Friday, November 18, 2016

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Paper written by iOS autocomplete accepted for conference

Nonsense paper written by iOS autocomplete accepted for conference

Some comments I just made in an email about this :

Ouch! "Unreasonable" recurrent neural networks will be doing all our jobs soon. (

What happens when we have automatic tools to summarize news items, journal articles, and perhaps provide early filters (routing-queries) in "what's interesting" from the journals. Perhaps lazy reviewers will just run the filter over a paper to see if its worth reading.

And then if we use the same models to generate papers ???

Just like automatic high-speed trading algorithms go off and autonomously create bubbles and crashes in the market, could we see runaway feedback between automated science paper generators and automated science paper accepters create entirely new subfields of science / pseudoscience?

I suppose, given that this is a physics conference, it's a great response to the Sokol Affair.

OTOH, sadly, it seems like this is a junk conference put together by "open access" publishers. The terrible thing here is that the term "open access" which should be a term of approval, is now getting discredited as vanity publishing.

I don't quite suspect a conspiracy by academic publishers ... but ... it is awfully convenient.  :-/

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Servers down

It seems all my servers are down ... giving DNS errors. Some problem with the name provider I think ...
Will keep you all posted.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Theresa May will lead us into a bleak future

Martin Kettle has an insightful comment on current division within Tory government's approach to Brexit. Not for or against, but which gets priority, controlling immigration (No 10) or free market (treasury).

Since No 10 will ultimately win that battle, the question is how the Treasury will react. In its determination to maintain the City of London’s global position outside the single market, the Treasury will find itself inexorably drawn down the road towards remaking the UK as an offshore, low-tax financial haven. Just at the very moment when the EU locks horns with Apple over sweetheart tax deals, so Britain may roll out the welcome mat to international corporations such as Apple, offering Britain as the new Ireland, or as a European Singapore.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Politics doesn’t need a brick through the window, or civility. It needs basic fairness

Abi Wilkinson :

This week I was asked on Twitter if I thought it was OK for someone to
call me a “fucking useless journalist”. My honest answer is yes. I might
not like receiving such a comment, and it’s unlikely to lead to any
sort of constructive dialogue, but I think it counts as a morally
acceptable form of self-expression. Not all anger can be considered
equally justified, but if we insist on civility as a requirement for
having a voice then we inevitably exclude those who are at the end of
their tether – and they’re the ones that should be listened to most

Thursday, July 07, 2016

David Blanchflower :
GDP per head is up just over 1% since 2008 and real wages are still 7% below their level at the start of the Great Recession in 2008. The problem is that many who voted leave thought this was all about immigration and EU rules, whereas in reality it was mostly about austerity. The Poles, the Czechs and the Hungarians came to the UK to work; they have higher employment rates than those born in the UK and pay far more into the system than they take out. It is clear that the rising number of immigrants has put pressure on public services but this was mostly because Osborne under-invested in services in order to shrink the state. They paid their taxes, but Slasher didn’t invest that money in new schools, houses and hospitals.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


Momus is seriously pissed off with Brexit.

And enlisting a world-class vituperator to help him express his rage. :-)

Meanwhile there's a 30 year retrospective album of Momus songs coming out, selected by the man himself.

Thoughts on the tracklist.

I see why Lucky like St. Sebastian has to be there, though I'd like to see Little Lord Obedience or The Rape of Lucretia rather than Paper Wraps Rock.

From Poison Boyfriend I don't particularly dig Murderers, the Hope of Women.  Would rather see Eleven Executioners, Violets or the haunting Islington John. The other two are obviously the right choices. (I'm a big fan of Sex for the Disabled, but understand its historic moment is over.)

Great selection from Tender Pervert and Don't Stop the Night.

Morality is Vanity is an excellent song.

