mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
On the way into work this morning I again waited at a traffic signal that protects a pit in one lane of a two-lane road. There is usually no activity around this hole in the road and whatever work is being done there by Scottish Water appears to be taking them many days.

I wonder what it costs utility companies to block roads. I imagine that the city council charge them more, the longer the work takes, but how much? I am reminded of living in Massachusetts. There, the police union seems to have wangled some neat deal to get officers paid plenty for watching traffic around road construction. Whatever I think of that, I wonder if the ongoing expense is a sufficiently non-trivial fraction of the project cost to help hurry the work along.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
I am noticing how attractive I find the idea of subscribing to some coherent ideology. That I have not done so may be much more due to an inability to accept such a belief system rather than my reluctance to. The idea of being persuaded of some unambiguous meaning in life, some goal that tells me what to do and what is worth it to get there, especially if somebody else has already done the hard thinking for me and provided like-minded comrades, is very appealing. In this year's elections I had to again research parties and manifestoes and candidates not because I am proudly independent but just because I have a hard time buying others' thinking, certainly as a complex package. I already knew that I am persistently doubtful about everything from theism to capitalism but I do not think that I had properly noticed how much I would have liked more certainty about fundamental beliefs.

A nice thing about having children is that I find I can draw some confidence in action from that I want to serve their interests. That feeling may be an irrational product of natural selection but at least it is guidance that I actually feel able to buy into.
mtbc: maze D (yellow-black)
Many American states have the notion of secondary traffic offenses: the police may not pull one over for committing them but if stopped for some primary reason, like speeding, then secondary charges may follow. It depends on the state but secondary offenses are acts such as using a cellphone or not wearing a seatbelt.

I find the concept bizarre. I don't know if the theory is that being pulled over constitutes some kind of seizure under the Fourth Amendment or if the legislature really did not want to pass, say, a seatbelt law so making it difficult to enforce was the only way to get enough votes at all, or what. I am curious to know what the thinking really is and the degree to which it makes sense. I am not aware of an analog in English or Scottish road traffic law.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
In The West Wing (1999) the senior White House staffers chronically work very long hours. How does this make sense? Is it good for their cognition to be ongoingly compromised? Can there not be enough staff to take on the workload? Perhaps the problem is that they would not be able to leave notes for each other or that they do not have enough room to put all the people or something. It does seem as if there has to be a more effective way for them to work. Maybe we are supposed to believe that they are so superlatively good at their jobs that even half-asleep they outperform some next-best people who might instead be on duty to catch some acute situation.
mtbc: maze C (black-yellow)
In the School of Life Sciences where I work we produce systems like the Image Data Resource which is full of strange pretty pictures acquired from expensive microscopes and used to justify scientific conclusions. There is also some initial proof-of-principle code for reproducing analyses via the IDR Jupyter Hub. OMERO.figure is also rather neat: turn the raw image files acquired from the microscope into figures ready for Adobe Illustrator to put into your paper; information in the figures like timepoints, scalebars, etc. is derived from the metadata encoded by the microscope as it acquired the images.

Modern academic life is highly competitive and journals are far more keen to publish interesting new discoveries, however lucky, so there is great career pressure report the right kinds of findings. Further, many of them turn out to be difficult to impossible to reproduce. Even despite this, my impression is that the kind of research misconduct I have in mind is, at its core, well-intentioned: the results may be a little doctored, or an unusually significant subsample, or whatever, but the researcher does generally believe the hypothesis that they are trying to prove, they are just exaggerating the evidence for it.

I figure that our work stuff might be useful if it helps to encourage a culture of sharing all the raw data and the procedures by which it was analyzed. But, I wonder if this papers over a more fundamental problem: that the people generating the hypotheses are also those testing them. I am amused to be thinking of this as a conflict of interest.

I can see why it happens. The people who have the idea are probably the more enthusiastic about testing it. Maybe not many labs are used to working with those cell lines or protocols or whatever at all so it is not like any lab could just pick up the work. And, even if we had a system where the people who generate hypotheses are separate from those who test them, one can see that there is still scope for mutual back-scratching and the like. One can imagine the specifics of the experimental design would be something of a negotiation between the hypothesizer and the tester.

