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Numbers

by reestheskin on 10/08/2018

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Points on a distribution, make for fun numbers.

Fifty years ago Japan had just 327 centenarians; in 2017 it had 67,824, and the largest per capita ratio of them in the world.

Link

Fifty years on

by reestheskin on 12/07/2018

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There are some interesting memes for our time in this FT podcast: 1968: The Year that Music Changed. Fifty years ago. What moved me most was the link (27:30 in) to the YouTube speech from Bobby Kennedy, where he told an audience — who were still unaware — that Martin Luther King has just been assassinated, making use of the following lines of Aeschylus.

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

I am not certain what other people of my age say in answer to the question, “Where were you when JFK died?” I have no memory for Dallas. But I do remember where I was in Cardiff, when my Irish mother picking me up to drive me somewhere, told me that Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated. And I was expected to know why this was important, and why it was important to her. And just go compare with what we see now across the pond, drifting.

Well, not entirely a politics free zone

by reestheskin on 10/07/2018

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Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times writes

what you are left with is just this – a country that has gone to enormous trouble to humiliate itself.

You can guess the context. (Via he who swims off Penglas in West Cork)

And the converse?

by reestheskin on 05/06/2018

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It’s curious, the question that comes up without fail, when I’m asked what I do for a day job – how can you defend somebody you know is guilty? But I’ve never once been asked by anyone – how can you prosecute someone you think is innocent?”

Barrister blows whistle on ‘broken legal system brought to its knees by cuts’ | UK news | The Guardian

End of the world [refrain]

by reestheskin on 16/05/2018

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But outside in Times Square, the LED news tickers were telling a different story. On Tuesday, Gibson Brands, Inc – with the biggest product line in the guitar business – filed for bankruptcy, succumbing to an estimated $500m debt load and a failed reinvention in 2014 as a “lifestyle brand”.

Now I know things are really bad.

Troubles in the land of the six-string are not restricted to Gibson. Ten years post-recession, the guitar industry in the US continues to bob, with the 2,633,000 units sold in the United States in 2017 about 5% short of where things stood in 2008, according to Music Trades magazine. The heavyweight retailer on the American scene, Guitar Center, carries $1.6bn in debt.

Played out? Gibson’s bankruptcy fuels fears for the guitar’s future | Music | The Guardian

And here, too.

Politicians beware

by reestheskin on 15/05/2018

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Factfulness ( the book)

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting

Hans Rosling

John Perry Barlow RIP, lyricist for the Grateful Dead

by reestheskin on 06/03/2018

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He saw what other people had not yet seen, that this was a new space—one to which he quickly applied an existing term, cyberspace, and his own metaphor, the electronic frontier.

From the Economist’s obituary (the best writing in this world is about the dead..). He of the wonderful:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather…I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.

Then the thug with hoodie took over and the garden was enclosed.

It was Stewart Brand who made clear to me the link between the creation of the modern (computer — for that is what it is) age, and all that was good about the 1960s:

I think that hackers — dedicated, innovative, irreverent computer programmers — other most interesting and effective body of intellectuals since the framers of the US Constitution….. No other group that I know of has set out to liberate a technology and succeeded. They not only did so against the active disinterest of corporate America, their success forced corporate America to adopt their style in the end. The quietest of all the ‘60s subcultures has emerged as the most innovative and powerful. 

[Stewart Brand’s description nails it (previous link of mine)]

From Vanneavar Bush’s Endless Frontier to the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

And in memory here is the version of Dark Star (“The Finest Rock Improvisation Ever Recorded” – Robert Christgau). Listen to Lesh’s bass signalling the coming together at 1’15” onwards


 

 

Quote of the day

by reestheskin on 10/01/2018

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The easiest way to predict the future is to prevent it.

Original version is Alan Kay (the easiest way to predict the future is to invent it), and this permutation is his, too. As he says, very appropriate for education.

New boss: same as the old boss

by reestheskin on 09/01/2018

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“In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” says the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”

NYT

  • “Won’t get fooled again”; The Who.

A change of perspective is worth…

by reestheskin on 05/01/2018

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Alan Kay says:

a change in perspective may be worth 80 IQ points (or words to that effect). A nice visual metaphor for this below. (The one that is revealed from 1-20 seconds works for me, best).

 

 

Allan Holdsworth RIP 16/4/2017

by reestheskin on 31/12/2017

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Legato to kill for

I am a bad (awful) guitarist, but remain fascinated by guitars and the people who wield them. In recent years I have become ever more interested in the pedagogy of the guitar, and what insights it may throw on professional practice and education, and how people learn outwith the academies. And even if I would not have expressed it in these terms at that time, as a teenager the guitar was my intellectual bridge into understanding that there is as much — if not more—  discipline and rigour outside the academy than within it. (If you are interested in the ‘how’ of learning the guitar, check out Gary Marcus’ book).

