Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Moat at The Bishop's Palace, Wells

The Moat at The Bishop's Palace, Wells

Our first 'Mr Whippys' of the year .. it may be even warmer tomorrow.

UPDATE: (Sunday): we visited the 'Exploratorium' and planetarium @Bristol this afternoon. Here's a video of Clare and Adrian on the hamster wheel. It powers a bucket chain which pours water into an elevated tank (for some unaccountable reason). And yes, it was truly balmy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

"The right to buy weapons is the right to be free"

A Google Nexus 10 will shortly be winging its way from Amazon's vaults as I've finally succumbed to mass tablet-hysteria. I'm motivated by two things - I do a lot of reading of the digital newspaper plus sundry eBooks: my Galaxy S3 is too small and my Kindle too obsolete. The second reason is that Microsoft are apparently going to release their Office suite for Android at some point, which finally saves me from having to consider a Microsoft tablet or another clunky PC. Now if only Amazon would support Amazon Prime video streaming (films, TV) to generic Android devices .. . Read my lips, guys, I am not going to buy a Kindle Fire.

Amazon have been reformatting some of the A. E. Van Vogt 'Golden Age' books for Kindle. The plots are clunky, the science lamentable and the attitudes dated, but they do pass the test of page-turning excitement! I started with "The Weapon Shops of Isher" and "The Weapon Makers". From Wikipedia:
"The Isher/Weapon Shops novels are very rare examples of Golden Age science fiction that explicitly discuss the right to keep and bear arms, specifically guns. Indeed, the motto of the Weapon Shops, repeated several times, is "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free". Van Vogt's guns have virtually magical properties, and can only be used in self-defense.

"The political philosophy of the Weapon Shops is minimalist. They will not interfere with the corrupt imperial monarchy of the Isher government, on the grounds that men always have a government of the type they deserve: no government, however bad, exists without at least the tacit consent of the governed. The mission of the Weapon Shops therefore is merely to offer single individuals the right to protect themselves with a firearm, or, in cases of fraud, access to a "Robin Hood" alternative court system that judges and awards compensation from large, imperial merchant combines to cheated individuals. Because the population has access to this alternative system of justice, the Isher government cannot take the final step toward totalitarianism."
Other great van Vogt novels are "Slan"; "The World of Null-A" and "The Players of Null-A" (both ordered); "Empire of the Atom" and "The Wizard of Linn" (both featuring scientific genius Clane Linn in a post-apocalypse barbarian age). Treats for the scientifically-inclined intellectual teenager of any age.

Van Vogt used to say that he always engineered a cliff-hanging crisis every 800 words: critics were divided
One early and articulate critic was Damon Knight. In a chapter-long essay reprinted in In Search of Wonder, entitled "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt", Knight famously remarked that van Vogt "is no giant; he is a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter". Knight described The World of Null-A as "one of the worst allegedly-adult science fiction stories ever published". About van Vogt's writing, Knight said:

"In general van Vogt seems to me to fail consistently as a writer in these elementary ways: 1. His plots do not bear examination. 2. His choice of words and his sentence-structure are fumbling and insensitive. 3. He is unable either to visualize a scene or to make a character seem real."

About Empire of the Atom Knight wrote:

"If you can only throw your reasoning powers out of gear - something many van Vogt fans find easy to do - you'll enjoy this one."

Knight also expressed misgivings about van Vogt's politics, noting that his stories almost invariably present absolute monarchy in a favorable light.

On the other hand, when science fiction author Philip K. Dick was asked which science fiction writers had influenced his work the most, he replied:

"I started reading sf when I was about twelve and I read all I could, so any author who was writing about that time, I read. But there's no doubt who got me off originally and that was A.E. van Vogt. There was in van Vogt's writing a mysterious quality, and this was especially true in The World of Null A. All the parts of that book did not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency. Now some people are put off by that. They think that's sloppy and wrong, but the thing that fascinated me so much was that this resembled reality more than anybody else's writing inside or outside science fiction."
In fact van Vogt was treated disgracefully by the US SF establishment.
The Science Fiction Writers of America named him its 14th Grand Master in 1995 (presented 1996). There had been great controversy within SFWA regarding its long wait in bestowing its highest honor (limited to living writers, no more than one annually). Writing an obituary of van Vogt, Robert J. Sawyer, a fellow Canadian writer of science fiction remarked:

"There was no doubt that van Vogt should have received this honor much earlier — the injustice of him being overlooked, at least in part because of damnable SFWA politics, had so incensed Harlan Ellison, a man with an impeccable moral compass, that he'd lobbied hard on the Sci-Fi Channel and elsewhere on van Vogt's behalf."