So, I am not saying that even this pipedream idea of having researchers' hypotheses tested by third parties is a good one even if it were workable. But, I do wonder if there is some related but realistic way in which scientific research could be restructured to make it more trustworthy.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
An aspect of European Union membership that I greatly value is their focus on personal data privacy. This has similarly attracted me to the UK's Liberal Democrat party but rather less so: given how very little they bother to mention it in campaigning I would guess that they may not care as much.

I have been struck by how poor the BBC's choice is to soon make login compulsory for viewing content online. I have already mentioned how I would be fine with providing my television license number and how I do not want them to attempt to personalize their content for me. The compulsory login indeed relates to personalization: they want age, gender, postcode. In practice this is not yet a great burden to me because nothing in the process prevents me from simply lying for every login; I am a fan of services like BugMeNot. While the BBC do retain these personal details, their corresponding log of viewing history is indexed via some anonymized viewer identity code.

One facet of this that disappoints me is the BBC's naïveté. Their news archives now carry many years of history of very sensitive databases leaking from various organizations whose data security would have been expected to be good. If there are databases of everybody's details and television viewing habits being held by a well-known organization whose funding is often under political challenge then it will very plausibly leak regardless of prior public assurances made by ill-informed representatives. This risk is not so clearly worth the benefit that it ought to be imposed on all.

I am also intrigued by a contrast in attitudes between the US and the UK regarding how governments and corporations should handle personal privacy. Generally businesses are far more restricted in the UK than the US with regard to collecting, using and sharing our data, though perhaps only because of the EU. However, in the US the government is trusted far less: for example, it would be entirely normal for an American local library to not record my borrowing history but locally I am not even permitted to opt out of such.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The development of news story of the fire that gutted Grenfell Tower has been an ongoing surprise to me.

Initially I somewhat dismissed the wall-to-wall news coverage. The BBC in particular seem keen to let a large news story wholly dominate live news for many hours even when new information comes at a low rate. I often wish they would give a summary and update on the half-hour but cover other stories too in between. Also, the fire was in London and I suspected that having the main news coverage decision-makers also in London elevated the fire's apparent signifiance. Further, initial official reports of the death toll were not high.

I had failed to quickly apprehend that the real death toll is probably high indeed: that there were initially many missing people who probably mostly range from unrecovered to unidentifiable.

Additionally, the preventability of the tragedy is a significant news story in its own right. Do government building regulations, whether national or local, really tolerate such devastating firetraps, even despite previous related fires and expert testimony that clearly warned of the risk? Maybe so, in which case some public officials may be truly culpable and people in other tower blocks may now be living in some peril. It is all the more surprising given how tight UK building regulations typically are and have been for many years.

A further surprise to me has been the public anger focusing on Teresa May of all people even after the government announced a public inquiry. I find it hard to imagine that she is high on the list of those truly responsible for the fire or for the immediate aftermath. I did not feel bad for her after the general election but in this case I do. Perhaps I am again wrong and she does somehow warrant being the focus of the current protests. I wonder if her crime is not one of material actions but instead of failure to obviously emote in the expected manner.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Of our constituency's candidates, the incumbent Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party, beat the MEP Ian Duncan, Scottish Conservative and Unionist, by only 21 votes out of 51,525 cast, and our constituency wasn't the closest. As usual, Labour were barely on the radar and the Liberal Democrats worse still. Around Perthshire we have plenty of landowners; in the two Dundee city constituencies Labour usually do better than here and the Conservatives worse though the SNP hold those seats comfortably.

After this latest election there seems to be a deepening rift between the Scottish Conservatives who gained seats and the ones down south who lost seats. I find it interesting how the parties up here, even the Greens, typically have their own organization and separate manifesto.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
The general election was interesting. I have not much followed news yet to follow details but I figured that I should record my initial impressions and then I can see how the picture looks different to me in due course.

