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Comment Very variable performance marred by ideology (Score 2) 119

The Met Office is firmly convinced that the planet is warming and that this is leading to an increase in extreme weather events. It is already hard enough to forecast the UK weather because of the constant stream of fronts coming in from the Atlantic, the varying high and low pressure systems.

In my fairly frequent visits to the UK, I notice that they are typically right short term during stable weather periods and not much good during disturbed periods. They often get the transitions wrong. That would all be excusable given the uncertainties.

The longer term however is a different matter. What is not excusable is the issuing of disastrously wrong forecasts of warm winters or warm dry summers, when what actually arrives is freezing cold winter or a cold and very wet summer with floods. These crazy longer range forecasts are not based on any evidence or coherent theory, just a view that the planet is warming and so the weather in the UK must be getting warmer, and so it will be warmer this winter, won't it?

Well, no. The planet is not warming particularly, and the UK climate is not warming particularly either. It is just continuing to fluctuate randomly in a wide range as it always has, and there are quite often fairly extreme winters and summers.

The BBC like the Guardian of which it is in some ways the broadcast voice has been committed to catastrophic global warming in its most extreme form - including the full buy-in to a rise in warming-caused extreme weather events. But the public ridicule that the Met Office forecasts have come in for, and the rather obvious bias in them introduced by the global warming advocacy has made the Met Office a liability. When they forecast a 'barbecue summer' just before the heavens open and the country floods, they wreck their credibility. The BBC is probably, under the new government, also seeking to move away from wholehearted endorsement of global warming and has, to the horror of advocates, started to broadcast some sceptical points of view.

This is said to be a large part of why the Met Office had to go.

Incidentally, on my recent visit we had the amusing spectacle of the left wing contender for leader of the Labour Party, a Party which is ideologically firmly committed to the full global warming alarmist tendency, proposing to open the UK coal mines again! The previous leader was of course the architect of the Climate Act, by which UK CO2 emissions would fall to some 10% of present levels. The Guardian is running a campaign to leave all fossil fuels in the ground. But, you see, those working class mining villages had a wonderful sense of community, and we have to have a revanche against the Thatcherite victory during the miners strike. In the minds of some in England it is still 1980 and everything is left to play for.

So they are going to do their bit for climate change by reopening those mines, at the same time as they convert their power plants to wood pellets sourced in the US nominally in order to lower those same emissions. What are they going to do with the coal? Who knows. One doubts they have thought that far ahead.

Its not an accident that this is the country which gave birth to Monty Python.

Comment Re:Unlikely (Score 1) 345

'terroir' is a myth. Its the creation of the European Union in response to die hard resistance to the opening of markets which the EU tried to bring about. This would have abolished the protectionism and mercantilism which the French, for instance, have been famous for. When markets were opened, the next step was to protect, for instance, the various cheeses by saying that they had to actually be made in certain geographical areas. So we now have the claim that the Cornish Pasty must be actually made and baked in Cornwall. That Greek yoghurt must be made physically in Greece. Chanpagne refers only to a sparkling wine made in that specific region of France. 'Italian' olive oil on the other hand can be and is grown anywhere, as long as its packed in Italy. There is no reason to think that sparkling wines made to the same formula using the same grape varieties will be any different if they are made in other parts of the world. There is no reason to think there is anything special about the air in Greece which makes yoghurt made there any different from if its made in Italy, Germany....etc Roquefort cheese can be made equally well in other places than Roquefort. Peking Duck can be cooked in Chinatowns everywhere, not only in Peking, China. The idea is simply to impose protectionism by the back door. As to what will happen to coffee given global warming? Probably nothing. But the last thing we need to worry about is that if the same beans are grown in different parts of the world, they will somehow taste different because they have lost this mystical imaginary property due to something called 'terroir'.

