Archive for June, 2011

Did the UK and France get around the Missile Technology Control Regime in order to sell Saudi Arabia the Stormshadow air-launched cruise missile just by draining off some of the fuel to get the range under a key number? This should probably get more publicity than it has.


There’s a good story to be told (somewhat in the New New mode) about the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo Station.

It’s basically as follows: after the Eurostars moved to the new St. Pancras, the thrillingly modern structure Nicholas Grimshaw gave them was abandoned to rot by “Sir” Brian Souter’s privatised train empire and eventually used as the stage for a production of The Railway Children “with a real steam train!” This, of course, is an example of everything that’s wrong with our society, nicely dramatised by the fact that the home of nuclear-powered, French super-express rockets has become the setting for a slap-up feast of Victorian kitsch and is now entirely surrounded by additional retail opportunities. Hey, the panto advert even has “Welcome to Yorkshire!” on it even though you’re very unlikely indeed to get to Yorkshire from Waterloo.

Like all the best myths it even fits the facts. Pat Robertson’s best mate is indeed responsible. But then you read a good blog; London Reconnections‘s horrifically detailed discussion of the possibilities of improving the South West main lines. In fact, although the trains suck, it’s not because they’re short of platforms at Waterloo, and the best option for making use of the Eurostar terminal requires building a flyover near Clapham Junction and painfully reworking the timetables.

It does worry me, though – how much of what passes for a national discourse is just weightless aesthetic guff? There’s a big difference between the sort of thinking you get with just the look-and-feel and the sort you get once you shove in something like that LR post under it.

If you did want some weightless style page handwaving guff, though, I’d like to point out that I really was a 1980s kid and because of this, I *don’t* have any memories (fond or otherwise) of The Breakfast Club – I’m too young. So if you’re younger than I am, you surely don’t. Nostalgia for the past you don’t remember. Now there’s a bit of conservative culture for you.

My lobbying project has been entered in the Open Data Challenge! Someone posted this to the MySociety list, with rather fewer than the advertised 36 hours left. I was at a wedding and didn’t read it at the time. After my partner and I had tried to invent a tap routine to the back end of Prince’s “Alphabet Street” and had got up at 8am to make it for the sadistic bed & breakfast breakfast and gone back to help clean up and drink any unaccountably unconsumed champagne, and the only thing left to look forward to was the end of the day, I remembered the message and noted that I had to get it filed before midnight.

So it was filed in the Apps category – there’s an Ideas category but that struck me as pathetic, and after all there is some running code. I pushed on to try and get something out under the Visualisation category but ManyEyes was a bit broken that evening and anyway its network diagram view starts to suck after a thousand or so vertices.

As a result, the project now has a name and I have some thin chance of snagging an actual Big Society cheque for a few thousand euros and a trip to Brussels. (You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.)

The most recent experiment with the Lobster Project – see, it’s got a name! It’s got you its grips before you’re born…it lets you think you’re king when you’re really a prawn…whoops, wrong shellfish – was to try out a new centrality metric, networkx.algorithms.centrality.betweenness_centrality. This is defined as the fraction of the shortest paths between all the pairs of nodes in the network that pass through a given node. As you have probably guessed, this is quite an inefficient metric to compute and the T1700 lappy took over a minute to crunch it compared to 7 seconds to complete the processing script without it. Perhaps the new KillPad would do better but the difference is big enough that it’s obviously my fault.

Worth bothering with?

As far as I can see, though, it’s also not very useful. The results are correlated (R^2 = 0.64) with the infinitely faster weighted graph degree. (It also confirms that Francis Maude is the secret ruler of the world, though.)

The NX functions I’m really interested in, though, are the ones for clique discovery and blockmodelling. It’s obvious that with getting on for 3,000 links and more to come, any visualisation is going to need a lot of reduction. Blockmodelling basically chops your network into groups of nodes you provide and aggregates the links between those groups – it’s one way, for example, to get department level results.

But I’d be really interested to use empirical clique discovery to feed into blockmodelling – the API for the one generates a python list of cliques, which are themselves lists of nodes, and the other accepts a list of nodes or a list of lists (of nodes). Another interesting option might be to blockmodel by edge attribute, which would be a way of deriving results for the content of meetings via the “Purpose of meeting” field. However, that would require creating a list of unique meeting subjects and then iterating over it creating lists of nodes with at least one edge having that subject, and then shoving the resulting list-of-lists into the blockmodeller.

That’s a lorra lorra iteratin’ by anybody’s standards, even if, this being Python, most of it will end up being rolled up in a couple of seriously convoluted list comps. Oddly enough, it would be far easier in a query language or an ORM, but I’ve not heard of anything that lets you do SQL queries against a NX graph.

Having got this far, I notice that I’ve managed to blog my enthusiasm back up.