Here in Scotland it seems as if the Conservatives gained votes from the SNP. I suspect that it was due more to a second independence referendum being a poor choice of headline policy for the SNP rather than because many Scots were keen for hard Brexit. In some constituencies the margin of victory was wafer-thin.

In England I guess that UKIP votes went to the Conservatives who lost more votes to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It makes sense that this could reflect a higher turnout of young people who have woken up to Brexit and do not want it.

Theresa May came out poorly and her days are thus numbered. ) During the campaign she did not come across well in the media but Jeremy Corbyn and company hardly outshone her in that regard. I suspect that the Conservatives lost votes to Labour partly because their manifesto was less appealing. )

Personally I have some concern over how things will now go. I fear that ) the UK will end up with a soft Brexit that leaves it with the worst of both worlds.

On a personal basis, closer EU ties are better. )
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
It has been interesting to observe democracy in action in recent times. After the local elections the Conservatives were the largest party in Cornwall with well over a third of the council seats but they appear not to be working with any other large party so the result is a council whose leadership is split evenly among the independents and the Liberal Democrats: a coalition of the second and third largest groups get to run things. The council's new deputy leader used to be in my class at school. The nationalists Mebyon Kernow got a few seats too, only one less than Labour who are also minor in the county.

I am still getting used to being back in Europe with its multi-party politics and I don't recall previously noting independents usefully forming a group in their own right.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I had not realized how soon the general election now is. It is time for me to take stock of our local candidates:
Peter Anthony Barrett, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Locally they usually do even worse than Labour. They want to increase income tax a little and spend a fair bit, including on mental health services. They favor the triple-lock on pensions. They want a referendum on Brexit terms but not another on Scottish independence. They seem keen on public transport and renewable energy. The national party are keen to create more garden cities.

Ian Duncan, Scottish Conservative and Unionist

Currently an MEP. Keen on the environment. Is gay. We have had plenty of Conservative literature through the door, judging from which various older people like him. Said literature focuses on being against the SNP and a second independence referendum and includes a vague nod to improving public services and the economy. In general the Conservatives are for retaining Trident, reducing immigration, means-testing benefits and ending the triple-lock. One sometimes gets the impression that they would like to bring back the workhouses.

David Hugo Roemmele, Scottish Labour Party

Has quite a beard. Locally the party gets fairly few votes. They are in favor of retaining Trident, nationalizing public services and they oppose another independence referendum. Their website is poor. It isn't quite clear if the national party is presently up to organizing a wedding, let alone running a government.

Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party

Already has some power in the Commons. Background in community and charity work. Favors copyright term extension, perhaps related to his performing in bands. We have had plenty of SNP literature too, partly about opposing spending cuts but also mentioning many local issues. The SNP favor the triple-lock on pensions, another independence referendum, immigration and EU membership. They want to raise the top rate of income tax to 50%, spend plenty, stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and scrap Trident, and abolish the House of Lords.
Noting the candidates' and parties' principal and incidental properties does help me to decide for whom to vote. I let myself be guided by what they headline in their own literature as indicating what they care more about actually achieving. Perhaps at some point I should note the various issues and mention how I feel about them. Naturally they rarely greatly fit one party's manifesto over another, hence the diversity in my voting history in both the UK and the US.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
I waited a while before commenting on the bombing )

9/11 may be the attack that made the most emotional impact on me in that it is one of the very few events for which I vividly recall my circumstances when I heard the news, also events later that day. I was a little confused by political pronouncements afterward: especially President Bush's they hate our freedoms speech which, though not wrong, seemed to miss much of the point: bin Ladin himself had explained in quite different terms the concrete grievances. I subsequently learned more about terrorism )

This recent bombing, and [personal profile] emperor's recent mention of having watched Calvary (2014), reminded me of the line near the end of the movie, … all those years, did you cry then?. Though it requires some spoiler context for its full impact, it remains an excellent question that reminds me that I should at least pay proper attention even if I do not cry, and I believe that includes understanding why the bombing happened.

