Friday, 23 June 2017

Trust in the News

Sussed out the RyanAir booking thing. We couldn't check-in without booking a seat as we'd selected to check-in for the return flight simultaneously, and the return flight is more than 7 days away, hence the mandatory seat booking. Checked in for the outward flight only and we managed to get the free seats, but while I was in 30B, Hay was placed in 05A. They punish you by separating you for not booking the seats. Bastards.

Is it me, or were Melvyn Bragg and Michael Palin separated at birth?

Trust in news media has been making headlines, especially in the wake of fake news in newspapers before and since the EU referendum.

Claims of BBC bias abound from both the left and the right (which I treat with equal scepticism for reasons articulated several times in the past), but what the BBC does report is at least factual, unlike the utter drivel published in many daily newspapers. I can, however, accept it's slightly left of centre, as expected from an organisation that employs university graduates.

I always listen to Today on Radio 4 in the morning and I predominantly use Flipboard for my daily e-news source - it collates numerous news sources covering whatever subjects I'm interested in, filtering out the more partizan and disreputable stuff; although, when this do slip through, the opposing viewpoint is also shown. Flipboard also has a more international view, publishing stories from other countries on a variety of subjects. It helps in seeing what other countries think about the UK, which is not flattering at present.

I use the Reuters website quite a bit too, as it regularly comes out as staunchly centrist and international.

I often quickly peruse the on-line versions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian, just to see opposing views and have a laugh at some of the more rabid Daily Mail comments (the Guardian comments seem much more intelligent and measured, although they too can be quite extreme and bizarre at times).

Facebook is perhaps the least trustworthy news source in the world and, if anything does attract my attention, I will invariably seek corroboration elsewhere.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Thought for the Day While Sunbathing in a Hat

Thought for the day: is the free movement of capital as problematic as, or indeed more problematic than free movement of people?

OK, I'll get it out of the way and say the nights are drawing in.

Loved Mrs Queen's European hat yesterday - it couldn't possibly be accidental and I would suggest Prince Philip, with his usual mischievousness, was behind the choice. With complete and typical neutrality, it could be taken two ways - five stars for what it may end up as, or as a snub to the government, which has stupidly risked the breakup of her once United Kingdom.

RyanAir is trying to pressure us into buying a seat now for anything from £4 to £16 before we can check in. I strongly object, as I've paid the fare already and I'll bloody well stand all the way if necessary.

One of the questions in my YouGov daily poll yesterday was "Have you suffered from sunburn over the last few days," to which my answer is no. As a teenager, and well into my mid 30s, I wouldn't miss a chance to do some bronzying, especially when at sea in the tropics. It was the unspoken rule that a seafarer had to return home as brown as a nut. The desire to get a suntan tailed off from then on, to the extent that, since my 50s, I tend to shun sunlight, if at all possible. There again, it may have had something to do with me selling my soul to Satan and these long cuspids that appeared.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Phoenix RyanAir Kefir

What's this in the news about Phoenix Nights being cancelled? Didn't realise there was another series.

We're preparing for our holiday in Ireland, leaving the house in the care of my two teenage sons, Hay's dad and Hay's sister. Anyone who cares to attempt a robbery with that lot looking after the house is either very brave or plain foolhardy. 

We're flying to Knock and then driving over to Murrisk in Mayo. However, the fly in the ointment is RyanAir. They try to extract money from you at every conceivable opportunity. You have to pay 20 Euros to manually book in at the airport, which is fine, as we could book on-line for free. The problem is that you can only book in online two hours before your flight departure, and you have to print out your boarding card. That's obviously not possible if you're using a normal computer, as the availability of printing facilities is somewhat scarce in airports. The only solution is the use a mobile app and get an e-boarding card on your phone - but I'm fully expecting something to go squonk with the system when we attempt an app-based check-in at the airport with 2 hours to go, resulting in us having to check in manually for 20 Euros.

I've perfected the kefir making. I put the kefir grains in a one litre Kilner jar (actually one of IKEA's lookalikes) with the milk (semi-skimmed or whole), seal it so it's airtight and leave it in the fridge for a week. The conversion takes place slowly and under increasing pressure, resulting in the perfect, fizzy kefit drink by the end of the week. That's then decanted into plastic bottles for use during the next week while I'm making the next batch. One litre a week is about the right amount, added to which it is happy fermenting away while you're on a week's holiday. Being left a few days longer isn't a problem, and I dare say I could get away with leaving it to ferment in the fridge for 2 weeks without any problems.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Varifocal Formations

Cloud formations in the shape of the UK/GB are all the rage at present. I snapped my own yesterday morning in the sky over Chipping Sodbury:

For some time now I thought I had scratches on my varifocals - either that or some smudge that I couldn't remove. Got Hay to have a look as, without my glasses, I can't see things close up. It transpires that my lens prescription is etched into the lenses. Apparently it's common practise with varifocals.

Why this should be done only with varifocals is a mystery.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bloody Foreigners

During what started as a reasonably good-natured argument with several people on a Facebook group in support of Brexit (I'd gone into the lion's den), one person got a bit frustrated and called me a 'foreign piece of shit' on the basis of my surname. I have to admit, it was the only instance of someone using logic, albeit faulty, in the entire argument. It was more a use of assumption than formal logic and a case of adding two and two to get five.

I'd spent several sporadic hours throughout the day trying to get some Brexit supporters to articulate a single reason for their support of Brexit that wasn't based on a demonstrable fallacy, a misunderstanding of the areas under the influence of the EU, couldn't be immediately be demolished with a bit of simple logic or wasn't based on simple, naked xenophobia. Needless to say, there was not a single argument that could hold water and make me think; "Hang on, you have a point there." The argument, for what it is, is manifestly visceral and therefore immune to reason.

