This combines together some blogs which I like to read. It’s updated once a week.
June 24, 2017
Quick pre-holiday blogpost when I should be packing. A couple of things in the past few days.
Firstly, I tried to help out in a small way on the LibDem campaign to hold the Parliamentary seat of Southport. In spite of hundreds of hours of canvassing (mostly knocking on doors of people their database said were supporters) their being demoted to third from first place came as a complete surprise on the night. It seems no one, including me, had thought to look up the polling estimates that looked like this:
I put a lot of the failure down to the assumptions embedded into their expensive Obama-campaign based software ngpvan where its fundamental error is expressed in its selling pitch at minute 0:38 thus:
Campaign tech 101:
The Key to a Successful Campaign depends on ONE THING:
No no no no NO!!!
The key to a successful business may depend on one thing: your customers.
But the key to a successful campaign within our could-not-be-more-shitty first past the post electoral system depends on one thing:
That no one else gets more votes than you!
The massive canvassing and leafletting effort may have added a few hundred votes onto the outcome, which would have made a difference had it been close. But afterwards it is important therefore to subtract those votes back off the final tally when estimating next time how far you have to go to win it. Unfortunately, this control variable is usually forgotten from the equation.
If we had a decent proportional representation electoral system, then maybe your own supporters would matter equally, and the national party would run some kind of franchise system around the country where they gave us a target of how many votes we were expected to get given the local circumstances. In the same way that a Mercedes dealer in Kent should have a higher sales target than one in West Wales.
Speaking of which, I then went to the vote count in Liverpool, where it was quite depressing to watch as the Green Party vote dropped by 80% and tens of thousands of votes were piled on to the majorities of our wretched pack of Merseyside Labour MPs who have spent the last two years fighting against Corbyn and all of his popular policies by the Corbyn surge.
As an example, take my own warmongering MP Louise Ellman, who is head of the Transport Select Committee which produced a report as recently as February 2017
Riverside MP Louise Ellman has said the Government’s management of the railways is “not fit for purpose.”
The chairman of the transport select committee said passengers and the general public are running out of patience with rail companies thanks to poor performances, rising fares, overcrowding and late-running services – and has now called for an independent review.
Her committee reported: “The current model fails to deliver for passengers, to drive industry efficiencies, promote competition, reduce the taxpayer subsidy or transfer financial risk to the private sector.”
Yet when pressed by the news presenter on the radio at the time, she flat out refused to consider renationalization as an option whatsoever, even though this is now on the Corbyn Labour Party Manifesto and most members of the public approves of it.
These New Labour ideological capitalist clowns had 13 years to fully renationalize the railways when they were in government. After a series of huge train crashes caused by cost cutting and maladministration of the engineering and then a total bankruptcy, they took ownership of the tracks — only because they couldn’t find any other company whom they could bribe to own it. On the other hand, the railway franchises keep being bunged back into the private sector over and over again at great expense, when they could easily be rolled back into the public sector and managed efficiently as the contracts lapse. But allowing this as an option proves that it could have been done 10 years ago, and that they are complete dimwits — which they totally are. Rather than get with the program, they far prefer to waste our time, spend our money and lose elections that admit that it’s possible for this policy to change.
Meanwhile in the Microshaft Word Department
I came up with a nifty idea to scrape the comments tagged into a Word document and output them formatted in an excel spreadsheet.
While looking around for the tech to do this (OMG Powershell is shite) I discovered this gem:
Each of the three methods takes about 12 steps and generally you wind up with the content in some XPS file in a format you don’t want where you have to do as much cut-and-pasting as if you did it to each of the comments individually.
The article ends with this fine summary:
File Loss Happens All the Time
To sum up, in this article, we discussed 3 methods to extract comments. Yet two of them involves saving file in other formats. This operation definitely increases the risk of damaging files. So when it happens, you need to recover Word doc with a specialized tool.
You can’t believe how anyone puts up with this. Mind-boggling. It’s like watching treatment for blood loss with leeches.
Then I went to Tailbridge on Saturday when it was too sunny and flew around for 3 hours along a short 500m of ridge not getting more than 150m off the deck until I got sick.