It is generally held that the "damnable SFWA politics" concerns Damon Knight, the founder of the SFWA, who abhorred van Vogt's style and politics and thoroughly demolished his literary reputation in the 1950s.
Read his stuff and judge for yourself.

The robots are coming .. rather slowly

The Economist has a special report this week about robots. Apparently with advances in engineering, simulation environments and ever-increasing computer power we are in the early take-off period of robotech. Money is beginning to flow into the sector, Google has made acquisitions and intriguing new products are emerging.

One area of application is healthcare for the elderly. The "Domestic Service Robots" article has this to say:
"Robots may also make it possible for old people to stay independent in their own homes for longer. Mr Angle says this is iRobot’s “long-term guiding star”, towards which the Roomba is a small step. Mr Gupta at the NSF thinks that general-purpose home-help robots would be a big advance which, given a push, could be achieved in a couple of decades (though that, he stresses, is his own view, not the foundation’s). Mr Thrun reckons it could be done more quickly.

"Mr Ng points out that if you get a graduate student to teleoperate a PR2 robot, it can already do more or less everything a home-help robot might be required to do, so all that is needed is better software and more processing power, both of which are becoming ever more easily available."
Comparing this with other transformational technologies, we're 10-20 years from such products becoming affordable and widely available. A teleoperated home-care robot is a kind of household drone. One could imagine an operator controlling maybe twenty of them (one at a time, mostly). Sure they'd be expensive, but compared to what? Care homes? Even without full autonomy this could happen sooner than you'd think.

This is bound to have an impact on cost projections for the future care of the elderly from, say, 2025 out. No doubt the Japanese will lead the way, hopefully in time for me!

As a youthful trotskyist, I was told that in the future economy of post-capitalist abundance, robots would do all the hard and dreary work, leaving humans to lives of creative leisure last seen amongst the Greek and Roman aristocrats. Perhaps within another generation robotech will indeed bring about that scenario - in the sense of automating human slavery. Is this a good outcome? Economists worry about mass unemployment of all except the most highly skilled. Those remaining in work are infuriated to contemplate an ever-increasing, unproductive fraction on welfare.

Leisure for all or welfare for all? Michael Gove was apparently channelling Wham! yesterday in a school visit, The Times helpfully reprinting the lyrics of the rap song he was reciting:
Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)

Hey everybody take a look at me
I've got street credibility
I may not have a job,
But I have a good time
With the boys that I meet down on the line

I don’t need you
So you don’t approve,
Well, who asked you to?
Hey, jerk, you work
This guy’s got better things to do

...
Bring on those robots, Mr Gove!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

'Interweave Consulting' closed down

Today I completed the online form to HMRC to close down my consulting company Interweave Consulting. Date of closure: 26 March 2014.  Here's the reply.
Thank you for email to tell us you have stopped your self-employment.

This message confirms that we have successfully received your form and we will now confirm your information to ensure the security of your personal details.

We will look at your National Insurance account and if needed we will issue a bill for any NICs that are due up to the date your self-employment has stopped. The period covered by the bill will be clearly shown please check the dates carefully.

If you have overpaid Class 2 National Insurance contributions, we will send you a refund claim form which you should sign and return to us by post.

If for any reason we are unable to deal with your request, we will email you or send a letter to let you know.

Please do not reply to this email; this address does not accept incoming mail.
My work has mainly focused on the design of public telecom networks, usually for new or alternate operators who don't maintain in-house network design specialists. The 2008 economic crunch closed down most of the big capital programmes and new projects have been slow to emerge, so business has been poor the last few years.

Once one is past sixty it's fair to say that many aspects of telecoms consultancy somewhat lose their attraction - I am especially delighted to say goodbye to getting up at unearthly hours, driving vast distances to meet with clients, and lengthy commutes standing in crowded trains and squashed in the London tube.

As a busy person it's possible I could stumble upon a future revenue-generating activity: writing and software are somewhat remote possibilities. It's easy to set up as a sole trader, however.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things to regret about being dead

People point to a pleasing symmetry about life. No one cares that billions of years of eventful history occurred before they were born - why care about the billions of years following our relatively-imminent deaths?