Hipopotamomus? Meh! Bluestocking is throwaway. Marquis of Sadness is much wittier and has all the "perv" credential Momus might want here. Personally I used to like Ventriloquists and Dolls but began enjoying The Painter and his Model more.  Hipopotamomus itself and Monkey for Sally are far more musically striking and disturbing. Song in Contravention is more beautifully lush. This is a weak selection from one of Momus's best albums.

Too much Voyager. Voyager and Summer Holiday 1999 are classics. Cibachrome Blue if you want to capture the overall feel. But Spacewalk is excess to requirements. (And I think Afterglow is better if you insist on 4 tracks from this album.)

Platinum fine. Enlightenment is a good song ruined by a couple of horribly clunky lines that spoil what would otherwise be emotionally powerful. Rhetoric, nah! I'd have Breathless instead. And I love Christmas on Earth. Shame not to find a way to fit it in.

Not enough Ultraconformist. Last of the Window Cleaners obviously has to be there. But there are underrated classics like Ultraconformist itself and The Mother-in-Law. The Cheque's in the Post is a bit of a crowdpleaser that doesn't charm me much.

Philosophy of Momus is one of his weaker albums. As close to "filler" as Momus gets. He's right about Sadness of Things and Cabinet. I'm not sure Microworlds adds much. 20 Vodka Jellies, OTOH, is another "bit random" collection, packed with pleasurable upbeat tunes. London 1888 and End of History are obviously big songs. I'd have been inclined to try to find space for a couple more. There are plenty of greats to choose from on this album. 

Ping Pong was wildly hyped. But I think he's right to just stick with the much covered I Want You, But I Don't Need You and The Age of Information (an incredibly prescient piece of internet philosophy)

Born to be Adored is great. I don't like Old Friend, New Flame. But I see why it's pretty definitive of Momus and the Analog Baroque moment.

Stars Forever is so varied musically and tied up to its concept (song-portraits of patrons) that it would be hard to get a "representative sample". About 70% of the Stars Forever songs are great and the two he's chosen are from that 70%. But they aren't particular stand-outs. The most interesting thing about Tinnitus is that it's really looking forward to the Folktronic style he goes on to explore in the next album.  And mysteriously NOTHING from the Folktronic album makes it into this compilation. Is he just going for a twofer? Trying have one song represent both Stars Forever and Folktronic? Looks like it. He's already on disk 3 and only half-way through his spectacular discography.

Plus there ARE two songs from Folktronic : Pygmalism and Going for a Walk with a Line. And these obviously HAVE to be in the collection as they're two of his best songs from this period (if not two of his best songs. full stop.) But they're from the "extras" part of the disk, not Folktronic proper (at least that's how I read them). Perhaps it was hard to find one. Finnegan the Folk Hero of HTML is a bit twee. Psychopathis Sexualis maybe?

Oskar Tennis Champion is one of Momus's greatest albums. Certainly the extremely  inventive beginning of his "modern" (2000s+ ) style. It deserves to be well represented. No arguments about Beowulf and The Laird of Inversnecky, though I'm surprised by Scottish Lips. I'd have thought Is It Because I'm A Pirate? would be the obvious third here.

He's right to skip quickly over Otto Spooky. In my opinion, Momus's least pleasurable album. Even though it has Bantom Boys and Cockle Pickers which are ambitious experiments.  Life of the Fields is arguably a kind of last hurrah of of the Folktronic style and maybe appears for that reason. It's so so though.

Ocky Milk, in contrast, is like Vodka Jellies, another compendium of big, enjoyable tunes (that also manages to competently incorporate quite a lot of his weird experimentation). It's under-represented here. Though perhaps hard to do justice to it.