We now have some helpful information: it is reported that the bomber's sister speculates that he he saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge though a family friend says how he grew increasingly angry about what he considered ill-treatment of Muslims in Britain. Daesh have themselves given the usual mix of motivation: Western acts against Muslims and their lands abroad together with domestic liberalism. Clearly the sister's words point to the former category but Daesh's talk of the Crusaders and the shameless concert arena suggests some of each. A suicide bomber has considerable choice of target: it would have been no harder to bomb a group of adult professionals but Daesh's shameless may point to one cause being our failure to impose their Medieval conservatism upon our young women.

Just as I was after 9/11, I have been somewhat bewildered by mainstream politics' response to the tragedy. Bill Maher's comment on Politically Incorrect (1993) that the 9/11 attackers were not cowardly appears to be what got his show canceled. After the Manchester bombing politicians have again lined up to call the attacker a coward, but I doubt that they obviously were ) I do wonder if this portrait of the bomber as a coward is some kind of psychological offense to dissuade imitators. I do not think that it explains targeting the concert.

The political surprises continue. For example, we have Jeremy Corbyn suggesting that foreign policy may be a cause of domestic terrorism, only to face a backlash of criticism and I agree with none of it. First, it is woolly thinking indeed to confuse explain with justify: in what now appears to be called the blowback theory, which many experts deem to have some credibility, our foreign policy may indeed be a relevant factor, but this does not make the bomber any less culpable or wrong )

Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn is being criticized for voicing a version of the blowback theory when the bombing occurred so recently. But, the bombing is of high national significance and government policy both foreign and domestic may have a material impact on such events. Surely, before a general election to determine the shape of our new government is exactly when we should be examining why the attack occurred? if that is exploiting the attack then so be it )
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
A month ago I wrote about earnest young people thinking change possible and how I someday want to think clearly enough to find a good path. I recently saw the first episode of Blake's 7 (1978) and the resistance group on Earth reminded me of such people. I suppose that, as I mentioned the Red Army Faction, such groups would have been newsworthy around the time that the episode's story was written. Perhaps the idea of normal people being able to effect change was part of the show's appeal though in that case it was not all sunshine and rainbows.
mtbc: maze L (green-white)
When I am in the US I have a strong sense of the state and national identity of my location: I look around and, in terms of what goes on and what applies, local custom and jurisdiction feature strongly in my thinking. I do not have this sense when I am in Britain and I am puzzling over why not.

Scottish law is interestingly different to English law, just as my children now experience the Scottish education system which is unlike anything I knew. I had not been to Scotland before interviewing for my current job. There is no shortage of mention of Scotland on various signs and documents. Both the Scottish and UK independence referenda demonstrate that native residents retain a strong sense of local identity. There are various local customs and foods. It is not as if I am much less familiar with the US: I have spent most of my adult life there and my impressions of it even before first living there were generally confirmed over time.

Still, when I live in, say, Ohio, I am very aware of that it is where I am, as if it brings a welcome sense of extra meaning into my existence. Maybe the difference is that more of one's rights in the US are codified explicitly in a way that conservatives may even regard as being sacred. Or, perhaps Scotland is quite like England and that I spent my childhood in England makes me less conscious of my locality when I am in Britain. It doesn't make sense to me, anyway: I do not see what, say, Scotland lacks that would from day to day make me take for granted that I am here.

I have wondered if civil liberties could provide a clue. The EU has a strong sense of personal privacy from the point of view of confidentiality. The US has a strong sense of personal freedom from tyrannical or even needlessly prescriptive authority. I do not especially notice the UK culturally exhibiting much of either, except perhaps when inventing complaints about the EU, so is that an aspect of what I am missing here? To what extent does it generalize to other social issues? Or maybe it is just about how patriotic people are: after all, for Americans July 4th is a major holiday but in England they do not even get St George's Day off work.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Having previously enumerated our local council ward candidates and what I easily perceived of them it seems appropriate to report on the outcome. Overall the Conservatives appear to have profited handsomely at the expense of Labour and UKIP. In our ward Angus Forbes, Scottish Conservative and Unionist, was the clear winner. Rounds of vote transferring ensued and eventually Alasdair Bailey, Scottish Labour Party, got a seat, the only Labour councillor in our new council administration. The final seat went to Beth Pover, Scottish National Party; I think her husband Douglas has been a councillor in the term now ending.

