Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Igpay Atinlay

On page 258 of "The Annubis Gates" by Tim Powers, the hero, Brendan Doyle, is leafing through some ancient manuscript  .. when he comes across this message, written in his own handwriting from his future self!
Can you read it?

I had some faint recollection of a child's (or gypsy's) speech code, where everything ends in -AY. After some Google searching I got it: Pig Latin!

There is an urban myth that Google Translate has Pig Latin as one of its languages and I checked: it's not there, but ...

Google in Pig Latin
This site, however, translates from English to Pig Latin - did you know that web becomes ebay? It turns out that translating Pig Latin back into English is hard, and not deterministically possible, as different words in English can map to the same word in Pig Latin (for instance, "oat" and "two" may both translate to "oatway").

Andway ownay erehay isway away ideovay eway ooktay esterdayyay.


* Hi Brendan, can you dig it?

Monday, January 26, 2015


Following from my previous post on Internet privacy and VPNs, today I've been playing with a search engine which doesn't track your every move: DuckDuckGo. I saved it onto Chrome's bookmarks bar. Guess what? The Google browser deleted it within four seconds. A robust attitude to the competition!

The living room couch, a favourite habitat, is a bit of a wifi dead-zone. So today I installed a NETGEAR Wifi range-extender (pictured below). No more waving the tablet in the air ...

In other news, Clare has celebrated the triumph of the people of Greece by wallpapering our hall with a Birch tree motif ... go Syriza! I wonder how the Germans will take to having their feeding hand bitten?

A rather spectral NETGEAR N300 WiFi range extender

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Time to enter the Dark Web?

Here are three (mildly) transgressive Internet links you might or might not care to follow:

  1. Recently-deceased Leon Brittan's link to that paedophile ring
  2. The Sun's Page 3 website
  3. Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

Let's suppose you clicked on any of the above, who knows you've done it?

Ignoring the person standing behind you, then anyone who clicks "back" on your browser, who looks at your browser history or perhaps who inspects your machine's cookies. You can address this problem, partially, by using private browsing - although any downloads will still be on your machine, and who knows about temp files buried away?

If you had logged into Google, or Amazon, or other website owners, then they certainly know where you went, keep extensive records, .. and could be subpoenaed.

They also know your location. You may be unaware that your browser can run a script asking the operating system for the WiFi SSID you're currently attached to. The big players like Google keep vast databases which link SSIDs with their geographical location: this is how Google Maps magically knows where you are. Hard to stop this happening without disabling scripts, which will stop most websites working.

Even if you were maximally careful on your own machine, your ISP - the provider of your Internet service - keeps a record of your site-visits. It can correlate your personal details (name, address, bank details) with your allocated IP address and link that with the websites you visit.

Normally this is like, who cares? These logs get to Terabyte size and no human scans them. They're expensive to keep and are wiped after some months. But the Government is pushing to legally mandate ISPs to keep these records, on everyone, for at least a year - and make them available to the security services. Is it time to get worried?

If the proposal gets through (and there's a good case for it on anti-terrorist grounds) then everyone can potentially be hoovered-up by a log-searching algorithm. Perhaps one day soon they'll start to care about 'mildly-transgressive' Internet behaviour, and your name will go down on a file somewhere. Between Google's profiling us for targeted advertising, and GCHQ tagging us for subversion, most of us might want to draw a line somewhere.

A common response is to suggest using Internet proxies (eg anonymouse, vtunnel) for any web searches beyond the most anodyne. But these are cumbersome and ad-infested - and who knows what the proxy guys are doing with the correlation between your identity and your surfing information (which they have even if your target sites don't),

The best answer is an Internet VPN service, which unfortunately involves paying some modest fee. Your traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel (eg IPsec) and is proxied at the VPN service provider's Internet breakout point. The rest of the Internet doesn't see your IP address so your web searches appear to come from the VPN service provider; meanwhile your ISP only sees your traffic going to the VPN service provider and has no idea where it's destined for afterwards. It only remains to trust the VPN service provider to not keep your transaction logs for any length of time. When 'The Man' comes asking for the last six months of your usage, there's nothing to show. This is quite a big business for a variety of reasons (watching BBC iPlayer when out of the UK is one) and the market leaders appear trustworthy enough - their business depends upon it.