Of course, now he's having to rush. We're half-way through disk 3 and we're only starting on the really new stuff. Home produced albums which tend to have more songs on them than those made with expensive studio time in the 80s. The lush Joemus collaboration Widow Twankie deserves its slot here. Hypnoprism is woefully under-represented. As is Thunderclown. In comparison, two songs from Bibliotek seems generous. Though Erase, Momus's experiment  with another folktronicesque genre - Hauntology - is worthwhile. Two each from Bambi, Terpsicore and Glyptothek are fair. Though I'd prefer Catholic App, Unreconstructed or Spore to The Hiker. (System of Usher is fantastic.) 
And I wish he'd found room for Old Nick at the end. While Momus's last-of-the-album mawkfests (Ex-erotomane, Gibbous Moon) are often legendary, and  The Vaudevillian is the uber-tearjerker of an ending, Old Nick's sly twist on the convention is equally fulfilling, and somehow sums up the Momus project better.

Anyway looks a great compilation for those who don't know or have Momus's  ouvre. (I pretty much do have all these tracks, most of them legally.)


Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Blood-stained Three-ring Circus

Dianne Abbott is good here.

On Corbyn

So, my official position on the insurgency against Jeremy Corbyn from his own cabinet. As, so often these days, in the form of a Quora answer to the question : Are people calling for Jeremy Corbyn to step down after Brexit delusional?

Un-fucking-believably idiotically delusional.

I am … flabbergasted … that the Labour party has decided to commit suicide today. (Sunday 27 June, 2016).

Hilary Benn and friends have basically just declared that they want Nigel Farage to be Prime Minister.

It takes stupendous incompetence to make Nigel Farage into the most successful and competent party leader in England. But right now, that’s what he is. A leader who actually leads his party. And achieves the things he sets out to do.

Welcome to the age of stupid.

So … what happened is this. We are out of Europe because Cameron did a rash thing that backfired. And a lot of traditional working-class Labour voters were sold a simplistic story by the far-right, that immigrants were the reason for all the things that were wrong in their lives and the economy. (Rather than, say, the 2008 crash, and Cameron and George Osborne’s austerity policies over the last 6 years)

So, the anti-Corbyn faction have spun that into the idea that it’s Labour’s fault that the referendum went Brexit. And, in particular, those who have beef with Corbyn, have decided to jump on the bandwagon and claim that it’s particularly Corbyn’s fault for being lukewarm on European membership; a reluctant Remain. It’s Corbyn wot lost it.

Well, guess what. While a majority of Labour voted to remain, a sizeable chunk of Labour voted to leave. Labour IS conflicted over Europe; the working class haven’t seen much of the benefit of membership. And even remainers are sceptical. In other words, Corbyn’s lukewarm attitude to Europe far more accurately reflects the opinion of Labour membership and its traditional voters than any enthusiastic Europhilia does.

Now most of Corbyn’s enemies are from the right of Labour. The Blairite or New Labour side. Those who strongly believe that to win, Labour needs to recapture the political centre and the middle-class.

Maybe. But meanwhile, Labour is STILL haemorrhaging its actual, real (as opposed to potential) support among the working class. The SNP have taken its voters away from it in Scotland. UKIP is now taking working class voters away from it in the rest of England.But according to today’s plotters, Labour must orient itself yet further towards the interest of the urban elites; be louder and more dedicated in espousing them.

Except, simultaneously, it needs to also listen to the “real concerns” that labour voters have about immigration. And, ironically, Corbyn is both accused of bringing up questions like the TTIP which are allegedly “irrelevant” to people on the doorstep (despite being one of the most fundamental changes in legislation that Europe was bringing to the UK) AND of “lack of leadership” (ie. not just pandering to the crowd and media talking points)

He’s damned when he does reflect Labour voters (ie. is lukewarm) and damned when he doesn’t (ie. tries to talk about bigger issues, defends immigration)

(As a comparison, imagine this was an uprising by pro-Brexit Labour MPs, led by Kate Huey, claiming that Corbyn had backed the wrong horse and was out of step with supporters. At least that argument would have the benefit of coherence.)