An obvious difference: asymmetry of information. I used to think about how sad it would be to die without knowing how the unification of quantum physics and general relativity would eventually be accomplished. But on that happy day only about 500 people in the world will actually understand it - everyone else will be wandering around in the illusory swamps of metaphor  (B-mode polarisation and primordial gravitational waves, anyone?).

Another popular hankering is to see if humankind gets off this planet and colonises the universe. Of course we know a lot about the universe - its galaxies, stars and planets and frankly it's not that exciting unless you're a scientist in a relevant specialisation. And don't get me started about exciting future civilizations amongst the stars. What we know about the 'drama of everyday life' - in any time or place - is that it's bland, banal and boring. That's why we always prefer to watch drama - contrived scenarios which stimulate our hyper-developed limbic systems.

So much for the worldview of a misanthropic curmudgeon, you say. In my jaded way I reply: "So surprise me then."

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Apps

Dear sister,

Now you have a smartphone people will tell you correctly that you need apps. Here are some of those cute little bundles of smartness to be found on my phone.
  1. Maps - from Google
  2. Le Monde - I get to practice my French every now and then
  3. BBC iPlayer
  4. Vue - check out the local films
  5. Assistive Light - turn your phone into a torch (strictly a 'widget')
  6. IMDb - is the film actually any good?
  7. Clock - make sure the alarm can ramp up in volume gradually
  8. Antivirus - I use AVG
  9. infoCycling, cricinfo, Eurosport, BBC Sport
  10. Amazon and Amazon Kindle
  11. The Economist - I have a subscription
  12. The Times - I have a subscription
  13. LinkedIn - the working person's Facebook
  14. BT WiFi, The Cloud FastConnect - for those cafe hotspots
  15. Realcalc - I have the paid version of this scientific calculator
  16. Google Sky Map - how do they do that?
  17. National Trust - map based and essential when travelling around
  18. BBC Weather and The Weather Channel - (I toggle these to get the best forecast!)
  19. Wikipedia
  20. Google Calendar
  21. Google Chrome - much preferred over the Galaxy-supplied browser
  22. BBC News - a rather addictive app
  23. Gmail (and the POP3 email client 'Email' for business email)
  24. Fast Balance - the HSBC app to check my account
  25. Skype
  26. DropBox (I use camera upload to automatically transfer pix to my DropBox account)
  27. WhatsApp - yes, please install this early to avoid MMS charges!
  28. iChing - I like to hear the advice of The Sage before big decisions!
  29. London tube map - good to be there when you need it
  30. Google Translate - with French dictionary downloaded for offline use
  31. YouTube
  32. Chess - I rarely play and never win
  33. Heathrow Airport Guide - for checking arrivals/departures

Like any toolkit, these apps have been added (and others deleted) over many months. What a zoo! I cannot imagine how many hours of my life I will never get back!

Thank you for your fond wishes that I not break a leg; in fact you are the fourth person to express such benevolence. This morning I traversed the entire length of the Mendip Snowsport Centre slope (which in fact consists of three linked slopes of varying gradient) from top to bottom, multiple times, with linked parallel-ish turns and without crashing!

A parabolic mike would have picked up my mutterings: "crouch and weight forward on balls of feet; feel the boot-pressure on the shins!"; "drop and turn the skis - push up out of the turn!". Through such mantras I am somewhat grimly getting down in one piece and avoiding limb fractures. I expect in a few sessions time my subconscious may even come to believe this is not insanely dangerous!

Checking my records, I had my first ski lesson on Saturday February 8th ("this is a ski boot - here's how you do it up; this is a snow plough, see if you can get down this six feet of slope") and my final lesson two weeks later on Sunday, February 23rd (my instructor that day, Bernadette, shakes me by the hand afterwards to congratulate me on some sliding madness which in her wisdom she recognises as the precursor to a parallel turn).

Since then I have revisited the slope a further ten times - I guess ten hours of practice - and as a result I kind of get it, with concentration, most of the time. A long stretch of practice lies between here and making all this stuff reliable and second nature.

Anyway, one day, when I think I can do it and survive, I may shoot a video of my descent - and send it to you via WhatsApp!

Best wishes from your brother.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Human Brood Parasite

How we laughed!