Comment What is normal? (Score 1) 203

Problem is, what is normal? Suppose for instance we thought that Amish social culture and relations between teenagers was normal. Then we might say that the excessive use of cars and shopping malls and fast food led to the development of abnormal attitudes to social relations among teenagers. Suppose we thought arranged marriages the norm. We might say then that excessive levels of consumption of mass market women's magazines led to abnormal attitudes to marriage, including resistance to proper levels of parental influence over future marriage partners. We really need to get away from this crazed desire to have everyone be something identical called normal. These girls and guys will, almost all of them, just find their way through life in the end, get married, have kids, have jobs. And the ones that will not, well, its doubtful their lives would be any happier deprived of tech. They'd either find something else, or they'd be miserable.

Comment In other news (Score 1) 877

In other news it was reported that today was the seventh warmest day this year. Ten of the warmest days this year have occured in the last two months, June and July. Scientists advise that there is no reason for the trend to stop any time soon, and that August will probably see a new crop of warming records. The world is warming, it is impossible to deny it any more. The time to implement strong cooling measures through the agency of the UN is now. We must restore the historic stability of temperature across the seasons before it is too late. The scientific consensus is that the way to do that is to erect more giant metal structures in windy areas, but some people are in denial about the merits of doing that. That is probably because they have been paid off by the ski or tobacco industries.

Submission + - Text authorship identification

Budenny writes: For the usual not very pleasant reasons I have a passage of text and need to identify whether it is written by the same author as one of several other passages I've also been asked to look at.

The passage is about one page, fairly well spaced, not dense prose. The passages to which it needs to be compared are similar in length, some longer.

Has anyone successfully done this, what did you use if so (package or raw algorithm, which algorithm)?

Comment Speaking as an ancient monument myself (Score 1) 347

I am something of an ancient monument myself now, and I do notice that the young take lots of admiring pictures of me when I am out and about, doubtless to show their friends this extraordinary old thing they have seen at Tesco. So I look forward to taking ownership of these photos and selling them back for a small fee to defray my ever growing wine bill, and maybe be able to shop in a better class of store one of these days....

Comment Use in an educational Marketing Exhibition (Score 1) 417

The thing always was an overpriced dog. Yet, it sold, and its merits were totally believed in by the Apple community.

So it should be placed side by side with a couple of similar era Windows machines which sold for about half the price or less. It is not necessary for specifications to be identical in terms of memory and disk space, you just need roughly competitive products from the same era. It should be loaded with benchmark software and Photoshop, and set up for similar tasks.

The lesson of course will be that you could do the same things faster for half the price.

Then visitors can meditate as they watch on a number of questions, the leading one being, how on earth did Apple get away with it for so long? How did people manage to argue that Apple hardware was cheaper than PC hardware if you bought the same functionality? Why on earth was there universal opposition among the Apple people to a move to Intel. And why did they simply roll over and applaud as soon as the move was made?

An alternative suggestion would be, if there are young children around who have never travelled by air, it could be used to introduce them to the authentic sound of a jet taking off, so that when they do finally travel, they will not be alarmed. That noise, you can explain to them, is turbine fans.

Comment Re:It's not the paywall that's failed (Score 1) 428

"We in the UK pay for the BBC willingly because it is worth the price..."

No we don't. We pay for the BBC because if we want to watch any TV, Sky, any commercial channels, we are obliged by law to subscribe to the BBC, or get hauled up before the courts.

I would still subscribe if I had a choice. But don't tell me that 'we in the UK' do so willingly. Its the state broadcaster, the law consequently gives it a special status unlike any other broadcaster, and we pay because its legally obligatory if we want any TV at all.

My view is that this is completely wrong. Not because I dislike the BBC, on the contrary, I'm a great admirer. Because forcing people to subscribe to the state broadcaster, or any broadcaster, in order to be allowed to subscribe to other broadcasters, is wrong.

Comment Problem is the business model (Score 4, Interesting) 428

News has a model of the world in which you buy and read one paper, as you did back in the days when there were only paper editions. The reason you only bought one paper is that as papers rose in price, it got too expensive to buy all of them. So back then, unless you were a business person who really needed them all, you would buy one and read it. However when papers went online, all of a sudden people started reading the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent and Times, all of them.

Total newspaper readership therefore rose dramatically. The model had changed. We were now in a world of non-exclusive newspaper readership, where people find it natural to glance through all the broadsheets.