The real delusion is this :

The Labour Party is being torn apart by historical forces that are far bigger than Jeremy Corbyn and his enemies. It serves multiple constituencies whose interests (economic, political and ideological) are diverging alarmingly. It finds it harder and harder to find positions that appeal to all these constituencies and whenever it speaks up for one, it alienates the others just a little bit more. (Perhaps Labour in any real sense, as the coalition of working class economic interest and middle-class liberal cultural interests is finished. Along with the second-wave industrial economy that spawned that alliance.)

And Corbyn’s critics are right. With his fusty old beliefs and principles, perhaps he can’t reunite these different factions.

But the reason they’re delusional is that neither can anyone else.

Corbyn’s critics, who blame him personally him for this, are fantasizing about a unicorn politician, someone who can magically be on everyone’s side at the same time : pro-Europe, pro-market, pro globalization, low taxing, liked by the right-wing media, and also pro-working class, protecting them from the competition that immigrants and globalization bring, offering more services etc. etc.In other words, they want a Trump-like, post-truth politician with the ability to tell everyone what they want to hear while not getting caught out. Basically, they’re hoping for their very own Boris Johnson. Blair with added xenophobia. 

But even if you passionately believe in unicorns, and think Corbyn needs to be replaced by one. You still ought to wait for the unicorn to arrive. Not just make a unicorn-shaped hole in the hope that one will turn up to fill it.

Let’s consider a couple of things :

1) The space of being right-wing of the Labour party while being nicer than the Tories, is already occupied by the Liberal Democrats. And they have long found very meagre pickings in that zone. They have to content themselves to just playing the “we’re the opposite of whoever you don’t like” game at the local level.

The only time the LibDems did well, was as a way for left-wingers to protest against Blair’s support for the Iraq War. The moment they went back to pitching themselves as “saner Tories”, they were wiped out. This is a common delusion but there is no “there, there” in the centre of British politics. If there was, the LibDems would have ruled the country for decades.

2) why did Corbyn win the leadership of the Labour Party in the first place? The utter lack of plausible alternatives. Everyone else in the campaign couldn’t articulate any position beyond “tell me who you want me to be”. And that went down like a lead balloon.

Things are no better now. If Corbyn goes, we know there are no unicorn populists in the Labour Party who are waiting to fill that vacuum. There’s no one with that magical ability to appeal to everyone. We know this because if there were such a politician in Labour today, then we’d have already heard from him (or her). They’d have already been prominent within the Remain campaign. They’d have been out there with Alan Johnson winning hearts and making headlines. Corbyn wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have stopped that (despite his enemies trying to talk up a story of “sabotage”). Any of today’s shadow cabinet resigners could have been out there making a name for themselves saying brilliant things if they had it in them to do it.

In practice, Labour was collectively lacklustre. It was collectively lacklustre because it really is between a rock and a hard place. The ONLY people who can argue that you can have the economic liberalism of the EU AND protectionist anti immigration policies are barefaced liars like Johnson and Farage. And, to their credit, Labour wasn’t shameless enough to try to promise that. Even if the cost was saying very little of consequence.

So, Labour had big problems in the referendum. But Corbyn is a symptom, not a cause, of them.

This week, David Cameron, the great Tory “success” of recent years, has been humiliated , revealed as making a spectacular error of judgement and has fallen. Meanwhile Boris Johnson is getting revealed as spectacularly dishonest. The entire tissue of lies that is the Brexit campaign is unravelling. The financial markets are in free-fall.

This is ALL the fault of right-wing incompetence.If Labour went on holiday for a month, they should be 10 points ahead when they came back.

Instead, a bunch of self-indulgent MPs, blinded by their own anger, confusion and frustration at Brexit and panic over a near election, have decided this would be an ideal week to turn in on themselves and break the Labour Party. Possibly for good.

In the run up to an early general election (if it comes within the next 12 months) the story coming out of Labour should be ALL about how allegedly “safe” Conservative hands clumsily dropped and broke the economy while UKIP were telling outrageous porkies.

