data or source papers):-

That may look like a bit of an arbitrary list, but its mine:-)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Terror Bites at Twenty Thousand Feet

no, not snakes on a plane - machine learning on telemmetry from all planes, continuously distributing and updating a model of what is working, wearing and possibly worrying in pilot's interactions with the controls, readouts and each other, and warning everyone when their 737 Max really shouldn't be flying...

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Inflationary Tendencies of the NHS

so i just went through the slightly weird procedure of having a virtual colonography - if you have to have someone look inside you from the lower end, this is much less horrific than a full on colonoscopy, so recommend (apparently its more accurate too) but it's slight odder

what they do is stick a balloon up, inflate it to a gazillion atmospheres to stretch the walls beyond credulity, and, while you are lying in an undignified position with what feels like a weather gadget in your intestines, wobbling (luckily not full of helium else you might end up like the strange uncle in the original mary poppins movie), they put you through a CT scanner...kudos the amazing Godfrey Hounsfield, who the radiology nurses today hadn't heard of (had a nice chat with them - one from north London near where I'm from, about schools and music venues and pub quizzes, witness, the school leaver who saved a zillion lives by persisting with the computer tomography invention and deservedly got a Nobel for it) -

some of you may recall my previous inflationary procedure, which entailed having a bubble of sulfur hexafluoride inside my eye for a while - i must say this one was probably less alarming.
recently, i had occasion to have a serious hearing test (hard, I can tell you), and they didn't put bubbles of air or weird chemicals in my ear, but they did virtual sound stuff which was really amazing, anechoically speaking.

while you might say "so that's why health care is costing so much more than in the past", I would totally disagree - these procedures stopped me being i) dead ii) blind iii) deaf, which would have (over the past 10 years) cost you lot a shedload of money supporting me or my family, instead of me doing it and making money for other people too. plus actually, the virtual colonography is faster and better than the older procedure (actually so was the eye&ear ops) so the thruput is betterer too...

you just have to equip enough places to do this (we do way way better than bl00dy private healthcare systems coz we statmux the scarce resources really really well (if you don't know what statmux means, thing "sweat that resource"...)

no pennecillin was harmed in the making of this blog

Saturday, February 23, 2019

New Rose Zions

These are the displaced people. displaced because of a cyberphysical war that has driven them away from their Land and Sea - sea is how they refer to their upload space. land is where they download to RL - to take their bodies for a ride, a walk, a swim, sex&drugs&rock& was found after the singularity that pure upload beings suffer severe drift, diffusing. like mist, into a virtual smear, with no identity, and previous little memory. some folks were ok with this, but most preferred to retain their soul, indeed, their life and soul and right to party, so relatively frequently (a difficult term, since the Sea moves differently towards maximum entropy than dry land, ever true. Nevertheless, resynch turns out to be essential for cybersanity.

Now someone or thing has invaded these folks Sea and filled it with Sea Monsters, and the sea rose and drowned their land, and the people that survived, wandered to other Seas and Lands, and became known as the New Rose Zions.

But where they went,  wasn't that someones' elses' already? The displaced displaced.

what's wrong with this picture? how can there be a shortage of Sea? I mean, land, sure, but why fight over something we can just magic up more of? but what about time? if we can change the passing time at will, at Sea, then can we not parcel up time on land differently for the different displaced people? can we not just time share land in RL, and clone the virtual? but what if, people in this duality wanted to meet up? what if ships n the night wished to be camels in the day?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

how to use this book

you know all those  blurbs on the back of novels? tremendous waste of space.

What we really need is a user manual (pace, George Perec). A How To (obviously, not a read me)

First of all, it could say handy things like
Do Not Read This Book, it is more suitable to replace stockpiled toilet paper (most fantasy fiction fits this category well), or else as a stand for your laptop (I use the History of MI5 and MI6 for this).
This book contains letters from unfamiliar alphabets. It could be mathematics or perhaps a Russian spy's code book. Hand it in at a police station nearby, immediately.

If the book merits reading, the user manual should first of all establish whether this is feasible, by clarifying:
Before opening this book, make sure that you can read.
If the book is long, the manual might want to advise:
If you are at death's door, it is ill advised to start reading this (e.g. The Stand, by Stephen King) as you will never finish it in time, and therefore you will not know the ending, which will then haunt you for the rest of your days.

Assumming we pass these simple tests, then the book's suitability should be established.
For example,
This book is excellent for insomniacs, so save it til about 10 or 11pm
This book is a cure for narcolepsy, and should be kept with you at all times, especially when flying a plane or parachuting out of the plane.

As well as style, we should also make sure that mood and content (e.g. tone) are clarified:
This is not a book for super-happy people - this book will bring you down, even if you are the world's most optimistic son-of-a-gun. This book is for people who are already depressed and can go no lower - indeed, it will confirm their views of humanity, and this potentially make them happier.

On the other hand, some books are dangerous to some users for the exact opposite reason:
This book will potentially make you believe in the human race, and therefore make you susceptible to all kinds of terrible disappointments, and possibly the victim of multiple scams. If you are incurably optimistic, this book will prove a cure, ironically, as a result, but the cure will take a long time to act.

Finally, we should make sure there's truth in advertising: "there are approximately 25 million books in the British Library", and if you read one a day, and live to be 75 years old, you could have covered about 1/10th of a percent. Take care to choose carefully.

Have a nice day!

Friday, February 08, 2019

open science versus fair peer review.

so a recent posh conference just got super strict about not revealing anything about work under submission including open repository pre-print versions or even discussion on social media.

the obvious intended goal here is to re-enforce fairness in peer review, but I think this is
a) way over the top and
b) has serious consequences in terms of fairness

firstly, really significant work often is part of a body of work and experiments in guessing who did the work in at least 1 major conference that does double-blind reviewing were upwards of 50% accurate, simply because anyone who's technically knowledgeable should be aware of the work going on in the field.

secondly, researchers like to air their ideas early to get feedback before investing a lot of effort on the big project to really make an impact. so we have a whole bunch of mechanisms for this, including giving talks in seminar series, organising entire week-long retreats in cool places like Schloss Dagstuhl or Bertinoro or Tahoe, where people discuss partially formed notions in a friendly (i.e. non competitive and non-plagiaristic, collegiate) social setting.

This argues that really the extreme version of double blind is both impossible (and unfair) but also counter to the entire way science openly progresses.

we need to come up with another way to ensure fair peer review - my personal favourite is to have completely open peer review (i.e. reviewers sign reviews, authors are known) and iterative process (already used in quite a few top conferences now) where revisions allow progress, but require visibility to make the system converge.