Just a quick reminder on where we currently are in Uncertainty Wednesdays: I had introduced the idea of measuring uncertainty, then we defined what a probability distribution is and learned about entropy, which is a measure of uncertainty that is solely based on the probabilities of different states. We examined entropy for a simple distribution, and learned about the relationship of entropy to communication.
Now consider again our super simple world with two states A and B. Suppose that P(A) = 0.99 and P(B) = 0.01. We will keep this fixed, meaning we will not change the entropy of the probability distribution. Furthermore, you know from our analysis that the entropy of this distribution is quite low as the states have very unequal probabilities.
Suppose that these states represent the success or failure of an investment and you are faced with the following different payouts
Investment 1: A -$1, B $99
Investment 2: A -$100, B $9,900
Investment 3: A -$10,000, B $990,000
The first thing to notice is that all three investments have the same 100x return. Wait, why 100x and not 99x? Because I have given you the net payouts. So in investment 1 you put up $1 and in state A you get back $0 (meaning you have now lost $1, hence -$1) whereas in state B you get back $100 (which means you now have $99 new dollars).
Intuitively there appears to be a big difference in uncertainty between these three investments, despite the fact that they have the same returns and the same entropy. To start to measure this difference, we need to introduce a new concept, that of a random variable.
X = -1 with probability 0.99 (state A occurs)
X = 99 with probability 0.01 (state B occurs)
Often we will write this shorthand as P(-1) = 0.99 and P(99) = 0.01 (in an upcoming post I will talk about why this shorthand obscures something important).
We can now define measures such as the mean (or expected value), the variance and more to summarize the behavior of the random variable. If you already know what the expected value is, you can quickly convince yourself that it is the same for each of the investments above (and is what?).
That history is why I am particularly thrilled about the release of MongoDB’s Stitch service today at MongoDB World. Stitch is Backend as a Service for web and mobile apps. What makes Stitch special is that it seamlessly integrates MongoDB with services such as Twilio and Slack using a declarative approach. This dramatically reduces how much glue code needs to be written, enables reuse of Stitch pipelines, and provides autoscaling. All while giving you complete MongoDB based access to and manipulation of your data and even handling user authentication (including access controls based on that authentication).
Getting up and running with Stitch is super fast and there is a free plan. I used a pre-release version to build a system for texting reminders to myself. I was able to build the whole thing in Stitch using MongoDB and Twilio with only a couple of declarative pipelines and zero custom code. Go and give it a whirl!
One of the important topics that I have not yet addressed in World After Capital is the role of the Nation State. So I am gathering up some of my thoughts in a post first. I believe it is critical that we get past the dominance of the nation state as the key organizing principle in the world. That doesn’t mean doing away with nation states (at least not overnight), but gradually de-emphasizing their importance.
Here are my arguments for why we need to de-emphasize the Nation State:
1. Nation states, true to their name, tend to emphasize the interests of a particular nation above others. The “America First” policy pursue by Trump is a prime example of this. As I have written repeatedly in World After Capital, by emphasizing superficial differences, this goes against the fundamental need for humanity to focus on our commonality.
2. As a first approximation problems today come in two forms: global and local/regional. The nation state sits uncomfortably between the two. Global problems include climate change, infectious disease, corporate and individual taxation. These cannot be solved by any one nation state. Nor even by a small group of them. They truly are global in nature. Conversely, problems such as transportation, education, healthcare can and should be solved at the local or regional level. This problem is particularly acute in a country with the size and diversity of United States.
3. We are in a time of profound change and as such we need more experiments on anything that doesn’t absolutely require global coordination. The Nation State is too large a unit for good experiments. Take education as an example. Having a national policy makes little sense at a time when technology is fundamentally changing how learning can occur.
4. Information technology allows new approaches to regulation through transparency. In many instances what the federal level role should be is provide requirements for transparency of and interoperability between local/regional policies. This means we could have a significantly smaller Federal Government in terms of the number of direct employees, size of agencies and body of regulations.
One reason to be excited about a truly decentralized internet, including decentralized yet consistent state (aka blockchains) and crypto currencies, is that these technologies have the potential to help us get past the Nation State. These decentralized systems are not constrained by the existing boundaries. They are truly global in nature, connecting all of humanity.