With many great players, even if I cannot work out exactly how they do it, I have a good idea. You can spot the pentatonic or the classic major and minor scales easily enough: Clapton doesn’t play the same notes as Akkerman. But the first time I heard Allan Holdsworth (playing with Bill Bruford), I was confused. I couldn’t work out the scales and his phrasing was not like that of any guitarist I knew (nor was I any wiser, quite frankly, after seeing him on stage at Newcastle University,  on this tour I suspect).

Bjørn Schille, says it well below 

“As opposed to much of the music I spent time listening to and examining, his music left me with both chills and a feeling of total confusion. I had no idea what he was doing. Both his chord progressions and his phrases defied my sense of tonality and sounded like nothing I had ever heard. At the same time, it all sounded so perfectly unstrained and logical; like a beautiful language I had yet to understand. His choice of notes may have resembled jazz, but the character of the music had a much darker melancholy, as well as an absence of the swing rhythm that to me makes traditional jazz always a little too cheerful.”

(Bjørn Schille, Master Thesis in Musicology – February 2011 Institute of Musicology, University of Oslo [ you can hear the author here])

There was an obituary in the Guardian here, which contains a phrase from the Mahavishnu himself (worthy of Holdsworth’s tombstone, I think):

The guitarist John McLaughlin has wryly admitted he would have been happy to borrow just about anything his fellow Yorkshireman invented, if only he could have figured out how it was done.

There are some YouTube clips below. The sound is not too good, but they give a flavour of his genius. There is also a 12CD boxed set released shortly before he died [link here]. He would have hated the title.

Work experience

by reestheskin on 12/12/2017

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Many of us held down a summer job during our school days to earn a bit of cash. Some, such as those who attended the fictional Scumbag College, did everything they could to avoid work. Things look a bit more draconian over in Zhengzhou where, as my colleague Yuan Yang has revealed, thousands of students have been working 11-hour shifts to assemble the iPhone X. There is nothing wrong with a bit of hard work but this situation constitutes illegal overtime for student interns under Chinese law. Six students told the Financial Times that they were among a group of 3,000 from Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit School sent in September to work at the local facility run by Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn. The mandatory three-month stint was called “work experience”.

FT

Poetry in motion

by reestheskin on 05/12/2017

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Wikipedia has some (quoted) beautiful lines about the greatest fly half that I had the pleasure to watch on so many occasions at the old Arms Park.

[Barry] John ran in another dimension of time and space. His opponents ran into the glass walls which covered his escape routes from their bewildered clutches

No dwarf tossing here!

by reestheskin on 16/11/2017

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Economics is perfectly capable of incorporating questions of morality, says Mr Tirole. It simply imposes structure on debate where otherwise indignation would rule. It might make sense to ban some markets, like dwarf-tossing,

and before you get alarmed:

 [of dwarf-tossing] ….its existence diminishes the dignity of an entire group. But a market in organs or blood, for example, should not be rejected on the basis of instinctive moral repugnance alone. Policymakers should consider whether payment would raise the supply of donated blood or kidneys, improving or even saving lives. (It might not, if the motivation of money makes generous people afraid of looking greedy.) Whatever the answer, policymakers should make decisions from “behind the veil of ignorance”: without knowing whether any one person, including the policymakers themselves, would be a winner or loser from a particular policy, which society would they choose?

From a review of “Economics for the Common Good”, by Jean Tirol in the Economist [link]. I assume the ‘veil’ reference is from John Rawls, an approach that I always like, but worry that I am missing something deeper.

Screwing people as the social norm

by reestheskin on 09/11/2017

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“Whenever a company decides it’s ok to screw its suppliers, its customers, or its employees, it is only a matter of time until it gets around to screwing all 3 groups. That is because the idea that screwing people is ok becomes the corporate mindset.”

Comment by Howard on I, Cringely

Cognitive prostheses

by reestheskin on 03/11/2017

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This is a term I first learned from Clark Glamour and colleagues in Android Epistemology. Dermofit was a failed attempt to try and invent such a prosthesis.

Thinkers and thinking societies build tools that enhance their own thinking. When the speed of the positive feedback increases rapidly, we see a scientific and cultural revolution. When grit is put into the cogs or the base metals diluted, the opposite happens.

Last week I was giving a talk about tech, medicine and medical education, and for the life of me could not remember the following example, showing how key representation is to our intellectual toolbox. Worse, I knew it had an Edinburgh connection. Wikipedia has more.

