Thursday, 15 December 2011

Newt's on top

On the 3rd January, 2012 Republicans in Iowa will have the first vote in the 2012 USA Presidential Elections. Whether you care or not, this matters: The POTUS is the most powerful person in the World.

There have been some rather sudden changes of fortune. Remember Michele Bachmann? Rick Perry? Herman Cain? Well, they've been and gone, the new "Anyone but Mitt" candidate is Newt Gingrich. According to an NBC/WSJ poll 40% of primary voters would plump for Newt. 17% more than Mitt Romney, in second place.
Newt Gingrich (left) and a Great Crested Newt (right). ©Piet Spaans and Gage Skidmore.
The Republican Primaries have become a battle of "I'm more conservative than you". This may be appealing to Republicans, but it isn't to the general electorate, who prefer the more moderate Mr Romney, although Barack Obama would still win the popular vote by ~2%.

Newt would make a terrible President, it has been said that: Newt Gingrich wakes up every morning with 5 big ideas; 4 are dreadful, and the other is unworkable*. If Obama found Congress obstructionist a President Gingrich would probably fare worse.

You can explore the most recent polls on The Economist, or The Beeb.

Other cute animals are running for US President, why not Vote Hamster?

If you live in London you can also "Vote Newt". Ken Livingstone (Lab) keeps them. Other mayoral candidates are available.

* I think the saying come from Today, I was probably half asleep and have misremembered, but the vague sense was the same.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cybernetics and Ethics

Cyborgs have appeared across science fiction: The Six Million Dollar Man; The Borg; and Darth Vader but to name a few. They vary from the oddly comic Cybermen to the crime-fighting hero Robocop¹.

In the last decade cybernetic organisms, once confined to the imaginings of authors, have begun to appear across the world. At 4.00PM on Monday, 24th August, 1998 Professor Kevin Warwick underwent surgery to become the World’s first cyborg.

Prof Warwick’s implant, a small glass capsule full of electronics or "transponder", allowed the buildings in his department at the University of Reading to recognise his presence, opening doors and turning on lights automatically.
The Transponder (Ref.)
Kevin Warwick did not stop there;

Monday, 5 December 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and Government Statistics: The Data

I promised to provide the sources and data for a previous post.

The Government Data

The Government Predictions

My Calculations and Graphs

The data is Billion vehicle miles per year.

At the time I used it the predictions were version 1.1 from May 2010.

The data and official projections have been mentioned in articles by The IndyThe Campaign for Better Transport, Pedestrian Liberation and Carlton Reid among others.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and Government Statistics (Image Intensive)

Government Data Set 1949-2010
Above I have presented a UK Government Data Set which has been widely circulated. The graph plots annual figures, not cumulative data. But I am going to break a major rule of data presentation, and not label my axes (the x-axis is year). What the data set is does not matter, and I do not want to prejudice your opinion*.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Moving on from Ubuntu

Instead of using Microsoft Windows or Mac OSX as my operating system I use Linux. More specifically I use Ubuntu. Even more specifically I used Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal.
Ubuntu Natty Narwhal with GNOME Classic
This is now out of date, Ubuntu has moved on to version 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot. I have messed around with Ubuntu for years, somewhere I have a copy of Dapper Drake (from 2006). Back then Ubuntu looked different. I first installed Ubuntu in the era of Hardy Heron, there were changes, but they were mostly behind the scenes: installation was easier, sound & wireless worked out of the box.

6 versions later there was a big change: Unity. This did not just change things behind the scenes. The look changed too. It became less customisable at the same time, taking up more screen real estate.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Freedom to Pollute

Last week I argued that motorists are unusually privileged by being:
" to pollute the environment and thereby kill blamelessly."
I attempted to put a cost on deaths related to vehicle pollution, and came to the figure of £14.5bn per annum. For simplicity I made some hasty approximations, figures from 2001 and ignored the costs of healthcare.