They tell a good story but I somehow doubt that these VPN service providers can really evade an after-the-fact subpoena. The utility is to prevent speculative trawling.

Do we care enough? Today, probably not .. but it's nice to know we have the option going forwards.

Note: Private Internet Access was named PC Magazine's Editor's Choice in 2013. Read their review.

Colonoscopy Pathology Report

I recently wrote about my colonoscopy experience (in December 2014). Today I received the pathology report: here's the relevant text.

Always good to know you've got to go back, even if it's 2020.

Here's the story on "benign tubular adenoma".
"What is a polyp in the colon?

A polyp is a projection (growth) of tissue from the inner lining of the colon into the lumen (hollow center) of the colon. Different types of polyps look different under the microscope. Polyps are benign (non-cancerous) growths, but cancer can start in some types of polyps.

What is an adenoma?

An adenoma is a polyp made up of tissue that looks much like the normal lining of your colon, although it is different in several important ways when it is looked at under the microscope. In some cases, a cancer can arise in the adenoma.

What are tubular adenomas, tubulovillous adenomas, and villous adenomas?

Adenomas have several different growth patterns that can be seen under the microscope by the pathologist. There are 2 major growth patterns: tubular and villous. Because many adenomas have a mixture of both growth patterns, some polyps may be called tubulovillous adenomas. Most adenomas that are small (less than ½ inch) have a tubular growth pattern.
The most important thing is that your polyp has been completely removed and does not show cancer. The growth pattern is only important because it helps determine when you will need your next colonoscopy to make sure you don’t develop colon cancer in the future."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Diary [Jury Service; car paint touch-up; Christmas lights]

Clare was meant to be doing jury service this week and next, at Taunton; this is what we had her doing instead.
We're Auris 2007 3J6 (Super Red III)
Driving up the narrow, steep and twisty Old Bristol Road, you get to meet stuff coming the other way and it's kinda inevitable that you gouge a little against those stone walls. That's become the narrative, anyway, despite my complete amnesia on the said event.

Clare turned up in Taunton on Monday after an early start. One of 24, but the trials from the previous week were still ongoing, so all were dispatched back home until Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday they did indeed need a jury, but selecting 12 from 23 (don't ask), Clare suffered the fate of the bottom-of-the-pack card and a poor randomisation procedure. So rejected, she was sent back home again.

There is a final, extremely low-probability opportunity - she has to call again Monday afternoon. By then, however, there will have been a new set of 24 arrivals. There are apparently rare scenarios involving extended jury deliberations when even more jurors are required to keep justice trundling along - we shall see.

All of the above is allegedly, of course.

In other banal chores, we finally took down our outside twinkling Christmas tree lights, which had indicated to a fascinated passing trade that we had hitherto taken leave of our senses.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Testament of Youth" (film)

This is what the estimable and amusing Camilla Long had to say about this weepie:
"Testament of Youth is far from perfect, but at least Vera Brittain’s book about her experiences growing up in England as the First World War looms is a decent starting point. This is a slightly shameless attempt to capitalise on last year’s anniversary, but on the whole it’s fairly good stuff.

"Brittain is played by the Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who is pink and earnest, but never quite manages to be not Swedish. She also looks almost identical to Pippa Middleton, especially in a scene at the end where she poses in a nightdress exactly like the famous Bum Dress from the royal wedding. Unlike Middleton, however, she is principled and furious. She spends a lot of time being angry about really Edwardian things, like pianos.

"In the opening scene, she is horrified that her father (Dominic West) is happy to buy her a piano — amazingly not pronounced pihano — but not a place at university. (Health warning here: this is a film where everyone talks about Oxford all the time. Oxford this, Oxford that. It makes me want to vomit. I can’t work out what is this film’s worse fate: dying in the trenches or not being able to go to Oxford.)

"As it happens, Brittain only wants to go to Oxford out of sheer boredom. She dumps her place almost as soon as her brother and her fiancé, Roland (Kit Harington), sign up for the war. She is deeply in love with Roland. I know this because they meet a) in porticoes and b) amid drying laundry, and c) she doesn’t honk with laughter when he actually tries to fly a kite. Yes, this is a film that uses kites as a metaphor for love. It is the film Downton really longs to be, literary and bluestockingy and full of clichés about “big pushes” and Spanish flu and phone calls that ruin tea.