Instead the message will be a confusing internal squabble about whether, in this party that almost entirely supported remain, the leadership was enthusiastic enough in its support for Europe. Despite that position being an overall vote-loser.


Instead of recognizing the fundamental challenges that the 21st century presents to centre-left politics and parties : global capitalism, high-speed finance, mass automation threatening most traditional employment, mass movements of people due to continual unrest and wars, climate change, social media, cryptography, blockchains etc. etc. MPs in the “shadow cabinet”, the aspiring government in waiting, are trying to personalize everything as Corbyn’s fault, and fantasize that by getting rid of the hated leader, their unicorn saviour will magically appear and heal the contradictions in the party, reunite them and make everything OK with the electorate.

Now THAT is delusional.

If Labour spends the next 6 months infighting, as other lacklustre non-entities demand their turn to wilt in the spotlight of leadership, then the beneficiary will be UKIP, whose pitch to the working-class will be “we know what we stand for, we get things done (though we still haven’t managed to purge ourselves of these immigrants because of Tory prevarication)”. They’ll take an even bigger slice of working-class voters from Labour, perhaps finally winning enough seats to force the Tories into coalition.

Anyone who believes a “nationalist” party can’t take the working class away from Labour should look to Scotland. And the rise of far right parties in the rest of Europe.

Farage has already pwned the Tory party, by spooking Cameron into giving him the referendum that he can now claim credit for winning. He’s actually had Tory leavers dancing to the tune of his propaganda campaigns. Now imagine a coalition government with, say, Theresa May as notional prime-minister and Farage as deputy. It wouldn’t take long for him to grab the oxygen and become its public face (and perhaps driving force).

What stands between us and that future is a united Labour party. Letter after letter of shadow cabinet resigners stress that and say that Corbyn can’t unite Labour. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s they who have decided to refuse to be united under Corbyn.

When they say that he failed because he failed to stop Brexit, they aren’t speaking for the 52% of the country that voted FOR Brexit. They aren’t speaking for the membership of the Labour Party that overwhelmingly voted Corbyn. They aren’t speaking for the working class that was ambivalent about the benefits of the EU and tempted to take a punt on something different. They’re just publicly broadcasting their own cluelessness about the contradictions within the Labour Party. And their willingness to try to pin the blame on someone else.

It won’t end well. Corbyn has a mandate from Labour members and supporters. He’s always put his principle over toeing the party line, even when it made him unpopular. He has no reason to think that this upswing against him has any more principle behind it than naked fear and ambition.

So I think he’ll fight it. And we’ll see Labour collapse into an angry, bad tempered leadership contest, with no obviously strong / charismatic alternative to Corbyn coming forward.

Either Corbyn wins it leaving his detractors smouldering with resentment and denuding the front-bench of even their meagre talents. Or someone else comes through, who MPs like better but proves equally incapable of solving the fundamental contradictions that Labour faces, but does drive away the enthusiastic supporters who came on-board for and with Corbyn.

Most likely you’ll see a very ugly competition where some candidates espouse anti-immigration policies direct from UKIP, scaring away liberal London, while Europhile Blairites tell a tired Polyannaish story about the benefits of globalization that reinforces their out-of-touchness with Labour voters in post-industrial regions.

Labour was falling apart anyway, due to historical trends. But this coup is like trying to arrest that process by hitting it with a big hammer. All it will do is accelerate the fragmentation.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Microsoft Buys LinkedIn