Rupert would now like to turn back the clock, and have all papers go behind the paywall. However, he fails to realize that if that world were to come about, total readership would fall. He would then only have those people who were prepared to restrict themselves to the Times.

It is not that people particularly want to get their content free. They will pay for it, if its distinctive and of value to them, as the FT, Economist, and WSJ show. What they do not want however is a model in which they subscribe to a paper as in the old days. So what happened when the Times went behind the paywall is that everyone deleted that bookmark but carried on as before reading Telegraph, Guardian and Independent. They don't really need the Times, as long as the market is using the model of non-exclusive readership.

This is the critical point that Rupert is failing to get. He is trying to operate a model of the past, in a world in which non-exclusive readership has become the norm. The effect of this is going to be to take the Times out of the running. It is no longer part of the broadsheets that you glance through online. People are not going to subscribe to just one, and in a world in which only one charges, they are going to carry on scanning through the others, without particularly missing the Times, which has nothing very distinctive to offer.

Historically, News has always had a problem thinking the content issue through. Consider the case of LineOne, many years ago. The argument then was, we have all this distinctive content that we will use to force people to subscribe to our Internet Access service because that is the only way we will allow access to it. They will pay a premium for the access in order to get the content. In those days the contrary argument was made: if the content is so valuable, just sell it to anyone, regardless of who they get their access from. At which those in charge of the content rightly flinched, and admitted that it was unsaleable.

OK, then, what made them think it was saleable at a premium when bundled with access? And as it turned out, it was not, and the access business was sold off to Tiscali and the Times went online free.

They have been obsessed with the model of Sky, where they got exclusive rights, used those to sell dishes and subscriptions. But it depends on having 'must have' content. What Rupert is refusing to accept right now is that, except in the case of the WSJ, he has no 'must have' content. None. Columnists? Who cares?

As the article says, the Times has simply vanished from online. No-one links to it, no-one quotes it, as far as can be seen no-one subscribes to it. It has vanished. Give it another few months, and the effect will be the same as if it had no online presence.

Now ask yourself: if someone had gone to Rupert six months ago, and proposed closing down their web presence, would he have agreed? It would probably have been a short meeting, and a very blunt one. But that is what, probably without in the least intending to, he has now done.

Comment Re:Effects on the weather (Score 0, Troll) 285

"So, alas, apparently I *once again* need to point out: Local temperature != global temperature. Seriously, people, how many times does this have to be repeated before you start to actually get it?"

Of course local temperature = global temperature. The science is settled on this one.

Deniers can say all they want about this, but this was proved by Michael Mann and colleagues in MBH98, and their studies have been replicated many times by independent researchers. You will recall, or perhaps people need to be informed, that in that seminal groundbreaking article, which was accepted by the IPCC as reflecting the mass of the evidence, and indeed in subsequent publications, a couple of bristle cone pines in the US and a few cedars in the Gaspe Peninsula turned out to represent the climate of the whole planet. You had to use a sophisticated method of PCA analysis to get to the truth of the matter, so sophisticated and so ground breaking that the full method was too valuable to reveal in its entirety, but once you did this, bingo, you had it.

It was an excellent thing that we had these bristle cone pines and Gaspe cedars, because otherwise we'd have had no way of measuring global temperatures for that period. Fortunately however, these trees showed local temperatures which were also global temperatures.

It was similarly proved, I think by UEA researchers, that one or two trees in Yamal, or someplace in Northern Russia, maybe it was Tornetrask, could accurately represent temperatures there, and that these temperatures were those of the entire planet.

So it is a filthy lie to say that local temperatures are different from global ones. People who say this are denialists funded by the fossil fuel lobby. They probably do not believe in evolution either, they are right wing neo conservative fundamentalists, and many of them used to campaign against the connection between tobacco smoking and cancer. Dreadful people. The consensus is that Exxon and Dick Cheney are behind this well funded campaign of disinformation.

Anyway, the science is settled, as long as you pick the right local temperatures, they are the same as the global ones!