When I voted yesterday at around 07h30 I was the only voter I saw. On the sidewalk outside there was a Conservative placard reminding us about the independence referendum as if that were anything to do with the local council. Ranking candidates is complex: I end up thinking ahead and taking in a little note of what I decided; it reminded me of voting for judges in Ohio. Until my poll card for the general election arrives my pending matters file folder is now unusually and agreeably empty.

It occurred to me that the vote transfer algorithm could also be applied to decide who gets to keep their deposit having stood for election. Though, there is no deposit associated with our local council elections and I do not recall that we rank candidates for the Scottish Parliament which is already complex enough with having a mixed-member electoral system.

One thing from the US that I miss is the I voted sticker one may proudly wear having voted. I liked how mine reminded others to either vote or at least to maybe get around to being able to someday.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Much of the rural central USA has liberal zoning: one can quite affordably buy a hayfield, have a cellar dug out, put a prefabricated house on top and live there. In Ohio I used to own several acres of land. This is one of the reasons for which I fully expect to move back to the US: I might then actually be able to afford somewhere I would want to live! I do not need anywhere grand or fashionable but I would like it to be my own space, not on top of my neighbors. I was fine in Ohio with our well water and septic system and whatnot.

Here in Britain planning permission makes it very difficult indeed to simply buy some land and have a house built there, perhaps partly because of the much higher population density. In the news I happened upon a quote from Legal & General about how on average houses cost more than seven times one's annual salary. I do not know if it is quite that bad but it does rather look as if over the past twenty years UK house prices have more than doubled relative to earnings. Ten years ago we had the Callcutt Review of House Building Delivery noting a considerable imbalance between supply and demand that seems to persist to this day. Looking further back in time, I see that over the past few decades house construction has been much less than when my parents were young.

I do not know what caused this nor what the solutions are. I am handsomely creditworthy and my bank is quite surprised not to be loaning me plenty for a mortgage but I cannot bear to take a loan that is some multiples of my income: our lovely house in Ohio cost not much more than twice my salary at that time but around here it would take more than triple to afford even a two-bedroom bungalow for the four of us. The situation in the UK feels like an increasing inequality even brushing rentier capitalism. I do not know if, for example, more garden cities are a good idea but any building plan bold enough to truly make much difference would also indirectly cost existing homeowners substantially. I thus do not expect to buy while I live here. Unfortunately, UK credit history is worthless in the US, so once I do return there I then have to begin to rebuild my credit from scratch with secured cards and the like.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
The European Union does not sound at all encouraging in its initial expectations for Brexit negotiations: far more stick than carrot in the details. I am unsurprised to read headlines like, The European Commission wants to engineer a no-Brexit-deal crisis…. Separately, what I read of the European Court of Justice suggests that a sufficiently intimate trade deal will probably be judged to be subject to veto by any of the herd of catsremaining members of the European Union who each have their separate domestic politics, some of which are unconducive to making the UK's life easy: in short, it could be difficult for the European Union to offer much of the kind of carrot that the UK most seeks even if leading members were so inclined.

Regardless of one's degree of strong stability or stable strength, I am not clear by what mechanism we reach a good exit agreement. I may take consolation from that the duration of the exit negotiations is a long time indeed in politics, my lack of expertise in foreign policy, and how both parties would benefit from something being worked out. However, I cannot help but wonder if we should be girding our loins for a considerably hard Brexit as I do not yet see that the European Union is likely to credibly offer enough to bring the UK anywhere into the ballpark of swallowing their substantial demands.

Update: A couple of days later I now read Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times:
… E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn't going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
In our ward three local councillors are to be elected on Thursday. The options to be ranked are:
Alasdair Bailey, Scottish Labour Party

We received a leaflet. Seems keen on broadband, village doctors, bicycling and buses. Less keen on hard Brexit and Donald Trump but not clear what the local council can do about either. Also not keen on housing.