Taking nation states as a given permanent feature of humanity is mistaking a short period of history for something permanent. I grew up near Nuremberg in Germany and it is useful to look at a historic map of the area from around the year 1200.
It shows a large number of tiny principalities that had their own rulers, spoke widely varying local dialects, used different currencies, etc. Over time these fused into larger units and in the early 1800s Franconia became part of Bavaria. Today Bavaria is part of German, which in turn is part of the EU. This process of change and and should continue on a global scale.
How should we determine at which scale to address a particular problem? The key principle here is the one of “subsidiarity”: decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. Since we have one global atmosphere we need to make some decisions globally, like how many greenhouse gases we should have. But staying with the same issue, the actual ways of achieving a limit should be decided a lower levels, such as regions.
Given that all of the most pressing problems – climate change, infectious disease, taxation, death from above – are global, now more than ever is the time to get past the dominance of the nation state.
This giant, flower-shaped starshade creates an artificial eclipse to see distant exoplanets by The Planetary Society
Starshade is a proposed flower-shaped spacecraft that can create an artificial eclipse, allowing space telescopes to spot planets orbiting distant stars.
Earlier this month, The Planetary Society brought together space enthusiasts at Queen Mary University of London for “SpaceUp London 2017”—the first large-scale event organized by Planetary Society volunteers in Europe.
Revisiting the ice giants: NASA study considers Uranus and Neptune missions by The Planetary Society
Only one spacecraft has ever visited Uranus and Neptune: Voyager 2, in the late 1980s. A new NASA report explores the reasons to go back, and what type of mission might take us there.
June 22, 2017
Film After watching the only ok tragicomedy Love Happens tonight due to my addiction to watching deeply average Jennifer Aniston films, I wandered into YouTube searching for Mark Kermode's review. He didn't or if he did it isn't up there for posterity.
Instead I stumbled upon this clip from back in 2007 when the Good Doctor appeared in the last half hour of Simon Mayo's own show and sometimes met the guest before. On that day it was Jeremy Clarkson and it's frosty if polite. But the key moment is towards the end when Clarkson mentions who he received his Zeppelin tickets from:
Film A piece on the Interview Magazine website on the occasion of a reissue of Prozac Nation. This paragraph in particular resonated:
"I see sexism everywhere, and I think it has to do with that. I've begun to blame sexism for everything. I've become so overwhelmed by it that, even though I love Bob Dylan, I don't want to listen to Bob Dylan, because I don't want to listen to men anymore. I don't care what men have to say about anything. I only want to pay attention to what women do. I only want to read women. I'll tell you how intense my feelings about this are: You know The Handmaid's Tale, the show, which is feminist in its nature? Because men are behind it, I don't want to watch it. That is the extent to which I am so truly horrified by what is going on."Increasingly I'm drawn to women's stories in film and female-led films because I've also felt like I've seen enough man stories already. But the other point about The Handmaid's Tale has also been a concern - the key creator of the series is male. But the gender of the writing and directorial staff is roughly fifty/fifty so to an extent I'm ok with that especially since the source material is from a female author.
Let's hope that the success of Wonder Woman will lead to more films which don't just have a female protagonist but also director and writers which is something even that film didn't accomplish.
Hi: I'm back. And a regular commenter asked me an interesting question anent the state of current US/UK politics: how much money can you make by crying fire in a crowded theatre?
Note that "crowded theatre" and "crying fire" are not to be taken literally; rather, it's a question about how much money you can make by manipulating social media to drive public opinion.
I'm going to start with the money markets: hedge funds bet big on Brexit, because they predicted that in event of a "leave" vote going through, shares in the FTSE 100 would underperform by 20%: so they shorted the entire market. However, it's a bet that, by and large, they lost money on. Rather than the FTSE 100 dropping 20%, Sterling dropped 20% and the shares continued to trade at much the same level (in the now-debased currency). Oops. Notably, billionaire Peter Hargreaves, who donated £3.2M to the Leave campaign, managed to lose on the order of £400M (warning: DM over-simplification alert—the market didn't tank, his portfolio lost value). Still, as bets go, it's a good if obvious example of crying fire in a crowded theatre for pleasure and profit: put £3.2M into sending 15 million letters to voters urging them to vote one way, aiming to profit to the tune of hundreds of millions.