Comment This is simply wrong (Score 4, Insightful) 234

"Under plans drawn up by Ofcom, UK ISPs are going to draw up a list of those who infringe copyright, logging names and the number of times infringement took place. Music and film companies will then be allowed access to the list, and be able to decide whether or not to take legal action."

No, its not those who infringe. It is ONLY those who are ACCUSED without proof of any kind in any forum which is legitimate to establishing the truth of that accusation.

We should consider similar cases. Do we want to draw up lists of those who three people accuse of speeding, and on the fourth accusation, take away their driving licenses?

The utterly ridiculous and anti-democratic aspect of this is the following: there is a move in this particular case to substitute accusation for proof. This is wrong. We need to treat all violations of law in the same way: require proof before sanction.

Comment the issue is, how proven (Score 3, Insightful) 288

We appear to have, as always in these matters, sanction on accusation. The subject is accused three times of having broken a law. The fourth time he is found to have done this (not by a court, but by a supplier of goods and services) his Internet connection is cut off for a week. Another time, and he is disconnected for a year.

At no point in this process do the courts intervene, and you will notice that the penalty is different from normal criminal sanctions, in that it is not either fine, community service, or imprisonment. There are some exceptions, some kinds of driving offences are punishable by withdrawal of permission to drive. But its rather rare, and the characteristic appears to be where there is a danger to the public, and where the sanction is directly related to the offense. We do not, for instance, ban someone from driving because he engaged in false accounting, or because he breached copyright. He drove while intoxicated, and we banned him from driving.

The problem with the disconnection penalty, apart from the fact that it is punishment on accusation, is that it is not an appropriate punishment for the crime. I have no truck with copyright breaches. They should be prosecuted before a court, and on conviction there should be punishments of the usual sorts, fines, community service, perhaps even jail terms in serious cases. But it makes no more sense to disconnect someone's house from the Internet than it does to ban him from driving in a case of false accounting. Or to ban him from shopping for food, because he has sold counterfeit goods in the local street market. Or to disconnect his phone. Or ban him from visiting public libraries, or using the bus service.

We need two things to deal with this matter in a way that has regard to civil liberties. One is that all punishment shall occur only when an offense is proven in court, and shall only be imposed by a court, not by a service provider. The second is that the punishment shall make sense in the scale of other offenses. Neither is true of the 'three strikes' proposals. The fact is, this breach of the law is no different from any other breach, and needs to be handled in exactly the same way as all others.

Comment Dead wrong (Score 1) 160

"....we need to be exploring the boundary conditions -- asking ourselves when is it good for users, and when is it bad, to reveal their personal information....."

Wrong. Dead wrong. What we need to be exploring is how to make it easy for users to delete information about themselves they want to delete, and delete it permanently. And how to make it easy to keep private what they want kept private.

What we think is good for users is neither here nor there.

Comment Boris is what is known as a national treasure.... (Score 2, Informative) 130

Boris is what is known as a national treasure in the UK. That is, someone whose utterances should be greeted with an amused smile of appreciation, but is sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, very much on target and right. But usually not conventionally right, right in a sort of coming out of left field way. Boris is as likely to be heard making comparisons to ancient history, complete with Latin or Greek quotations in the original, as to opine on Wifi. Don't take this stuff too seriously. On some things, like the subway, Boris will be crisp, matter of fact, to the point, and obviously correct when you think about it. On other things, like these here lamposts, all Londoners will know this is Boris being a national treasure, and smile indulgently. There is a code for when to take Boris seriously, which is most of the time, and when to take Boris as joking, which is some of the time, and when to take Boris as being a national treasure, as in the present instance. In this case all Londoners know that he is not to be taken all that seriously. There will be some wifi, and there will be some lamposts. But no, the whole of London will not be blanketed with open relays, and Boris, as soon as someone explains that to him, will see immediately that it is not on.

How you have to see Boris, he is Mayor Koch, but in London. That is, he is like Koch was a real New Yorker, Boris is a real Londoner. The code is different, but its the same animal. Like Koch, he will get elected over and over again. He's what the Londoners think of as one of us. Though, of course, he is not at all one of us in any real sense. But he is a real Londoner, and people look through differences of class and education, and see that. As they looked through Koch's differences from them and knew they were looking at a real New Yorker.