"Consider the ludicrous sight of the tiny Garden Warbler standing atop a cuckoo to reach the mouth of the gaping parasite." (p. 68). To feed it, right?

Dawkins goes on to observe: "The cuckoo is descended from a line of ancestors, every single one of whom has successfully fooled a host. The host is descended from a line of ancestors, many of whom may have never encountered a cuckoo in their lives, or may have reproduced successfully after being parasitized by a cuckoo. "

Reading "The Extended Phenotype" one reflects that at least people would never lavish care and resources on a child-substitute from an unrelated species - a human brood parasite ..

Would we, puss-puss?



Interesting news from the Antarctic Cosmic Microwave Background telescope BICEP2. The detection of faint B-mode polarisation in the CMB is evidence of spacetime quantum fluctuations during inflation and gives for the first time an energy estimate for the inflation fields (enormous) as well as observational input into theories of quantum gravity for the first time. This is a big deal.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Inconsequentia

A walk along the top of Burrington Combe yesterday - the sun was bright but the wind blustery and cold. Goats apparently scamper freely up and down the steep sides of the gorge - how do they do that?

Burrington Combe looking west

Burrington Combe looking east

Clare buffeted by a cold, blustery wind

Arts and Crafts: before and after

Our filing cabinet is much improved - wallpaper from B&Q in Glastonbury.

I know you want an update on my skiing. I've reached a kind of plateau where I can't consistently get the elements of the parallel turn to work. It's all about balance, speed control and weight-shifting to the outside ski; knowing is one thing and doing something quite else. Currently Monday and Friday hour-long sessions at the Mendip Snowsport Centre - and hoping it will all come together soon.

I'll be closing my company, Interweave Consulting, at the end of this tax year (next month): more focus on writing and activities.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration"

Non-human animals (and plants) have implicit purpose to their lives: to leave descendants. Those living things which failed in this task aren't around any more.

One might wonder why this doesn't apply to humans as well. We're social creatures, so why don't we organise our politics and social organisation to maximise the descendants of those genetically closest to us? In the jargon, this is known as maximising inclusive fitness.

A while ago (2003) an academic, Frank Salter, wrote a book exploring the political consequences of taking inclusive fitness seriously in human affairs: "On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration": it was a dry, academic tome although obviously highly controversial.

I agree with this review at Gene Expression, excerpted as follows (by David Lowry).
"Salter argues for ’the importance of genetic continuity as an end in itself (p.24)…the process of genetic evolution is certainly the ultimate cause of our existence (p.25)… From an evolutionary perspective…genetic continuity is the ultimate interest of all life, since it has priority over other interests (p.26)… The ultimate interest is reproduction, the goal towards which all life is shaped through natural selection. Adaptive information carried in genes is transmitted between generations, and is therefore an ultimate interest (p.341)…’ So, according to Salter, genetic interests are very important. In fact, more important, or at least more ’ultimate’, and therefore deserving ‘priority’, than any others.

But Salter believes that most of us are unaware of our full genetic interests, and in particular our ethnic interests: 'changed environments have effectively blinded us to large stores of our genetic interests, or to put it more accurately, for the first time situated us where we need to perceive those interests and be motivated to pursue them (p.31)… ethnic genetic interests are usually very large [in aggregate] compared to familial genetic interests (p.66)’.

Salter’s book is aimed at bringing these neglected ethnic genetic interests to our attention and exploring their implications for social and political issues such as immigration, birth rates, and inter-ethnic marriage"
So what does David Lowry think of this?
"My short view is that, as Bentham famously said of ’natural rights’, the whole idea of ’ethnic genetic interests’ is nonsense on stilts. While reading Salter’s book I kept getting vague reminiscences of something else, but it took me a while to pin down what it was: General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, with his paranoid ramblings about our Precious Bodily Fluids.

"But vulgar abuse is no substitute for reasoned argument (or vice versa), so here are some more considered criticisms:"
Gene Expression's criticism which had occurred to me with most force as I read the book was this:
"The doctrine of genetic interests is inherently backward-looking and conservative. In contrast, the eugenic position is that we are able to make value judgements about what characteristics are desirable (such as health, intelligence, and beauty) and undesirable (such as stupidity, mental illness, and physical disabilities) and then to take reproductive decisions based on those judgements. Of course eugenics is controversial, but many of those who might feel vaguely sympathetic to Salter’s approach would also feel vaguely sympathetic to eugenics, and they should at least be aware of the conflict between them."
If we could genetically improve our offspring to eliminate harmful mutations and to increase perhaps their physical, cognitive and social capabilities .. which of us would decline? So enlightened genetic progress is something which humans can potentially sign-up for, in contradistinction to every other species.