Hilary Charles, Scottish Green Party

Didn't turn up to hustings in Errol. Seems to (re)tweet a bit.

Angus Forbes, Scottish Conservative and Unionist

We received a leaflet and a knock at the door. His listed address is the control tower at Perth Airport! Seems to know about local things and have time for council matters. Rather against an independence referendum but what that has to do with the local council I don't know. Happy to photograph gay weddings.

Mary Stronach Matheson, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Didn't turn up to hustings in Errol. Hard to find out anything.

Beth Pover and Douglas Brian Pover (a married couple), Scottish National Party

We received a leaflet and a knock at the door. The SNP currently control the council and point out their investment in schools, affordable housing, etc.. They are also keen to point out that they want to provide local services and the Conservatives want to cut them. I couldn't help but snigger when reading their complaint about a Conservative calling Nicola Sturgeon a poison dwarf.
mtbc: maze B (white-black)
On Thursday we have local council elections. This morning I dreamt that I had turned up at my polling place to vote but there was some problem that meant that we could not yet vote at the station: there was a backlog of people waiting. (The polling place did not resemble my real-life current one.) Fortunately (and implausibly), in compensation they were very competently providing us free catering while we waited: plenty of food from Marks & Spencer, a store that is a couple of grades up from what I can typically afford. Unfortunately for me on my diet, without nutritional information and sets of scales and whatnot, I was unable to avail myself of this otherwise-pleasant surprise.
mtbc: maze M (white-blue)
I was shepherding a child to Dundee's Central Library so, while there anyway, I asked an librarian about a book. I was amused to find that she checked Amazon before their own catalog but I guess it makes sense if she was not sure that the library's system would even know of the book at all. I also made the mistake of glancing at the science fiction: I came away with Baxter & Reynolds' The Medusa Chronicles and Bester's The Demolished Man before noticing that if I'd gotten barely past the B's and already grabbed two novels then I had better stop there.

On wandering along Murraygate there were predating I-think-Mormons. When I am taking things easy I may stop to chat with them a little, not sure if that is a rare relief for them, but it also seems a bit of a waste of their time if I am unlikely to be converted. Still, I got to wondering about some of my friends who have directly experienced God and become Christians. One thing I noted is that it has been a while since I prayed and invited God to change my mind too. Another is that I wondered if these revelations to friends have generally been a vaguer inspiration, perhaps involving Jesus' love and using the power of God to have the strength to help others and whatnot, or if there has been any detail specific enough, doctrinally or otherwise, in these divine communications to assist choice of church or denomination.

As I walked in the pedestrianized retail area I found a selection of socialists and communists and whatnot under the banner of Dundee's Trades Union Congress. They seemed to be wrapping up so I did not get to hear what they had been feeling exercised about lately. I have doubted that it makes much sense for me to join a union given that I am salaried and not interacting with students: my contract is that I am to work whatever it takes to get the job done so if I go on strike then I am just inconveniencing myself. However, today it occurred to me that I suppose I would be indirectly supporting other strikers if my union subscriptions were somehow making it more possible for them to strike, e.g., with hardship payments.

I noticed a couple of what seemed like Mexican fast food places: there was somebody advertising a local Mexican Grill and on Nethergate I noticed a new-to-me Wee Mexico. As Nisa is now closed I stopped in at Tesco Extra to buy some whole milk and in interacting with the self-checkout machine I repeatedly failed to properly place the milk. If anybody becomes aware of a store whose machines do not care one jot what items are placed where around the bagging area, or that at least give me an extra shelf on which to put my hat and whatnot, then I would gladly preferentially shop there even more strongly than I avoid those who routinely give discounts to loyalty card holders so for privacy I have to keep swapping the cards with others.

Then, my mother telephoned, so after putting the milk in the trunk of the car I continued to chat to her for a while, sitting on a bench at the university. I have a campus parking permit so on visits to Dundee it makes sense to use it. My mother mentioned that The Red Flag, which I suppose we now associate with Jeremy Corbyn's wing of the Labour Party, is sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum.


mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
Mark T. B. Carroll

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