Comment Americans may not quite realize the differences (Score 1) 568

Americans may not fully appreciate the differences between the US and the UK systems. The most important is that the US system was deliberately set up to have lots of checks and balances. If you like, think of them as safety catches and damping mechanisms. The UK system has just about none of these.

If you look at a UK election, you see that one of three things has occurred to bring it about. One, the government of the day decides to call one. It can do that any time, and this is a very powerful weapon, as it can time elections to coincide with upsurges in the polls, caused by, among other things, short term financial booms. Two, it loses a vote in the legislature on some important issue. Three, it comes to the end of its term, which is a maximum set in statute. There is no minimum term. The UK does not have fixed length terms.

Once elected with a majority of seats in the legislature, the party winning now owns both the legislature and the executive. The leader of the party becomes Prime Minister, with something like presidential powers. There is no doubt of his/her ability to get legislation through - he has a majority in the legislature, and it was that which got him to be Prime Minister.

There is no written constitution. Parliament, by a majority vote and consent of the monarch, can pass any legislation at all. If it wanted to (for example) repeal Habeas Corpus, it could. If it wanted to implement rule by decree, it could. If it wanted to leave the EU, it could. There is no safeguard of any sort of civil liberties or human rights from an Act of Parliament. It could, to take a ridiculous and extreme example, legalize slavery. There is no constitution to be modified by a complex process of two thirds majority voting, it just needs a majority vote in the legislature, and its done.

The US of course is completely different. Various bits of the governmental apparatus are elected from time to time - there is no equivalent of a general election of the kind the UK has just had. Only part of Congress or the Senate is elected in any given year. And when the legislature is elected, it does not get to specify who is the President, that is a completely separate election process. The legislature and the executive were deliberately separated by the Founding Fathers. The result is that the process of getting legislation through the legislature is quite complex and difficult, and subject to delay and prevention. In effect, the US is most of the time in a sort of coalition government, in UK terms - one in which negotiation with other parties is necessary, for the party in charge to get legislation through. This situation is one that happens very rarely in the UK, the party in power can almost always get its legislation through at once.

So, in this system, the debate about proportional representation has a very different force from what it would have in the US. Winning an outright majority in the UK gives a party a degree of power in both executive and legislature that can only be dreamed of by a US President. This is what neither Labor nor the Conservatives are prepared to relinquish, and why only desperation to get into or stay in power would lead them to make the necessary concession on PR to get into bed with the Liberal Democrats.

Right now the Liberals have some 23% of the vote and 57 seats in the legislature. If the UK system were truly proportional, and seats were in proportion to share of the vote, the Liberals would have around 150 seats and the other parties less. Conservatives now have 206, they would have under 200. Labour would be, on their current share of the vote, in the low 200s.

The end result would be, as in Holland, that the Liberals would be in every government, with one of the other two parties as partners. In Holland, this role is played by the CDA. The effect of this is that by very different means you have a sort of check and balance which is similar to that which the US system imposes. It becomes very hard to loot the country and divert the proceeds to your special interests, whether they be the bankers and landowners, or the trade unions. As soon as you go too far, you lose the centre, the government falls, and the centre party goes into government with the other guys.

As I write, the Conservative Party has offered the Liberals a referendum on one particular form of PR - something that always was anathema to them in the past, which is a measure of their desperation to get into power. The Labour Party has offered in reply a form of PR by means of primary legislation, no referendum. Which is also a measure of their equal or maybe even greater desperation.

In effect, what we have is both of the two large parties pawning their future to get power now. If they really were to enact PR, their future would not be, as they are now dreaming, absolute power by a total majority. It would be at best being the senior partners in coalition governments for the indefinite future. However, politicians rarely think beyond getting office, and these guys are no exception. They are probably thinking, we'll deal with that when we get to it, we'll wriggle out of it somehow.

Its going to be an interesting couple of days going forwards.

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