Anyway, I think it’s perhaps time for a meetup on this next week with Who’s Rob-bying.

pointless whining

Really. Seven months. Six updates including a major version. Still no fucking blogger import into WordPress.

Why is this being such a fucking pain? Does anyone know if Movabletype (or whatever) has a working importer? Note that solutions that involve downloading the complete TYR Classic and then re-uploading it over home “Very” ADSL are not working solutions.

Quiggin is discussing why some things are neo- and others are post-. How do we deal with the current revival of high modernism (see Owen Hatherley’s blog and indeed his career, the proliferating Mid-Century Modern groups on Flickr, the wave of preservation campaigns for mid-20th century landmarks)? It’s obviously silly to call it post-modernism and in any case it’s explicitly opposed to it. I’ve heard post-postmodernism but that’s more of an admission that it hasn’t got a proper name yet than a solution.

Neo-modernism? I can’t help but feel there’s some stylistic problem with calling something both new and modern in the same word. I guess you could call it the New New, like the science fiction world’s New Weird, but that would get irritating quickly. But the vaguely pejorative sense of neo- might work. Modernism was always half in love and sometimes quite a bit more with either fascism or communism. To say nothing of the times it was involved in a bizarre love triangle with both of them, or its repeated flings with developmental dictatorship, urban corruption, Gaullism, liberal technocracy, and really anyone with the keys to the planning office, when the other two weren’t in town. Then, architecture is the slut of the arts, almost as much as journalism, and always has been. It can be no other way; somebody has to build something and that takes serious amounts of money. (So what’s the journos’ excuse?)

I would guess that a camp revival of it would enjoy the trains-running-on-time/white concrete rostrum aspect even more. Of course the revivers would furiously deny this, and indeed that there was anything camp or revivalist about it, thus inadvertently confirming it. In fact, I suspect they’d prefer just to insist that it is continuous with earlier modernism and that it’s just modernism, dammit. At this point I see the nightmarish academic plural lunging from the flank and sidestep.

Or perhaps it should get a -punk suffix. As it goes with nostalgia for the great compression and the era of giving us the fucking money, I would suggest we call it something like reasonablepunk. (After all, punk itself began very near to the historic peak of economic egalitarianism in the UK.) Because social democracy is basically reasonable. It’s the other side who want the moon on a stick. This reminds me a bit of Hasek’s Party of Measured Progress within the Limits of the Law, but then again that’s too long. Perhaps it was snappier in Czech.

There’s obviously a resonance with what Paul Mason calls “gut Labour” here. It’s worth remembering that although Tony Blair talked a good game, in practice he was just as horrified as Prince Charles at the suggestion that he might have an aesthetic hidden away somewhere on his person, so I would argue that this is unequivocally a good thing. We’ve already got gut Labour wanktanks so we may as well have an aesthetic. (Although, who’s going to feed the bugger?)

Elsewhere, I read this weekend that IKEA is going to adjust its product line for the UK to be more “British”. This turns out to be a question of function. The Swedish designers have apparently been struggling to grasp the problems involved with fitting their products between the chimney breast, the bay window, and the landlord’s washing machine sticking out of its chipboard kennel by 10-14 cm depending on which end you measure. As a result, one of the new products is a wardrobe that’s only 35 cm deep. I am looking forward to their next lineup, which will include a table whose legs can be removed quickly to beat your relatives senseless over the last tin of catfood, a bookcase that doubles as a coffin, and a range of products designed to be easily converted into firewood.

why we fight

Stop! Don’t do it, man! Barclays is the UK’s most powerful single private lobby with a weighted network degree of 0.36. The Co-Op Bank is on 0.003 – 120 times less lobbyish. Really.

Obviously, nothing in this post should be taken to condone or encourage such irresponsible, inconsiderate, and basically stupid behaviour. Especially not as I was stuck on a bus moving through Watford town centre not long after the event.

Funny place, Watford. Opposite Watford FC’s Vicarage Road ground there is now a Brazilian evangelical house-church. Over the entrance to the ground, a banner for “The Watford Wedding Show” promises “Where your dream strats”. On adverts for the Harlequin Shopping Centre, “1990-2011: 20 Years of Inspirational Shopping”.

Also, I spotted what I’m convinced is the last Hutchison Rabbit private mobile radio hotspot in the wild…or at least the ghost sign for it.


OK, so there’s a month to go before gets sold and anyone who hasn’t agreed to the new Ts & Cs gets zapped. I asked this on Quora but so far haven’t had a useful reply. I know the Ts & Cs are substantially different, but is there anything in them that should dissuade me from having the bookmarks transferred?

it’s not Thursday…

So it must be time for a non-Thursday music link. New Order “Beach Buggy”. Not sure if this counts as a remix – IIRC it actually predates Blue Monday. It’s certainly a far better version of the same theme.

Also, this rocks although I found it looking for a shareable version of something else. They’re supporting this lot next week but this has probably fallen prey to my disorganisation.