I'm not doing Platform Wars any more. But this seems big enough to deserve a comment. (quoting my Quora answer)
Microsoft has a history of buying fairly big, reasonable tech. brands that OUGHT to offer them an interesting direction to evolve strategically ...and then wasting them by leaving them wither into insignificance.
That's what they did with Skype, which they should have been able to evolve into a messaging app. competing with, and as compelling as, Whatsapp / Telegram / FB Messenger / Snapchat etc. Instead it's fading into obscurity.
They did it spectacularly with Nokia. Who now make almost no smart-phones for no noticeable improvement in Windows Phone sales.
They'll probably do this with LinkedIn.
It’s possible that under Satya Nadella things will be different. But the traditional M$ problem is that it tries to use the new acquisition to prop up Microsoft’s existing brands and strategies (ie. Windows, Office, Azure) rather than allowing the acquisition to suggest new strategies and exploring the new opportunities it brings.
Now LinkedIn itself was sliding into a bit of a decline. I think there was very little vision about what a disruptive, world-changing employment platform could be (eg. Phil Jones' answer to Why hasn't anyone disrupted LinkedIn yet? )
To recap, what if LinkedIn wasn’t just Yet Another Social Network left in the wake of Facebook’s dominance? What if LinkedIn’s “big hairy audacious goal” was something like “to double the world’s income”. (ie. to provide whatever will help its users earn more each year … whether by finding better paying jobs, doing more gigs on the side, being better matched with the right job, identifying and getting whatever training makes them more valuable to the market, learning how to negotiate better etc. etc.) To execute on that mission would put LinkedIn in the same league as Google / Facebook / Apple etc. The moment you think like that, multiple new directions, opportunities, potential income streams etc. simply fall out of it.
Now, is that a possibility under Microsoft ownership? Who knows? Nadella isn’t Ballmer. He, says he’s willing to change Microsoft. But it’s hard to know how big his vision is. Or how much he’s still trapped by the traditional forces and attitudes within Microsoft.
So this is another (and almost the last) chance for Microsoft to buy themselves into the social platform big league. They may be ready to do something interesting. But they squandered an amazing opportunity with Skype. And early talk about how they’re thinking of effectively using the community to sell Microsoft products to and analyze data from isn’t that encouraging.
I’d look for some kind of big insightful statement from Nadella before I get very excited about this.
Right now … the evidence is ambiguous : Read Microsoft CEO’s memo to staff about LinkedIn acquisition

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Three Policies for Pirates

Three policies I'd like to see a Pirate Party (or any forward looking political party) adopt with respect to providers of online services, social networks, communication feeds etc.

1) There should be an option to turn the filter-bubble off. 

If you use an algorithmic filter to prioritise what is of interest to the user within a feed, you MUST also provide a version of the feed without that filter. And an easy way to switch it on or off.

2 Everyone owns their own "data-exhaust". 

If you provide a service that gets its value from observing user behaviour you cannot claim exclusive ownership of that data. The user should have an inalienable right to share or license it with anyone else. (You aren't obliged to make it available to others (which might be genuinely arduous) but you can't complain if the user or another company (with the user's consent) figures out how to do it themselves.

3) Service providers must openly explain what data they are mining / inferring from their users. 

Just as packaged foods must explain what ingredients go in to them. Online data-services must explain what they are inferring from your behaviour so that you know what you are revealing to them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Rant #1

Microsoft, you idiots! Why do you try to force me to create a new Microsoft account to use Skype on my new Windows Machine?
I don't want another Microsoft account and I already HAVE a Skype account. (Which is yours anyway). Why not just silently merge the Skype and Microsoft identity back-ends and let me use the login / password that I already have?
What I'm going to do instead of migrating my account to Microsoft is restrict my Skype use to my Android phone (which still works, Skype on Linux broke a long time ago), and eventually migrate to other chat / VoIP solutions 99% of the time. And that's because you are being demanding and annoying rather than providing me with something useful that helps me do what I want to do.

Rant #2

HMRC (UK tax people) are absurd. Last year I set up a perfectly good online way to access my account. Today they want "confirmation" of the last 4 numerals of an "interest paying" bank account. I don't HAVE an interest paying bank account. I've certainly never registered one with them. But their stupid new "security" measure locks me out of my account with them because I can't present them with the details of one. WTF??????