Another fairly obvious example is the investment by the current Russian leadership in cyberwar ops against the perceived-as-more-competent candidate in the last US presidential election. Regardless of her other characteristics, Clinton was experienced in foreign affairs and no friend of Russia's. Russia today is primarily an oil and gas exporter, with the world's second largest (official) reserves after Saudi Arabia, and the current leadership can't help but be aware that they're vulnerable to some of the same factors that brought down the USSR —notably vulnerability to externally induced commodity price fluctuations. Clinton could have continued the transition to renewables that the Obama administration began, and applied the decreased US dependency on fossil fuel as an economic weapon against Russia (by depressing global oil prices): she had to be defeated at all costs. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is full of fossil fuel connections. Oil, gas, and coal companies contributed heavily to Trump's campaign, to his inauguration, and in federal lobbying since then, with predictable results.
Anyway, those are the two big recent examples; investors pushing Brexit propaganda not because they think leaving the EU would be good for the UK but in the pursuit of short-term profit: and big fossil fuel interests (national-level actors like Russia/Gazprom and corporate actors like Koch Industries) seeking a fossil-fuel-friendly policy environment by buying targeted political campaigning and deploying cyberwar techniques against politicians perceived as being less receptive to their desire for profit.
Aside from these two examples, and also leaving aside the Grenfell Tower disaster (latest: inflammable cladding may have been used on up to 600 other high-rise apartment buildings in the UK; replacing that is going to cost billions), what other examples can you think of where you can profit by crying fire in a crowded theatre?
June 21, 2017
Film You will have heard that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have creative differenced their way out of the Han Solo film with three weeks of principle photography left. As ever their fans have suggested this is all a Disney/Lucasfilm problem but I'm taking rather an Ant-Man approach to this, that Edgar Wright's directorial style was never going to fit within the MCU as it is now.
As the Hollywood Reporter suggests Lord and Miller across all of their films have favoured an improvisational approach, and however much I like their work, I thought it was an odd choice that they be hired in the first place especially with Lawrence Kasdan writing the script. Why get Kasdan to do the work if you're going to allow the actors to throw it all out or talk around what's on the page?
Plus it doesn't fit with Star Wars, with its high adherence to a "canon" and in defining the back story for one of its iconic characters. However far away from the house style Rogue One strayed, it was still quite recognisably a Star Wars film, especially after the reshoots and we don't really know the extent to which what happened was due to Gareth Edwards straying from formula.
Perhaps they thought Lord and Miller would like the Russo Brothers in MARVEL take whatever their sensibilities they have but remain focused on it being a Star Wars film rather than something of their own. But it sounds like they wanted to do a 21 Jump Street and bend someone else's property around their own ideas, which again, I don't think you can do with Han Solo.
We'll probably have some inkling eventually of what occurred, especially in the run up to the release of the film. The interesting thing will be how much is going to be reshot with the new director and who will eventually get the credit. Will it be a joint credit or will the new person receive final name? There's no way Lucasfilm would release this with the modern equivalent of Alan Smithee. Probably.
Updated 22/06/2017 Ron Howard's taken over, which is reassuring. Here's my guess. Massive, massive reshoots and the film is pushed through to a December 2018 release and he'll get sole credit. No idea why its being released as a Summer film anyway. Star Wars is the perfect replacement for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as the end of the year treat. Slash film has some unverified accounts of what happened behind the scenes and it sounds like they weren't delivering the Star Wars film as expected.
-- John Michael Greer
June 20, 2017
History One of my favourite past times is looking out for culture which is almost but not exactly like some other source, conscious or not. Probably my favourite is Miami Rhapsody in which David Frankel seems to have attempted to make a Woody Allen film even to the point of casting Mia Farrow in a key role.
Now, here's the Adam Curtis version:
The loopy political connections, the giant text over archive footage, featuring a shot of Reagan's attempted assassination. Did Fandor know? About the only thing missing is River Deep, Mountain High running over the conclusion. Plus it's always good to be reminded that we do live in the reality were Robert Altman directed Robin Williams playing Popeye.