"Harington is moistly beautiful as Roland, sending Vera poems and announcing, stiltedly, that he has decided not to go to Oxford. I think one of my out-and-out ultimate fantasies is Kit Harington standing in a forest wearing white trousers and shouting “YOU MUST WRITE”. In that sense, at least, this film did not disappoint.

"This is what I call an all-orifices film: there’s bromance, romance, weeping and an awful lot of slushy clucking around field hospitals. There’s a superb cameo by Hayley Atwell as a nurse looking after “filthy Huns”. I could have spent two hours watching a bustling Atwell maliciously changing some jabbering Bavarian’s bedpan. This looks like yet another weepy teatime film. But it’s better than that, and Vikander makes a great Keira Knightley."
Here's Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander, who as noted is from Sweden).

And here's the girl who broke up the (Time Team) band, Mary-Ann Ochota:

So that confused me for a while.

Vera was consumed by grief at twenty minute intervals as her fiancé Roland, male friend Victor and gay younger brother Edward were successively killed by the Hun (all three seemed rather dim to me). Vera does that teary, trembly-lip thing beautifully except you keep thinking: 'acting'. And then towards the end she demonstrates her all-consuming grief by art-house tropes such as decorously sliding into a freezing Buxton pond, and anguishedly smearing herself with freezing Buxton mud on the moors. I tend to imagine that the searing cold and generally unhygienic nature of these emotional excesses would bring a body down to earth pretty rapidly - but what do I know of the searing passions of a feisty 25 year old?

Vera returns to Oxford as the film ends, about to transmogrify herself into a committed pacifist and emotion-charged writer about private loss. Thoughts of self-indulgence briefly passed through my mind as I headed for the exit.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pretentious, moi?

XKCD: too good to be lost as an ephemeron
Years ago, I had a car sticker which read:
"Another Family for Situation Semantics"
I was delighted that no-one had any idea what this pretentious sentiment actually meant. Now I can reveal the extremely tedious truth.

Situation semantics was a non-standard logic developed  by Jon Barwise and John Perry in the early 1980s at Stanford University. It was an attempt to create a better semantics for natural language than the more conventional Montague Semantics, by making the model-elements contextually-restricted 'situations' rather than whole worlds. I wrote it up as part of my Ph.D work but it was not central, as it did not lend itself to computational inference. In any event, world-wide interest subsequently slumped.

And families? In best West Coast tradition, their book was written in an irritatingly folksy style, with plenty of examples using 'family situations'.

In retrospect, I cringe.

The Economist this week

In The Economist this week, Schumpeter has a knowing piece about how to successfully network:

"The first principle for would-be networkers is to abandon all shame. Be flagrant in your pursuit of the powerful and the soon-to-be-powerful, and when you have their attention, praise them to the skies.  ... "

At Schumpeter I merely cringed along with the columnist. My blood boiled, however, at the first science article: "University Challenge", a tendentious piece of wish-fulfilment fantasy with dodgy methodology, misleading and unconvincing graphs, no correlation coefficients and in one diagram no regression line, and a wholly unconvincing, nay stupid, conclusion. All leavened with a deep ignorance of the underlying science combined with the promulgation of lazy fallacies and an entrenched gullibility.

I think it's fair to say I was unimpressed!

The view down our road this chilly morning

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Predicting IQ across the world from genotypes

Early days for this - I wrote about it last November, where I tried to 'predict' my own IQ. Now a much better article has appeared, written by Anatoly Karlin. Interesting stuff, highlighting the ground-breaking research of Davide Piffer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Obesity genes and me

The BBC science programme Horizon is currently running a three part series on the science of dieting. They have identified three categories of the obese and one - the 'constant cravers' - are defined by having 'obesity genes'.

It seems likely that I'm a 'constant craver'.

A little internet research provides a short list which can be cross-correlated with my 23andMe genotype download.

1. The FTO gene

As Wikipedia explains: "In 2009 variants in the FTO gene were further confirmed to associate with obesity in two very large genome-wide association studies of body mass index (BMI). It was shown that adults bearing the at-risk AT and AA alleles at rs9939609 consumed between 125 and 280 Calories per day than those carrying the protective TT genotype," (c. 5-12% of the daily allowance).