Strong and stable: the importance of neither

by reestheskin on 18/10/2017

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Writing was invented to support taxation. Elites’ insatiable appetite for fully domesticated workers boosted forced labour and slavery. It almost comes as a relief to be reminded that the oppressive character of the state was leavened by its own brittleness: rather than precipitating a calamitous slide into chaos, periodic collapse would simply have disassembled larger states into their constituent communities. Plenty of fetters were loosened in the process.

This is not too far from the antifragility, of Taleb

Review of ‘Against the Grain’, by James C Scott in the FT.

That sort of Celtic lilt

by reestheskin on 03/10/2017

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It was 40 years ago when Carwyn James warned of the dangers of what he called crash-ball centres, players who were being encouraged to feel rather than think. “The boring, unthinking coach continually preaches about mistakes,” he once said. “The creative coach invites his players to make mistakes. This new midfield ‘crash-ball’ is a disaster – hunks of manhood with madness in their eyes, battering-ram bulldozers happy to be picked off on the gain-line by just-as-large hunks from the opposing side. For what? Just to do it all over again.”

Which just shows that Welsh fly-halves (Carwyn James) can be as majestic with their words as their feet. But then if you look at his Wikipedia page, you see he was special in all sorts of ways.

Quoted in the Guardian.

Last day

by reestheskin on 22/09/2017

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So-called norms of so-called reality.

by reestheskin on 20/09/2017

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Just last week, when faced with a report that its advertising numbers promised an American audience that, in certain demographics, well exceeded the number of such humans in existence, judging by U.S. Census Bureau numbers, Facebook told the Wall Street Journal that its numbers “are not designed to match population or census estimates. We are always working to improve our estimates.” Facebook’s intercourse with the public need not adhere to the so-called norms of so-called reality.

Make Mark Zuckerberg Testify

Exam passing classes: How liberals lost touch with the ‘left behind’

by reestheskin on 24/05/2017

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Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, like Cameron and François Hollande, belong to the exam-passing classes.

FT

Parasitism as a business opportunity

by reestheskin on 12/05/2017

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Great essay by Bruce Schneier.

In 2020 — 10 years from now — Moore’s Law predicts that computers will be 100 times more powerful. That’ll change things in ways we can’t know, but we do know that human nature never changes. Cory Doctorow rightly pointed out that all complex ecosystems have parasites. Society’s traditional parasites are criminals, but a broader definition makes more sense here. As we users lose control of those systems and IT providers gain control for their own purposes, the definition of “parasite” will shift. Whether they’re criminals trying to drain your bank account, movie watchers trying to bypass whatever copy protection studios are using to protect their profits, or Facebook users trying to use the service without giving up their privacy or being forced to watch ads, parasites will continue to try to take advantage of IT systems. They’ll exist, just as they always have existed, and — like today — security is going to have a hard time keeping up with them.
Welcome to the future. Companies will use technical security measures, backed up by legal security measures, to protect their business models. And unless you’re a model user, the parasite will be you.

Which just reminds my of my own ecological ignorance. Many years back I was moaning to William Bains about how “surely the system (insert your own bête noire) will collapse under the weight of all these people who do nothing except get in the way and stop real work being done”. He corrected me by reminding me that in many biological systems the biomass of parasites exceeds that of the non-parasites. It is now my strategy when meeting somebody or hearing some new idea to ask the simple polite question: are you a parasite? There are an awful lot of them. I expect to see more and more.

On not dropping your anchor.

by reestheskin on 06/04/2017

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From the Obit of Derek Walcott.

He would cup a breast as he fondled a white stone from the beach. These propensities, noted when he was teaching in America in the 1980s and 1990s, cost him the chance to be, in 1999, Britain’s poet laureate and, ten years later, professor of poetry at Oxford. He was not concerned, for he did not want to drop his anchor long on any northern shore.

Economist

It is odd to live in a country whose very name—the United Kingdom—sounds increasingly sarcastic.

FT. Obvious, but puzzled as I haven’t see it everywhere.

Nature gets real about the bubble that is science

by reestheskin on 06/03/2017

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Interesting editorial in Nature. And unexpected. The issue is support for science and the state of politics in the US.

Just telling the same old stories won’t cut it. The most seductive of these stories — and certainly the one that scientists like to tell themselves and each other — is the simple narrative that investment in research feeds innovation and promotes economic growth. ‘It’s the economy, stupid’, so the saying goes, and as nations become a little less stupid by pushing against the frontiers of knowledge, so the benefits of all this new insight spread from the laboratory to the wider population, as improvements in the standard of living and quality of life. This comfortable story has all the hallmarks of a bubble waiting to pop.