June 19, 2017
Film News broke last week that Sony were developing a Venom film and possibly something with Black Cat and Silver Sable but that they would not be in the MCU ala the X-Verse. My reaction was of course, please stop, but there's an interview now with Amy Pascal, producer of the films sat next to Kevin Feige in which we discover that indeed they will be set in the MCU. From Twitter:
[BREAKING NEWS] Amy Pascal confirm Black Cat and Vanom movie will pass in the same universe of "Spider-Man: Homecoming pic.twitter.com/qfAKOulqwE— Tom Holland Updates (@tomhupdates) June 18, 2017
The io9 version of this story becomes quite vexed about continuity and contradictions but really what we're probably seeing is something akin to the television arrangement, ABC and Netflix, stories set in the MCU without impacting what happens in the main Disney films. In which case, why not?
Of course where this leaves my theory about the Watchers in the Stan Lee cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 representing different MARVEL film universes which still have an underlying connection through him. Unless the third one is from the Tim Story Fantastic Four films. Yes, that'll be it.
June 17, 2017
TV A few years ago, deep in the thickets of the Matt Smith era, I often noted on here how the only way to experience a more traditional stand alone adventure was to listen to an AudioGo exclusive cd or read one of the novels. Amid the split seasons, story arcs and experiments with the format, those stories in which the Doctor and his companion(s) (depending whether Rory was dead that week) turned up at a place and protected the local population from some monster didn't really exist, at least not without some link to the whatever the central mystery of the season was. Meanwhile writers like Una McCormick, Oli Smith, James Goss, Gary Russell and friends turned these characters around a more familiar narrative idea albeit experimenting with an epistolary format or some such.
The Capaldi era and more specifically this season has seen a return to these kinds of stories, apart from prologues and epilogues referring to whatever's up with Missy. Smile, Thin Ice, Knock Knock, Oxygen, Empress of Mars and now Rhona Monro's The Eaters of the Light all fit within that category. For the most part you could imagine a prose version for each of them recorded by a past season luminary like Dan Starkey or Keeley Hawes to music which sounds almost but not exactly like Murray Gold (to sit alongside the current crop from BBC Worldwide which have pretty much carried on where AudioGo left off). None of which should be assumed to be a criticism. The audio reading of one of those spin-off novels, Johnny Morris's Touched by an Angel is my favourite story of that era in any media including television.
It's why this season has felt most "Doctor Who" of the Capaldi era. Indeed much of what initially happens in Monro's episode is near identical to last week. The Doctor decides to investigate mystery. He's quickly separated from Bill who becomes trapped after falling through a hole and they each meet different factions in this particular environment who will ultimately have to unite in order to battle a common foe. But there's something inherently comforting about that, inherently Saturday night. Genre is about giving the audience what they expect whilst changing the formula just enough for them to give them some originality. Last week the Empress of the Ice Warriors emerged, this week an inter-dimensional being that wants to suck the life out of everything. Insert contemorary political commentary here.
But the key difference is in Monro's ability to utilise the scenario and explore ideas about how young people are thrust into positions of authority and responsibility and then chide themselves for making a mistake or poor decision because of how they've been psychologically crafted by external influences. This gives the episode a darker tone than usual in which people in their late teens find themselves making supreme sacrifices for the greater good which for all the episode's attempt to make it seems like a positive decision, about enemies working together, creating eternal music together, is nothing but nihilistic. That's something the AudioGo standalones were often unafraid of too - their textual brevity often gave the writer leave to end with a sombre or ambiguous conclusion.
All of which is helped immeasurably by a strong set of "locals". The Picts and Romans are both archetypes with the teenage wing of the Ninth Army opposite the cast of Brave but the performances from this young cast really sell the pathetic nature of their predicament. Cleverly, both sides are simply extrapolations backwards of more familiar figures of recent times, with British Army squaddies underneath the Italian breastplates and millennials with swords on the other side. Offering a veneer of strong words over an interior riddled with fear makes them perfectly relatable even if their individuality doesn't reach much beyond a few traits. Though it is good to see the show bother to touch on Rome's more open attitude to gender and sexuality and in a surprisingly nuanced way.