A quick search of my Excel spreadsheet for rs9939609 confirms I'm AT at this location. No wonder I was thirteen and a half stone before starting the 5:2 diet (I'm now at 11 stone = 70 kg but not without continuing maintenance). As a carrier of one of the 'A' risk alleles my disposition to obesity is 30% higher than that of baseline TT people.

2. The MC4R gene

"Mutations in the MC4R gene account for 6-8% of obesity cases. A common variant of the MC4R gene, distributed in about 22% of the population, increases the risk for weight gain by causing increased appetite and decreased satiety. Calorie restriction through portion control and smart food choices is the best strategy for weight loss for people carrying this variant."

The relevant SNP is rs17782313 where C alleles are associated with higher body mass index (BMI). The three options are CC, CT, TT - where TT is baseline normal, CT is associated with a BMI increase of 0.22 units and CC with a BMI increase of 0.44 units. As is so often the case, the allele effects are, as you see, additive.

What am I?  Yep, it's bad: CC.

3  The ADIPOQ gene

The relevant allele is rs17366568. "A significant genotypic association was observed between ADIPOQ rs17366568 and obesity. The frequencies of AG and AA genotypes were significantly higher in the obese group (11%) than in the non-obese group (5%) (P=0.024). The odds of A alleles occurring among the obese group were twice those among the non-obese group (odds ratio 2.15; 95% confidence interval 1.13-4.09)." (From here).

At last some good news! I am GG at this location.


Doubtlessly I'll return to this topic when more is known, especially as the results to-date are so personally depressing!

In the deep midwinter ...

A small dusting of snow
The sun's now out and it's rapidly melting.

This afternoon we went down to the Wells Film Centre to watch the film "Testament of Youth" (Vera Brittain). But I had erred! It's not on until next week. So we arrived back early and I checked the vole trap by the side of the fridge in the kitchen. Why?

The cat had been behaving slightly oddly, patrolling with interest behind the fridge, and this morning I saw a brown blur speeding in that general direction as I entered the kitchen. "We've got a vole," I confided to Clare, "Where's the vole trap?"

After a false start with cat food, we discovered that voles particularly adore bread-and-butter and oatmeal. So suitably prepared, we left for the movies.

The vole we'd trapped was alert and boisterous, and has been released into the garden where it can vole anew. Next time a video!

Matthew Parris (mouse killer!) take note!*


* Opinion piece from The Times today (14/01/2015)
"I hate poisoning animals. Unlike their London cousins, Derbyshire mice are suckers for the traditional mousetrap so I baited two traps with Nutella and sorrowfully set them in the airing cupboard. I flinched next morning from checking. I hoped against irrational hope they would be empty. I opened the door. My heart sank. Both had sprung.

"Sadly I carried the small corpses to the dustbin. One — a mother — was a really beautiful little honey-brown creature with (unusually) a white breast. Her blind, pink babies (up to 12) would already be dead."
"I miss them, and somehow think the less of myself."
Yes indeed, Mr Parris!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Collapse of Democracy

Back in the late sixties, my Politics course at Warwick University taught that the democratic state acted as an arbiter between different sectional interests. My Marxist comrades knew better: the state actually operated to reproduce the power and position of the ruling bourgeoisie, while hiding behind an obfuscated, hegemonic ideology.

Yes, we certainly knew how to do jargon in those days!

Of course, both propositions are true. Marxists from Karl onwards have agreed that bourgeois democracy is the preferred form of capitalist state. Why? Because under capitalism, economic power is decentralised (private ownership of the means of production) so some kind of inclusive politics is the best method of synthesising overall political policy. If the state achieves the political autonomy of autocracy or dictatorship we have the familiar principal-agent problem. How do we get the state to properly advance the (weighted average of the) interests of the distributed capitalist power-elite? How do we stop the state going off on some crazy project of its own?

The Nazis in Germany are the usual case study, and my analysis above broadly paraphrases Trotsky's writings about the rise of fascism there.

The democratic government is distinguished from its dictatorial cousins by its unwillingness to decisively back one faction of society over everyone else, even if such a focussed policy is objectively necessary to break some social logjam. "We all know what has to be done; it's just that none of us knows how to be re-elected afterwards."

