Archive for March, 2009
So somebody reviewed 1,302 songs by the same number of bands, giving each one six words only.
But how to centrifuge this toxic dump? Clearly there was no possibility of scraping the page and wget-ing the lot; Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is shit) applies to music as it does to few other things. I thought of trying to express my tastes in a set of criteria, that I might even implement in a python script, but on reflection this seemed to be too much like work, and anyway, it didn’t really fit the aim. I wanted surprises, not confirmation.
Then I had an idea; what about applying some sort of statistical method? Yer man had given each song a rating between 1 and 5; as you know, Bob, if you ask people in a survey to rate something on a scale of 1 to 5, they will go for 3 far more often than you’d expect from a normal distribution, because it’s the safe choice. But presumably the ones he gave a top rating to must have something.
And there were basically two ways a song could get into the bottom rank; either it was objectively arrant shite, or else it was incompatible with the other guy’s tastes. Now, I have no idea what those are and no reason to assume they are anything like mine, so in fact, being one-starred could actually be a recommendation. Similarly, being top-rated could be either evidence of quality, or else just a matter of taste. And I had no reason to imagine either case was more likely. Further, the principle of management by exception was in my mind; the top and bottom 10% must be doing something right or wrong, so they’re the ones to look at.
So I decided to ignore all the 2s and 3s and most of the 4s, and then make a selection from the ones that remained, based on unreason and hunch, and at least once on the basis that they came from Leeds.
And? I’m grinning with delight at the results, a pile of 31 MP3s of which 30 are by people I’ve literally never heard of and at least 28 are utterly great. Here’s the really interesting bit, though: I can’t tell which ones were 1s and which were 5s. Well, there is at least one exception to that, but as a rule, no, it is far from obvious. And why are so many fronted by women? This isn’t something I’d noticed as a taste, although – horribly – I just remembered that my father owns a vast amount of vinyl by early 1970s hippy-chick singer-songwriters. Boxes and Nick Hornbyesque boxes of ’em. That’s hardly characteristic of the list I came up with, but it is scary. Perhaps it’s sampling bias – or maybe the quasi-automatic process got around my unconscious prejudices?
You may have noticed that the Viktorfeed is down. The server it runs on was updated last night to the new version of Debian, including a new Python installation, and Something Went Wrong involving the conversion of strings to struct_time values. If you do this on my laptop:
Python 2.5.1 (r251:54863, Jan 10 2008, 18:01:57)
[GCC 4.2.1 (SUSE Linux)] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import time
>>> timeinput = '25032009210500'
>>> t = time.strptime(timeinput, "%d %m %Y %H %M %S")
you get this:
>>> print t
(2009, 3, 25, 21, 5, 0, 2, 84, -1)
but if you do this on the server:
Python 2.5.2 (r252:60911, Jan 4 2009, 21:59:32)
[GCC 4.3.2] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
> import time
> timeinput = '25032009210500'
> t = time.strptime(timeinput, "%d %m %Y %H %M %S")
Ada Lovelace appears in the mirror…and she’s *not happy*.
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 1, in
File "/usr/lib/python2.5/_strptime.py", line 330, in strptime
ValueError: time data did not match format: data=25032009210500 fmt=%d %m %Y %H %M %S
I’ll fix it as soon as I can.
Update: We’re back. The problem related to Bug #1730389, and when that was fixed it turned out email.utils.formatdate() had also changed, wanting floats only rather than struct_time objects, and of course I could go back to using Sqlite3 as I did developing the thing rather than pysqlite2.
China’s top climate change negotiator wants the Chinese export sector to be excluded from their targets, and “consumers to pay” instead. This is not good news.
For a start, the tactics. It means accepting the principle of letting some special interests off. We know, after all, that there will be the mother of all lobbying wars about this, all wanting their pet interest group to be left out. Therefore it’s best to hold a firm line as long as possible, minimising the damage. Also, even if this isn’t just special pleading, the output (no CO2 target for much of Chinese industry) is identical to the effects of special pleading. So it’s worth treating it as such until proven otherwise.
After all, if it proved to be honest, you can always make a gracious concession later; but you can’t take back concessions you made earlier so easily.