Since then the Environmental Audit Committee has published a report stating that poor health related to pollution costs £8.5bn-£20bn per year.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Driver Privilege Checklist

On Saturday readers of ibikelondon & Cyclists in the City, cycle campaigners such as LCC and possibly even Boris Johnson will tour the 10 worst junctions for cyclists in London. Meanwhile Boris sticks to his guns insisting that roads aren't the problem (hint: they are, in part).

These issues are not confined to London. Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, a blogger from Toronto, has identified another problem: the privileged position of drivers.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Italy is a strange case. As the BBC reports it has low levels of national debt (though high government debt) and tends to balance its budget sheet before interest payments are taken into account.

These interest payments are the problem. As I have been writing this post the following has happened to yields on Italian 10 year bonds:

9th November 2011, 14:52:36 GMT

9th November 2011, 14:55:42 GMT
9th November 2011, 14:57:32 GMT
9th November 2011, 15:05:52 GMT

At least Berlusconi is going, The Economist said he should go as far back as 2001. To be frank his stranglehold over Italy's media and government strikes as rather dictatorial. Silver-linings eh?

ed. Added link to 7% video. 
ed. N.B. The small number below the % change is the important value, however if this keeps getting hiked at 8% day-on-day (or even the 10% it hit at one point) things will worsen very quickly. The value hit a high of 7.48 at around 7:00ET (12:00 GMT) giving an absolute change of 0.69 on the opening price, or ~10.2% increase.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Writer's Block

Thanks, in part, to a new post by Ben Goldacre my "writer's block" has been cured.

Below is the first and only page of a paper by Dennis Upper from 1974:

The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer's block”
According to PubMed Central this paper has been cited only once, in 2007, in another seminal paper by a collaboration of researchers from around the World.

I encourage you to take the time to read both papers in full.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Is this big enough for you?

Is The Economist becoming radicalised? Or was J.F. just stating the obvious yesterday when, wondering why conservative Americans "lament the loss of the America they grew up in," they tagged conservatismǂ and racism as currently inseparable

I tend to agree with the sentiments in the above article. Conservatives can readily be viewed as a group who are "loss[ing] of their own social privilege" and trying to claw it back.

This idea ties in very nicely with a post today, by W.W., and shows just how this idea of social privilege is perpetuating World problems.

In summary W.W. is replying to an an article by the USC's Neal Gabler (seemingly the sociologists' everyman) which claims that: "Big ideas are almost passé."

In a wonderful rebuff W.W. quotes an article by NYU economist Michael Clemens which argues that "barriers to emigration place one of the fattest of all wedges between humankind’s current welfare and its potential welfare."

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Unsung Heroes

The BBC is running a short series on scientists at the moment. More Tribes of Science follows The Tribes of Science, looking at the variety of scientists hidden behind the labcoats and coloured liquids.

Among others the Scientists of the Diamond Light Source, an interest of mine, take the spotlight for one episode. I encourage you to listen to the series.

The past week's episode featured The Statisticians.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ubuntu Tinkerings 1: Zotero, NTFS and missing devices.

Recently, following a hiccup with my Internet connection, I decided to completely reformat my laptop and start again*.

I use a 3 partition system: An ext3 (now ext4) primary partition containing Ubuntu; an NTFS primary partition containing Windows 7; and an extended partition containing my swap partition and an NTFS data store.

Following the reinstall I encountered a couple of problems setting up Ubuntu.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Preyed Upon

The BBC has recently reported how a Mac owner recovered his laptop by using Hidden. Hidden, however, costs $15 per year (just over £9), and can cost up to $400 for a more comprehensive service.

What the Beeb fails to mention is that there is a program that does this for free, on most operating systems (including android mobile phones).

This program is called Prey.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

AV Facts

Earlier this month I attended the UCL AV Debate. Blogs about the debate are available from the Grauniad and the organising UCL Constitution Unit; I will let you read these for yourself.

More importantly, 1 week from today you will be going out to vote (hopefully). If you are reading this you've probably decided whether to vote Yes, or No.

