Archive for the ‘Thinking aloud’ Category

Margaret Thatcher

April 9, 2013

If you hadn’t noticed, she died yesterday. If the media (yes, them again) are to be believed, here in the UK we should all divide neatly into two groups: those huffing and puffing about how disgraceful it is she’s not going to have a state funeral— as if St Paul’s cathedral, gun carriages and military salutes are not enough— and those who broke out the champagne and partied hard all last night.

So when I try to decide what I think about her passing, it’s with half-hearted surprise that I conclude— pretty much nothing.

It’s not that I don’t think she was a hugely influential figure in national, and arguably global, 20th century politics, society (yes, it does exist) and culture.

It’s just that she was in power through most of my childhood, and like most background things you grow up with, she was just there. Being brought up in a middle class household in the south of the country, her policies didn’t appear to have any direct, immediate impacts on my family. According to my understanding, she did some necessary things early in her premiership, such as facing down the unions— although she did them in what appears to be a notably divisive and compassionless way. And much like an over-ripe cheese or Tony Blair, she stuck around far too long at the end.

In all, I struggle to marshal any strong feelings towards her one way or the other.

It’s always sad when a family member or friend dies, even when peacefully at the ripe old age of 87. So my condolences go out to those who knew her personally. As for her long term impact on the world, history will pass judgement in due course. I suspect it will be a mixed verdict.

That’s it really.


The Death of Theory: Kaggle, randomised control trials, and optimisation without understanding

January 7, 2013

Another effort to draw together some semi-coherent thoughts prompted by a couple of recent-ish items in the media.

Item 1:

“Down with experts”, a New Scientist opinion/interview piece from last month. It looks like Slate has the same interview subscription-free. (more…)

The Resilience of Diaspar: Thoughts on “The City and the Stars” by Arthur C Clarke

December 20, 2012

Over the last year or so I’ve started reading more science fiction again, as I’ve discovered old genre classics in handy ebook format at reasonable prices.

I thought I’d read most of Arthur C Clarke’s novels as a teenager, but “The City and the Stars”— an early effort, from 1956— slipped the net. Spoilers follow.


Homo economicus, the pirates’ code, and the squeezed middle

April 3, 2012

…the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

Captain Hector Barbarossa, in Pirates of the Caribbean

A brief foray into economics, prompted by a recent ‘big idea’ article in New Scientist magazine. (more…)

Why I’m no longer so fussed about climate change (although I probably should be)

February 20, 2012

I follow climate change issues intermittently in the mainstream press and on a shifting selection of blogs. But it’s dawned on me that I probably follow them less now than I did two, three, four or even five years ago. Leaving out the personal and professional factors, [*] here are a few reasons why I think this is the case:


Ash cloud and swine flu anniversaries: lessons on the polarisation of risk

May 1, 2011

It’s roughly the second anniversary of the kicking off of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and the first anniversary of the European ash cloud airspace closures.

There are some interesting parallels between these two events. Both were unexpected to some degree—in the case of the impact of the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, spectacularly so.

Anthropogenic Climate Change, Health and the Tobacco Analogy

April 5, 2011

Consider this statement: smoking is bad for health, and so is fossil fuel-derived anthropogenic climate change.

What a mouthful.

There are many striking parallels between these two public health issues, and of course areas where the analogy breaks down. On balance though, and with all the usual ‘health warnings’ about arguing from analogy, I think it’s a useful comparison. Either way, it seems to come up fairly frequently in climate commentary circles, so perhaps it’s worth a dedicated post here.

So— I will proceed to mercilessly flog the analogy. Like this blog as a whole, this is mostly for my own reference and is subject to additions/amendment at any time. That said, suggestions welcome. I’m sure I’ve missed lots.


The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)– and some general thoughts about indices

November 20, 2010

I like a good index.

VEI 3 (Mt Cleveland, Alaska 2006 as seen from ISS)

Here’s one:

The widest determinants of health

June 16, 2010

While the social and economic wider determinants of health are vitally important, we should remember the overall setting in which they apply.

Human health is dependent on an adequate food supply, clean air, and clean water. These represent the bottom line. The first two are required for cellular respiration— the basic reaction that converts chemical energy into walking, breathing, talking, and blogging— and the third is required as a reactant or solvent for almost all biochemical reactions in the human body.

Earthquakes, blackouts, and Gini

March 18, 2010

Ramblings of a tired mind follow. Don’t expect much.