Professor Salter's model is instructive but not one to buy into.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

"The Son Also Rises" - Gregory Clark

In The Times today, Hugo Rifkind writes:
"Stay with me. For I recognise that look upon your face. The other day, you see, I figured out how to replace every halogen light bulb in our bathroom with an LED equivalent. Man, I was pleased with myself. “The wattage will be cut by 98 per cent!” I shouted at my wife, maybe for the eighth time. And she looked back at me wearily and explained that although she agreed that this was terribly important, she’d prefer not to have to talk about it ever again."
By coincidence, we have just done exactly the same thing in our house. Two data points surely create a trend line.

Here is how The Economist reviewed Gregory Clark's "The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility."
"Periods of great inequality are good for social theorising. Last year Charles Murray, a libertarian columnist and pundit, warned in “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” that mating among people of similar means is increasing the divide between a motivated elite and a listless underclass. In “Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy”, another commentator, Christopher Hayes, showed how the elite are using their resources to circumvent the meritocracy and establish a permanent upper class. Now the fray is joined by Gregory Clark, a Scottish-born economic historian at the University of California, Davis. In “The Son Also Rises” he argues that social mobility is low everywhere and always will be, and there is nothing society can do about it.

"Mr Clark has waded into these waters before. His 2009 book, “A Farewell to Alms”, reckoned that Britain’s Industrial Revolution was attributable to faster breeding among the rich, which raised the population’s underlying competence. Critics pounced, crying that the book was thinly sourced. Perhaps for this reason, he has armed his new book with reams of data. Most of the text is given over to methodical presentation of research, with the uniting theme that optimistic assessments of mobility are badly wrong.

"Conventional research has it that society is highly fluid: the effect of inheritance is almost nil in some Nordic societies, and family explains no more than 25% of an adult child’s status in America, which has always been less mobile. But Mr Clark points out that these studies track change over just two or three generations and are therefore biased by quirks of fate: the working-class lottery-winner or the scion who chooses social work over high finance. Longer projects average out this randomness and paint a darker picture.

Mr Clark draws upon research that uses surnames to track status over centuries. The academics he follows have mined sources as varied as the Domesday Book, the Royal Society’s records, even membership of the American Medical Association, in order to find surnames that are over-represented in elite positions. Researchers then track how long it takes those monied surnames to lose their wealth-predicting power.

"With surprising consistency across countries and eras, mobility is found to be painfully slow. Birth has predicted more than 50% of one’s income or education status, Mr Clark reckons. Erasing the legacy of past prosperity takes 10-15 generations rather than the three or four implied by sunnier estimates. So the shadow of 18th-century wealth still darkens income distributions today.

"That is the most unexpected finding. Efforts to democratise education and eliminate discrimination over the past century appear to have had no discernible effect on mobility, leading Mr Clark to conclude that mobility is strongly linked to underlying social competence—an “inescapable inherited” trait. Only the intermarriage of people who are more prosperous and educated with those less fortunate will dilute the genetic resources of well-off families, slowly pushing them back towards the average and preventing the rise of a permanent overclass.

"Oddly, Mr Clark judges the world to be “a much fairer place than we intuit.” He explains this by stating that the rich acquire their wealth because they are clever and work hard, and not because the system is rigged. The world is less corrupt and nepotistic than people might think.

"This conclusion gives the book a cheery tone, but there are also plenty of nasty conclusions to be drawn. One inescapable judgment is, as Mr Clark says, that “a completely meritocratic society would most likely also be one with limited social mobility.” He does not say that American blacks are poor because they are black. His work implies, however, that poor blacks remain so because they are descended from people with low social competence; discrimination is irrelevant, except to the extent that it limits intermarriage with other groups. “The Son Also Rises” may not be a racist book, but it certainly traffics in genetic determinism.