But if you want more info I will provide the executive summary of a brief by Dr. Alan Renwick and the Political Studies Association. Dr. Renwick was not the most eloquent speaker at the debate, but, like all good academics, he had brought his reference list, and proceeded to explain why both campaigns are lying to the electorate. The following summary contains most of his points:

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Driven to Distraction

On 1st December 2003 a law came into effect in the UK making the use of a hand-held mobile phone illegal while driving. The law covers all communication equipment other than "two-way radio", and most uses of such equipment including video calls, internet access and text messages.

At the time the law allowed police to issue £30 fines, this rose to £60 in 2007.

Despite this 20% of drivers admit to having texted while driving, despite texting being perceived as the most dangerous distraction while driving. The true number is probably much higher; would you readily admit to committing a driving offence?

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Knowledge by Bike.

I was out and about in London all day yesterday, had a wander around Hyde Park and stuck my nose in the Sexual Nature Exhibit at the Natural History Museum. I urge you to make use of Britain's free public museums while you (still) can.

I was not on my bike, but I did see a lot of people about, especially in the park. One individual caught my eye on the road outside my house. The cyclist appeared lost, and was rearranging a map on a handlebar fixing. I asked him whether he was lost and he replied; "No mate, I'm doing The Knowledge."

Friday, 1 April 2011

That explains it...

My MP does not like the Alternative Vote. In fact she has made "the case for 'first past the post'". Emily Thornberry, the MP for Islington South and Finsbury has chosen to go against her party.

A study reported on recently by the Evening Standard states that under AV I would have to write my letters of complaint to a Ms. Bridget Fox, rather than Ms. Thornberry. This is why my MP dislikes AV: she would have lost her seat.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Dissent over Student Visas

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) have called on the Coalition Government to stop trying to reduce the number of student visas. Their report, published today, criticises many aspects of government proposals. They highlight the planned crackdowns on pre-degree programmes and language requirements which I have highlighted before.

The reports I have personally heard and seen (on the BBC Website, BBC Radio4, and in The Metro) quote Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Committee and a Labour MP. What the reports fail to mention is the membership of this Committee (besides the BBC's use of "cross-party" in their strap-line).

Friday, 4 March 2011

ie6: The Numbers Game

Microsoft has officially announced that it is going to kill off ie6. This is made out to be a big thing, but it is really too little too late.

Friday, 18 February 2011

AV. Just because...

On May 5th 2011 the UK will go to the polls, some for local elections, some to elect their devolved administrations and all to decide the fate of the electoral system. The referendum, on whether to change the voting system from First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) to the Alternative-Vote (AV), finally passed through the legislative process after much stalling from Labour and Conservative peers.

Personally I have already decided how to vote, and am well within the "Yes" camp. (There is also a "No" camp in case you were unaware.) This is partly to do with the myths that are being bandied about by the Nos - for example the statement that the change will cost £250 million is blatantly false. However my underlying reason for saying "Yes" is not to do with any of the arguments presented.

Universities need International Students

The UK Border Agency has begun (and ended) a review into proposals by Immigration Minister Damien Green to cut student visa numbers. The changes will reduce the total number of student visas allotted, but apparently not for university students.

Damien Green has focussed on 'bogus colleges' and students with low standards of English. The cuts in numbers look at students studying at below degree level.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Ask a stupid question... Census2011

and you get a stupid answer. Or so the phrase goes.

On the 27th March Office of National Statistics (ONS) will ask almost the entire population of England and Wales 61 questions. This is the 2011 Census. Censuses do invade privacy, however they create very useful and interesting data; but only when they ask the right questions, in the right way.

There has been a census every 10 years since 1801 (excluding 1941). Before that famous censuses include the Domesday Book, of 1085, and the Roman habit of carrying out censuses for tax purposes.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


On BBC Radio4's Any Questions broadcast yesterday evening Katharine Birbalsingh compared the release of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks to phone-tapping by the News of the World. This met ridicule from some members of the audience but none of the other panel members picked up on the comment.*