David Davies will today boldly go into Europe for what will inevitably be his Dunkirk moment. It will be interesting to watch events unfold, especially now that support for Brexit is crumbling in both the country as a whole and the government in particular.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Age Related Conservatism

a few weeks ago I received an invitation to join YouGov, the polling firm, to provide input to many of their polls. No idea why I was selected, but I thought it a good idea. YouGov has daily polls on some three subjects that are in the news and the result of the polls are fed back to those who participate. The results are broken down by gender, political leanings, UK region and age group, and they show some interesting trends, the most obvious one being that people move to the right of the political spectrum as they get older.

Psychologists have studied this age related conservatism (with a small c) and have identified a number of factors.

  1. As we grow older our thinking slows down, and intellectual curiosity stagnates. This leads to us becoming less inclined to seek out new experiences, which are proven to open us up to alternative views.
  2. After the age of about 40, and accelerating as we enter into our 60s, this slower thinking tends to make us see things as either black or white and we dismiss views that conflict with preconceptions, shutting out new knowledge.
  3. As we age we prefer to navigate life on autopilot, feeling more comfortable with the perceived certainty of our isolated views. Remaining open-minded causes uncertainty, leading to insecurity and self-doubt. Older people are less willing to admit they've made a mistake and cling tenaciously to old, discredited mantras.
Time after time, the daily YouGov poll feedback shows those over 50 generally have more reactionary views, while those at the other end of the age continuum are more progressive.

The strange thing is that the older I get, the more I seem to be moving to the left. It could be a lot to do with the fact that the older I get, the more frugally I tend to live life, meaning I've become less acquisitive and much happier in my skin, which makes me think a bit more about those less fortunate than me.

Having said that, like most people, I inherited my politics from my father - a Conservative - and voted that way for decades, not really questioning why. In my 40s I moved a tad left of centre and remained there, having developed a more analytical approach to politics and a social conscience. To be honest, I've not moved further left; the left seems to have moved closer to me. I'm constantly horrified by the number of people who never read a manifesto and vote on the basis of either blind, tribal allegiance (as in the parental example above), or the presidential attributes of the party leaders.

Saturday, 17 June 2017


Some one has spotted a cloud formation that looks like post-Brexit UK:

This image is concerned with symbols of the oppression of women. When I hear people having a go at the burqa, whether it be for genuine reasons or just masking something else (and it's usually the latter), I'm reminded of the quote; "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Friday, 16 June 2017

Cat & Fox Game

This one's called Fight or Flight.

And this one's called Pincer Movement.

Thursday, 15 June 2017


I think I've figured out the Covfefe thing. It's his Twitter account password.

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading a very interesting couple of books; Sapiens and Homo Deus, by Noah Yuval Harari.

Consider the following:

Artificial Intelligence is progressing at such a pace with billions being invested it it,, with that it could easily replace many areas of work within a decade or two - even areas we've always considered safe from computers, such as lawyers and doctors. Anything we can do, with only a few exceptions, probably around values, ethics and morals, can be performed by AI algorithms. Anything that involves pushing buttons, pulling levers, analysing vast amounts of data, can all be performed more efficiently by algorithms. This could lead to mass unemployment on a truly industrial scale. Costly training of professionals would disappear too, leading to huge savings. True, new jobs would appear, but nowhere near as many as those lost, and they would only be for the well educated in engineering and research.

Now, universal suffrage was itself a direct consequence of fears following on from the French Revolution, which showed that the proletariat could become a serious threat to the established order if they massed - and the Industrial Revolution itself massed them in towns. Agricultural workers on farms were not much of a threat, as they were usually fully occupied and dispersed, whereas poverty and unemployment in cities could politicise the new hives of industrial workers. Giving the new proletariat workers a say in the running of the country, on a gradually increasing basis, stopped the revolution spreading to the UK.

The voter is seen by the elite as a unit of production. The elite will therefore go some way to ensuring the unit of production remains productive through political bribes. If mass unemployment results from AI taking over from humans in various jobs, the human unit of production is no longer of value, and his or her vote is of no value either, leading to disenfranchisement.

The only way of stemming a potential revolution on the part of the disenfranchised is to give them free money - a universal wage - paid for out of the vast profits generated by the use of AI to replace humans. The mass unemployed have to have money in order to provide fees to the AI machine, or else the whole system collapses anyway, as there are fewer people with money to buy the newly developed and massively efficient AI services and products. However, it would be a minimum necessary to keep the system working.

A Doomsday scenario? Finland is already trialling it, and for the above reasons.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Foxy Well Politicians

The inevitable happened last night - Foxy came for his dinner only to run into Kitty. There was a bit of a scuffle and Kitty saw him off. As soon as Kitty came off guard duty he came back though.

Hay had an appointment yesterday at something called a Well Woman Clinic. Bloody oxymoron, if you ask me. A bloke doesn't even go to see his GP when he's ill, never mind about when he's well.

Apparently a team of scientists have used algebraic topology, a branch of mathematics used to describe the properties of objects and spaces regardless of how they change shape, to analyse the brain. They found that groups of neurons connect into 'cliques', and that the number of neurons in a clique would lead to its size as a high-dimensional geometric object. "We found a world that we had never imagined," says lead researcher, neuroscientist Henry Markram from the EPFL institute in Switzerland. "There are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions." 

Human brains are estimated to have a staggering 86 billion neurons, with multiple connections from each cell webbing in every possible direction, forming the vast cellular network that somehow makes us capable of thought and consciousness. With such a huge number of connections to work with, it's no wonder we still don't have a thorough understanding of how the brain's neural network operates.

In order to simplify the study, I'm led to believe that the team will be working on Brexit supporting Conservative politicians' brains. They'll move on to something more complex at a later stage.