2012 — 21 July: Saturday

Patience can be its own reward.1 When I came downstairs this morning, BlackBeast — which I'd left (as it were) cooking overnight — was confidently telling me that there remained a mere eight fragments, four fragmented files, and a minute of 'work' to go. That was 40 minutes ago. But finally, all is now contiguous file bliss and it's time for my next cuppa and some breakfast.

The sun is shining through a bunch of clouds...

Listening to sound bites...

... from criminologists and other 'experts' it strikes me, for by no means the first time, that these people are always much better at explaining why and how something happened after the event (in this case, the shooting massacre at a cinema in Colorado) than they are at predicting and heading it off beforehand. If a chap legally buys four guns and 6,000 rounds in the preceding two months shouldn't some form of alarm ('scuse the pun) trigger?

I have little sympathy for a society that has fetishised gun ownership on what seems to me a fundamental mis-reading of that constitutional phrase about the duties and rights of an armed citizenry to oppose tyranny. I was never entirely convinced by the robust arguments put forward in Heinlein's "Beyond this horizon" about the improvements in civility in a society that had legalised duelling. In fact, I was more nearly convinced by the idea (in his "Starship Troopers") of restricting the vote to veterans of the armed forces — and I still think that's an appallingly bad idea, too. (It's very rarely the generals who put their lives on the line, isn't it?)

But then I'm a wishy-washy liberal who thinks basically that people ought not to wander into a crowded cinema and start shooting2 other people. It's simply not nice.

Loneliness versus...

... solitude. I started here...

Two hours later, I put the book down and realise it's dark. The lamp provides the only pool of light in an otherwise pitch-black house. It's also quiet, deathly quiet, without even the hum of the central heating or the swoosh of the washing machine to break the silence. Radio 4, also on a timer, tuned itself off before the Archers. The mobile phone on the table beside me is silent. It hasn't rung, beeped or throbbed, probably since yesterday, maybe the day before. No calls, no emails, no texts, no Facebook notifications, no tweets, and there's nothing blinking on the answerphone, because the landline hasn't rung since December, except people in call centres who can't pronounce my name.

Marion McGilvary in the Grauniad

... and (courtesy of Mrs Google) ended here:

I thought I was going off to meet a man about a job, but apparently not. I'm too old for the casting couch. And for what? A book review paying twopence ha'penny for 500 words that he forgets to bring with him, and so far has forgotten to send? And even if it had appeared. I still have to read the damn book beforehand.
He thought we'd go to the Savoy for an afternoon of passion.
Really, and what am I supposed to do then? Congratulate myself on an afternoon of good shagging and go back whistling as I work? Do middle aged men know anything about middle aged women?

Marion McGilvary in her blog

I'm not alone :-)

I very much enjoyed...

... reading the essays in A Jane Austen education by William Deresiewicz — yes, I did buy it — so I was delighted to find this little treasure trove of lots more of his shorter essays. May I recommend the one in praise of famous assholes?

Just been called by the care-home. They've re-opened for visitors today, and now need me to pop in to discuss and sign stuff dealing with the payment of Dear Mama's upcoming dentist's bill. Deep joy. At least they didn't call on my expired mobile. (Or if they did, they wouldn't have got very far — it's switched off.) I think it's time for lunch.

Is it possible ...

... to get a patent for devising the most stupid way of evaluating technical innovation?

I've seen three different studies over the past 10 days or so that were attempting to reach some kind of conclusion about the state of innovation or the rate of technical progress that chose to use aggregate patents granted as the numerator in some equation. This seems like an egregious example of the unreality problem that often afflicts quantitative studies of social science topics. Treating "mathematically rigorous model with crap input data" as some kind of close second-best to "mathematically rigorous model with accurate input data" makes no sense, and it's clearly the case that the volume of patents is determined by the laws and norms governing the patent system rather than the quantity of inventions.

Matthew Yglesias in Slate

Heaven forbid they should also examine quality. Recall XKCD's purity of science scale.

A quarter of a century...

... has elapsed since IBM UK effectively ended its proud full employment policy and started bribing its staff to leave. (The 1987 "Career Transition Program" became a new TLA — CTP [Cash To Piss-off] — almost before the laser toner had cooled on the noticeboard announcements.) Only the Ts & Cs have degraded steadily. (Link.)

An interesting-looking place to spend some time. (Link.)

As I've always said, a chap...

... needs his hobbies. One of mine, in earlier years, was writing weekly letters to dear Mama, trying to get her to take an interest in either or both her grandson and the industry her younger son worked in. An excerpt dating from 1995:

I have just two items of news that may interest you this week.
Item #1 concerns your only grandson, whom I very much hope you'll be pleased to hear has been selected as one (of just two) "exceptionally gifted" children to attend a fully-funded weekend of intensive exercises in Wiltshire this May. As far as we can make out, Hampshire County Council is picking up the bill, so whether he will end up in some central Government data-bank is anybody's guess!
Item #2 concerns your younger son, whose recent IBM book CICS: a light hearted chronicle is now being reviewed for the US academic journal Annals of the history of computing, which is published four times a year by the computer science subgroup of the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (the IEEE) in America. The editor involved works in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and I've been in electronic contact with him via the so-called Information Superhighway. (So now if people ever ask you what practical uses that particular virtual motorway has, you can tell them at least one.)

Date: 2 April 1995

I did eventually give up, of course. Life's far too short, and her relentlessly deteriorating cognitive faculties eventually rendered further efforts pointless.



1  I have never understood that particular chunk of folk wisdom. As Jeff Bezos is all too aware.
2  I suspect several million years of evolution has a part to play. I wonder what explanation the Intelligent Design adherents can provide.