Secondly, there is no end to this argument. If they claim a right to export all they like and bill the customer for the CO2, then for this right to be effective, they must also have a right to import capital goods – machine tools, Siemens power stations, that kind of stuff. Wham, half the German engineering sector wants a note from mum too. What about the primary exporters? And come to think of it, if it’s the consumer’s fault, some of that responsibility must rest with the people who lent them the money…which for the dollar zone was the People’s Bank of China, State Administration of Foreign Exchange.
More seriously, it’s a really bad idea on the substance. The mechanism of action is something like this – imports containing a lot of embodied CO2 would be taxed and would cost more, so people would buy less carbony ones, and Chinese exporters would stop producing so much CO2. But it’s a very long set of tongs; too many moving parts. Unless the energy used in the product is a hell of a lot, the tax component won’t be that great compared to the range of prices for that kind of product. The exporter might not notice, or might attribute the drop in sales to something else.
Just taxing fossil fuel at the point of sale, already, has the huge advantage that it falls directly on the user, who has the most control over how much gets used, and it’s explicitly and unmistakably down to the fuel.
Further, how many SKUs (Stock-Keeping Units – individual products) does the Chinese export sector produce? It’s got to be in the tens of thousands at the least. Under this proposal, each one would have to be carbon-audited accurately and regularly and assessed for taxation on that basis. It is far from clear whether the importing state or the exporting state would do this. Just taxing fossil fuel, already, involves less than a dozen SKUs, which happen to be bulky, smelly, heavy, or black and dusty, and therefore difficult to hide on a big scale.
And every manufacturer would have a fine incentive to lie about the CO2 emissions associated with their product; if you can bring yourself to put melamine in the milk, you can surely lie about your electricity bill. It’s the worst Goodhart’s Law violation I’ve seen for a long time.
But here’s the really weird bit. Whether the CO2 tax is applied at source as a fuel tax or a cap-and-trade system, on crossing the border like a tariff, or at the point of final sale like VAT, the economic upshot is essentially the same; goods subject to it would cost more than goods not subject to it, and goods subject to it that contained more CO2 would cost more than ones with less.
Either yer man is hoping that the importing states wouldn’t bother to impose the tax, or else his argument is actually indistinguishable from the one he’s trying to shoot down – that there should be a tariff on goods from states that don’t implement a CO2 tax.
Alternatively, he’s just talking his book, setting a negotiating marker in a cost-free fashion. In which case, time to pick it up and run it back.
If this leaves you in need of an optimism fix, have a look at this GSFC feature. The “shorter”: ozone depletion would have made it unsafe to go out in the sun for as long as five minutes essentially everywhere by 2065, but we, ah, fixed it. (Via German ScienceBlogs; if you speak German there’s also a fascinating interview with Paul Crutzen here.)
This sounds a lot like sense to me. Richard Holbrooke thinks destroying Afghans’ poppy crop is stupid:
“It hasn’t hurt the Taleban one iota,” he said, “because whatever money they’re getting from the drugs trade, they get whatever they need whether we reduce the acreage or not.”
The US said last month that poppy cultivation had been reduced by 19% last year. Despite the drop, the UN estimates that Afghanistan accounts for 90% of the world’s illicit heroin supply.
“The United States alone is spending over $800m a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing,” he said. “It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years.” Mr Holbrooke said much of the money should be redirected to helping Afghanistan’s farmers.
He spoke of a “very significantly expanded agricultural sector job-creation set of programmes – irrigation, farmer to market roads, market places, seed.”
The most wasteful and ineffective programme of his career; and he went to Vietnam.
HYPOTHESIS: Anyone who uses the word “cyberwar” where they could use the phrase “network security” is one or more of the following – a) incompetent to discuss the issue, b) trying to sell something to members of a), c) lying.