Bourgeois democracy is like pacifism - it's an unstable equilibrium requiring all sides to show restraint and be prepared to accept being overruled. It's when a significant social force won't accept compromise and sticks to its guns come what may that you get the logjam. The inclusive speech of liberal politicians becomes strained and ineffectual - weak hand-wringing and appeasement. The logjam-party takes heart while ordinary folk begin to despair. Oppositional parties calling for effective action begin to gain traction, parties which don't much care about discredited 'democratic' ideals. What if we're rather blasé about being re-elected afterwards, anyway - or we believe that subsequent 'facts on the ground' will make all the difference, come the day?

Returning to the party-of-the-logjam, there's nothing like a sharply defined and highly-deprecated religious identity to underpin a hard-nosed refusal to compromise under any circumstances: 'our martyred dead' and so forth. You can see where this is going: bourgeois democracy can handle small to medium logjams by uniting the majority and deploying state force against the obstructionist, unyielding minority and winning - Margaret Thatcher is the textbook example. But if the logjam gets too big and/or intractable, you slide into civil war (cf Libya) and the democratic state is swept aside and is transformed, or collapses.

None of these drastic things will be happening in Western Europe any time soon; we're at the very start of a long, tortuous and only semi-slippery slope. However, to mix metaphors, when your problem is currently a small but extremely intractable hole, it's surely time to stop digging?

After the Apocalypse

The worst way for the world to end is global thermonuclear war ... because of the after effects, particularly the radiation, obviously. A large asteroid strike is nearly as bad. The third worst way, surprisingly, is the impact of a large solar Coronal Mass Ejection. This would wipe out the power grid, including the transformers; in the absence of any kind of power the transformers themselves could not be fixed so everything depending on electricity would crash - including the economy.

The problem is that our current population in England of around 53 million is sustained by our

technological base. Knock this back and we revert to the carrying capacity of the Domesday book period (around one million).  If agriculture fails, however, we revert to hunter-gatherer status .. just ten thousands individuals in a country the size of England!

In the catastrophes above, trashing the infrastructure largely leaves the population intact. They fight viciously and starve over the next months, consuming much needed resources and wasting the period of grace before many supplies become unusable. This is why the 'best apocalypse' is more like a souped-up version of Ebola or The Black Death: a pandemic which is aggressively virulent, has a long incubation period (for maximum infectivity) and near 100% subsequent mortality. Yes, our civilization will crash, but the infrastructure will not be too damaged in the process.

And then you'll need Lewis Dartnell's book "The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch" from which the apocalypse palette above was taken.

Dartnell, a prolific science writer, organises his recovery material under the major themes of mediaeval sustenance: agriculture, food and clothing, materials (clay, lime, acids, nitrates, metal-working), medicine, power, transport and communications. There's not enough detail for anyone to actually construct (for example) a working plough - but at least we townies are told how it actually works, and what its function is - and that it therefore has to be on the list.

Well-written and full of interesting little snippets as this book is, reading it is to be reminded anew how precarious our comfortable lives actually are. If the ATMs stopped and the supermarkets failed, how scarily different things would be, and how quickly!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

When Sharia comes to town ...

Or it might just be a touch chilly ...

Nous sommes tous Charlie

In my Marxist days, I would have been penning articles about the bourgeois hypocrisy of leaders such as Hollande, Cameron and Merkel marching piously in Paris in defence of political correctness. I would have pointed out that the crass, obscene and unfunny cartoons of Charlie Hebdo posed no threat to the established order, despite the professed '68 Marxism of the authors, as the establishment never believed in any of the propositions lampooned in the first place.

In the spirit of the new diversity, the fact that apparently we are now "all Charlie", let me outline three excitingly innovative views of the recent events in Paris. Naturally, these accounts are designed both to be true and to offend.

1. The Physicist's view

Various atoms and molecules in the Paris area recently continued to conform to the predictions of the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. As expected.

2. The Psychopath's view

Various  biological machines in the Paris area with conflicting goals came into conflict. Some of the machines were destroyed.

3. The Jihadi's view


Do you think I'm crazy?


Sigh: one is not meant to explain one's work .. but: (1) is meant to get you thinking about the nature of 'free will' in all this; (2) is meant to highlight the methodological 'dispassionate' approach of rational science vs. emotionalism-altruism-empathy in human affairs. As for (3), I think we've had enough secularists floundering to represent to the world at large a community which organises itself (in contradistinction to a society ordered by abstract principles and the law) as an 'honour culture'.