The article goes on:

It is right that more scientists should tell stories of the good their research can do. But it is more important and urgent than ever that researchers should question how these stories really end — and whether too many of the people they claim to act for don’t really get to live happily ever after.

Much science is in a vacuous bubble, and arguments for more funding from its practitioners is increasingly viewed as self serving. Universities share some or much of this blame, all too happy to ‘shift more units’. This lack of intellectual honesty will harm academia in the long term. The one uniting feature that justifies higher education is the pursuit of truth in whichever direction enquiry moves. Universities are not businesses, profit centres, or corporations. They have a different set of norms that are distinct from those advertised by much of the rest of the corporate world (or government). STEM has never been enough, and truthfulness is not something you can opt in or out of, like you can some undergraduate modules. The role for universities — and science — is greater than ever: the issue is whether the universities have the necessary leadership. Even with the right leaders, it is a tough ask.

Asking interesting questions, not bird-brained ones.

by reestheskin on 30/01/2017

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Well, not that I do, and in particular not this one. But, after sitting recently working in a coffee shop across the road from a school playground in Berlin, being both disturbed (“I was working!”) and amazed at the racket from all the frantic school children hurtling around a school playground, I do puzzle why it all changes when you ‘grow up’.

This from Science

Anyone who rose morning after morning this week for an exhausting and ache-generating exercise class to fulfill a New Year’s resolution will envy the bar-headed goose. The bird has the strength and endurance to fly 3000 kilometers over the Himalayas between its breeding grounds in Mongolia and wintering grounds in India. Yet a new study indicates that it doesn’t do a lick of exercise to prepare.

But…..

In at least some species, extra exercise may even be harmful, studies of captive zebra finches reported at the meeting suggest……… birds getting the extra exercise suffered cellular damage, from oxygen radicals and other charged molecules released by active muscle.

Birdbrain I might be, but not of the goose persuasion.

The technocratic delusion

by reestheskin on 23/01/2017

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“This may upset some of my students at MIT, but one of my concerns is that it’s been a predominantly male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings. A lot of them feel that if they could just make that science-fiction, generalized AI, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the messy stuff like politics and society. They think machines will just figure it all out for us.”

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab

(Via John Naughton)

Or as I quoted Steven Weinberg in a paper with the title, “The Problem with Academic Medicine: Engineering Our Way into and out of the Mess

“My advice is to go for the messes—that’s where the action is.”

Enclosing not so much the commons, but space itself.

by reestheskin on 19/01/2017

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I first became ware of the importance of intellectual property law and custom after reading James Boyle’s ‘Shamans, Software and Spleens’. I had been completely unaware of how important the institution of private intellectual property was, and how destructive it frequently was of human advance. Of course, it was not meant to be this way. Boyle’s book is dense but funny, and he lambasts the contradictions in copyright law, the tortured logic in the bizarre attempts to explain why blackmail and insider trading are illegal, and the craziness that surrounded patenting DNA and what you can do with my spleen once you once removed it. As Cory Doctorow commented, about another of Boyle’s books, ‘Bound by Law’, “Copyright, a system that is meant to promote creativity, has been hijacked by a few industrial players and perverted. Today copyright is as likely to suppress new creativity as it is to protect it.” It was reading Boyle that led me to write an essay in the Lancet on how the ease or difficulty of assigning IPR distorted medical advance.

But this takes the ticket, I am quoting from Stephen Downes commenting on this:

This is a funny story with a surprise inside. The funny part is the artwork: an artist created glass blocks exactly the dimensions of a FedEx box and then shipped them in those boxes, producing unique art out of the cracks and breakage that resulted. The surprise is that it turns out that Fed Ex has corporate ownership over that space. “There’s a copyright designating the design of each FedEx box, but there’s also the corporate ownership over that very shape. It’s a proprietary volume of space, distinct from the design of the box.” Now I’m afraid I might accidentally violate FedEx’s ownership over that specific shape should I decide to, I don’t know, create my own mailing box.

Not so much enclosing the commons, but space itself.

“I think the dilemma Brexit poses for Scotland is pretty intolerable,” he says. “If Scotland has to clean out all its universities of European citizens there are really horrible things that are going to happen.”

The economist, Angus Deaton, in the FT

The price of success

by reestheskin on 19/12/2016

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“David Cameron began 2016 in 10 Downing Street and ended it at DePauw University in a small Indiana town, speaking for a reported £120,000 an hour. The former British prime minister is now paid almost as much for a 60-minute speech as he used to earn in a year, as he tries to make sense of his own historic failure: Brexit.” FT