"That is a weakness. Mr Clark is too quick to write off the promise of recent social changes. The oldest Americans born after the passage of the Civil Rights Act are barely 50. Impressive work on the effect of good teaching or well-targeted poverty assistance suggest such programmes make a difference. Yet Mr Clark follows his logic to an unexpectedly egalitarian end. Redistribution is sensible, he argues, not in order to boost mobility but because mobility is intractably low. The cream will rise regardless, and so paying extraordinary salaries to capable workers is unnecessary. If high rates of mobility are used to excuse or justify inequality, he suggests, then the reality of low mobility implies something quite different: that great inequality serves little purpose and redistributing income from the rich to the poor might raise overall welfare at little economic cost. This makes for uncomfortable reading for those of all ideological persuasions."
Clark is largely content to examine the data he and his team researched in the context of his mathematical model of social mobility (a first-order Markov social-mobility diffusion process) without imposing any personal agenda. His public-policy thoughts are restricted to a chapter at the end where, as The Economist notes, he expresses an ethical preference for Nordic-type societies.

It's useful at this point to note the correlation at the state level between individual willingness to countenance large transfer payments and the degree of ethnic cohesion within that state - Clark doesn't and as a consequence fails to note that this pleasant outcome is unlikely to come to pass in the United States.

A small aside: reviewers who wish to exhibit their impeccably PC credentials include words such as "nasty", "genetic determinism" and "racist" in their reviews. These terms, devoid of scientific meaning, invariably demonstrate high-minded distaste replacing possibly-dangerous rational thought.

Clark's book is an easy read if you know some statistics* and are interested in the history of diverse populations from Chile to China via the US, UK, Scandinavia, the Middle-East, India and Japan. His probabilistic social-mobility model is simple yet makes powerful counter-intuitive predictions. These are backed up by the voluminous data-sets he's managed to analyse. You also get advice on who to marry.

The world still divides between those social scientists who think that genetics (i.e. inherited differences between people and populations) are irrelevant as everyone is born identical for social-outcome purposes, and those who are tracking the latest research in population genetics and DNA analysis as they shed new light on sociological, economic and political issues. The latter camp is slowly gaining respectability as more hard data becomes available and Clark's book is a breath of fresh air in this developing paradigm.
---
* Correlation coefficient, regression to the mean, normal distribution, standard deviation, variance, time series.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The joy of skiing?

My sister said, "You must enjoy skiing as you're going three times a week?"

On reflection, I can't quite agree. Since completing my beginner course last week I've been twice more. I can get down with a fair-to-good confidence of neither crashing nor accelerating out of control down the fall line. My ability to do stem turns (skis parallel on the traverse and snow plough on the turn) is kind of getting there. I look with envy on those who swish down the slope doing stylish parallel turns. I wonder how long it will take for me to emulate them .. and I have no idea.

The experience feels much the same as when I was learning to drive. I knew then that it was a necessary stage, and that driving would be fun when it was effortless. But while you're learning it's rather desperate stuff with the odd moment of pleasure and achievement when something (rather unaccountably) works well or at all.

Yes, as I ski for the twentieth time down the slope, doing my turns, sometimes it unaccountably goes rather well.

It's incredibly useful to have Adrian accompanying me. As a ski instructor, he gets to offer hints and stop me falling into bad ways every session. I've seen a skier coming down, wrenching his body from left to right as he jumps into parallel turns. It looks a sweaty, desperate business and precarious at that: I don't want to end up stranded there.

Oh, and perhaps my impact pants will arrive today ... !

In the car on the way, we discuss the business model of the Mendip Snowsport Centre. The slope is longer and more interesting than most dry ski slopes, with a pleasant setting in the woods. The course starts narrow at the top with some bumps on the right, then turns sharply to the left onto a wider section (there's a quarter pipe on the right at the bottom of that run), before veering right through a steep section to emerge onto the lower slope where all the teaching gets done. The surface is that old-fashioned bristle lattice, which is both hard and slightly dangerous to fall upon.

An investment programme to use a more modern, carpet-like synthetic might allow them to develop a snowboarding park section with halfpipe and maybe some jumps. If they've got access to land, the investment might well pay off.

---

I'm reading Gregory Clark's "The Son Also Rises" which is a new look at social mobility across countries as diverse as Sweden, the United States, the UK, Chile and China. Surname records go back a long way and can be used to track the composition of elites in society. Most people believe that social mobility has increased in recent times, especially in the 'egalitarian Nordic countries'.

Wrong.

I'm still working through his country studies, and looking forwards to the reasons he suggests for the persistence of elites.