EVIDENCE: This ridiculous drivel at the sad husk of what DefenseTech used to be before Wired hired all the talented people and just left the right-wing mouthbreathers. North Korea is the third strongest threat to U.S. and allied information security? Seriously? North Korea doesn’t even have redundant submarine cable connectivity. (Now, South Korea would be a truly formidable enemy, with all those people from Samsung, KTF, SKTel, LG etc…)
And where are the real cyber-attackers? “Cyberwar” is still a PowerPoint presentation, but attacks on IT systems are as common as spilt beer, and they come from non-state actors. But there is no sign of, say, the RBN, the Storm botnet, or indeed anyone else. In fact, the best demonstration of my point would be this quote:
It is important to remember: this is Cyber Warfare 1.0. The next iterative release is on the whiteboards of think-tanks right now.
Indeed. Not in national signals-intelligence agencies, or on the IRC channels of disgruntled hackers, but other think-tanks. The real enemy is your rival in the budget wars.
There should be a special term for the phase in the adoption of an idea between the point at which everyone accepts its desirability, and the point at which it wins over other ideas politically. This isn’t the same as the point of implementation; it’s quite possible for your idea to go into practice, but still to be in the queue elsewhere. So here we are; from E-Health Insider, it looks like the NHS NPfIT is looking at throwing away the disastrous Cerner and iSoft systems and issuing new tenders. In fact, some trusts in the South East have been permitted to sort their own problems out.
However, David Nicholson (the very model of a modern managerialist) is in charge and he for some reason won’t let all the other trusts do this. Even though it is clearly sensible, and is being done, it’s still in the special gap of political unacceptability. I thought this was interesting:
Nicholson said a key problem that the NPfIT programme had faced throughout was the unique requirements of the NHS and what it is trying to achieve. “There is no system off the shelf we could go for.”
Yet the programme was set up so that the NHS IT community, to say nothing of the NHS clinicians, and even less of the patients, had absolutely no input to it. Both Cerner and iSoft are trying to adapt off-the-shelf products from the US. And the attempts to save by outsourcing were disastrous.
“The Lorenzo product is being developed at Morecambe Bay, so we’re really optimistic that something will come out of that, but its not inevitable,” he went on. “And I think we’ll know over the next few months whether these products will actually be able to deliver the things they promised to do.”
That might have been an idea before you bought them, eh. Further, note that he thinks Lorenzo still might get somewhere because of in-house development work…
The other issue he said that was being focused on is how to deliver products more quickly and to give trusts more flexibility. Answering questions on the Summary Care Record, the NHS boss said it was possible to de-couple the Summary Care Record from the wider CRS development and simplify it.
This is damning to the entire project. If the record formats can be standardised without the rest of the system, there is no reason for “the system” as sold to Tony Blair to exist. Every trust could have its own system as long as they used the standard.
Remember, the only way to kill a zombie is to aim for the head. By the way, it’s not as if the Americans don’t have Bad Medical IT as well.
Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads has a hell of a story. Now, I’ve not always been totally convinced by Tim; he spends an inordinate amount of time pursuing minor politicos for breaches of netiquette I think I’d just forget. But two of the crucial principles of journalism can be summed up as the clam ethic – once you get hold of a story, clamp down and never let go – and the Take That principle – never forget. They always want you to forget.
So, the Sun ran a patently ridiculous story that jihadis on the interwebs were threatening Alan Sugar. Apparently they imagined that he had to be in the story because otherwise the public wouldn’t grip it; I would have thought that a nontrivial percentage of the population would have been delighted. Hey, I grew up with an Amstrad PCW. But the Sugar element was the crucial break point, because it was this bit that was reliant on their source, who turned out to be a self-made spy called Glen Jenvey, who turns up all over the place in moderately well-funded “anti-terrorist” astroturf exercises.
And so on, and so on, until he demonstrated that Jenvey was a) the author of the threats, not just a reporter on them, b) using Patrick Mercer MP (for it is he) to lend weight to his nonsense, and the British Ambassador to Afghanistan’s brother too, and c) the sort of shameful arse who throws around accusations of paedophilia. Richard Bartholomew has been doing good work on this too.
It’s a very good question just how many terrorism stories (especially ones that have the “Internet” flag set – it means “stuff I don’t understand” to a lot of editors) are the work of these people, whether the upscale, Decent version or Jenvey’s Comedy Gladio.
More Dadadodo. Here’s some Daniel Davies:
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Yours truly. (The title of this post was itself taken from the output.)
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Melanie Phillips, again:
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