Amongst the current time team, Capaldi has some of his very best scenes and speeches of the era, "Time to grow up. Time to fight your fight." This is a Doctor who's entirely in control of how he treats people, with sarcasm when its necessary and compassion when its essential. Once again I ask - why couldn't we have had this man for the other two seasons, why did we have to sit through that hateful jerk who makes season eight so unwatchable? Meanwhile Bill reveals her growing authority, stands up to the Doctor as he watches yet more humans sacrifice themselves on his behalf, due to his all too perfect ability to persuade them to do so through his sheer presence. Mackie's performance has developed ten fold across the season and shows real facility and relish when the material demands it.
Those spin-off stories would also enjoy the opportunity to visit underserved locations while the television series was either off world, Wales or somewhere within the M25. Here we are in 2nd century Scotland with its epic scenery and unlike Tennant in Tooth & Claw who had to pretend to have an accent that was really his, Capaldi's able to speak as broadly as he wants. In an interview with this month's association manuscript, Rona Monro indicates that Moffat did a final pass on the script and added some extra jokes -- I wonder how many of these were the digs against his native land. That's a brilliant interview incidentally, demonstrating how much of a fan of this show Monro is explaining a playwright of this renown would not only return to the show after all these years but do so with such an understanding of how it's constructed.
If there's a particularly weak element it's the adversary, another in a long line of monsters which seem designed to be difficult to merchandise. Lovecraftian CG creatures are fine and god knows the last thing we need is something like the Mandrills or the Fisher King blundering around. Plus I used to complain about the armies of identical aliens who populated the Russell T Davies years. But it's another week without a new iconic monster that the Doctor Who Figurine Collection could slap on their cover in between a Monoid and a Machine Gun Dalek. True, we glimpse something inside the portal but they're barely on screen long enough to make an impression. What is Neill Gorton doing these days? Four episodes of Class, a Red Dwarf and Lady Chatterley's Lover. Nothing on Who since Last Christmas (the episode not the chronological days). Well.
Let's talk briefly about the Missy business. What if she's being sincere? With the John Simm Master making an appearance next week you could foresee a situation in which the Doctor and the former Prime Minister of Great Britain fight to influence her intellectually and emotionally with the latter fearing that she might become his equivalent of the Valeyard or The Eight incarnation of The Eleven, the good one. The close up at the conclusion of this instalment seemed to be waiting for snidely eyebrow raise but none was forthcoming. Since Scream of the Shalka, there's seemed to be some merit in having the Doctor's arch enemy as his companion and now we might actually get to see again what that looks like. There even seemed to be an uncomfortable beat of romance somewhere in here.
Another fine episode then in a series which began lightly and has gained weight. Not all of the AudioGos were brilliant sometimes hampered either by weak writing or a disappointing reading. No one seemed to get Amy's accent right, not least Alexander "Xander" Armstrong who didn't even bother when it was his turn, preferring to read all of the dialogue and descriptions in the same way. But in the final embers of Capaldi's era, there's a genuine sense of the show finding its feet, its purpose and thank goodness. Even if I still can't see the point of Nardole, who was especially objectionable here, but I was able to tune out for the most part as you can see from this otherwise positive review. Hopefully during the finale we'll discover what he was actually here for. It had better be good.
- Adrian McEwen
- Albert Wenger
- Charlie Stross
- Dan Catt
- David Miller
- Dominic Fox
- Emily Short
- Fairphone blog
- Feeling Listless
- Indie Manufaturing
- James Smith
- Janet McKnight
- Jeff Atwood
- John McKerrell
- Leather and Abel
- Mark Charmer
- Michelle Brook
- Paul Furley
- Radical Think Tank
- Richard Pope
- Simon Wardley
- Sym Roe
- The Archdruid Report
- The Leveller
- The Places We Play
- The Planetary Society
- Think Justice
- Tom Darlow
- Tristan Bacon
- Vinay Gupta
- a sense of place
Updated using Planet on 24 June 2017, 04:48 AM