I’m fairly sure that every day is an international day of something or other. I suspect that there are so many, there are diary clashes as well. Anyway, today is the international day of happiness, and coincidently, I’m happy.
Today was hospital day. After the scare of a few weeks ago, my neutrophil count has now climbed back up to 1.9. That’s just a smidge below the lower bound for normal people. I’m also just in the normal range for haemoglobin and platelets. This should mean that it will be fourth time lucky when I return for my maintenance Rituximab next Friday. So to celebrate it was coffee and cake at the Bottle Kiln, followed by a short run in Gnu to Carsington Water and Middleton Top.
I’m writing this at 4.30pm. Not even the worst UK Prime Minister of my lifetime ever could spoil my happiness for the rest of the day.
#OnThisDay 1973: “The entire cycle, from meter reading to final account, without the intervention of a single human” Michael Rodd cosplayed as some sort of Matrix meter reader, on Tomorrow’s World. pic.twitter.com/vkwxeMaJn1
46 years on since this quirky piece from Tomorrow’s World,12 million or so first generation smart meters are installed. Second generation meters are supposed to be ubiquitous by the end of 2020. But by January of this year, just 250,000 had been installed. The £11bn project is running years late and at least £500m over budget. It seems unlikely this target will be met. The “and then a miracle happens” graphs in this House of Commons Library article bears this pessimistic view out.
The forty pence per year to read each meter in 1973 is around £4.80 in today’s money. Assuming that there are 48 million domestic meters, the programme will cost at least £240 per meter. Break-even in 50 years – if meters were still read 1973-style and they were capable of lasting anything like that long. But at least you won’t find Michael Rodd rummaging through your cupboards.
Note: For the computer history geeks, the ‘small computer’ shown in the clip is a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8.
Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us.
Transitional arrangements should be made, lasting around 10 years, to help industries such as car manufacturing adjust.
Mid-Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham, writing in the Derby Telegraph, explains why she wants to leave the EU:
At the weekend I made up my mind that Britain will be better off leaving the European Union. It is a decision that I have not arrived at easily, having been genuinely undecided since the referendum was announced.
Our manufacturing sector ranks number eight worldwide. The language we speak, English, is the international business language. Our judicial system is consistently rated as one of the least corrupt anywhere and our contract law is regarded across the world as the best for business. We have a long history of innovation, especially here in Derbyshire from even before the industrial revolution.
… Britain has a proud history and we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the chances and opportunities we have had. I think this is possible outside of the EU and we should be confident that Britain can once again can stand by itself.
(This article has been removed since it was published, but fortunately I kept a copy).
Johan van Zyl, head of Toyota’s European operations, speaking at the Geneva Motor Show to the BBC:
Mr van Zyl said it was vital that there was frictionless trade with the European Union.
He said Toyota would overcome any short-term problems at its Burnaston car plant near Derby, such as logistics, caused by leaving without a deal. But preparation for no-deal has been costly, he said, and in the long-term things could be “very difficult”.
Could work at Burnaston dry up after the current production cycle comes to an end? “The long-term effect could be that if it [Brexit] is very negative, that outcome is possible.”
Constantly improving competitiveness is vital, he said, adding: “But if the hurdles are becoming so high that you cannot achieve it then of course you can’t avoid it [hitting investment].”
Many people probably remember Minford’s comment about exiting the EU “mostly eliminating manufacturing”. It’s easier to forget that he was also arguing for a 10 year transition period prior to the referendum. One presumes he must be horrified by the negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit with no transition period. If so, he seems to be keeping very quiet about it.
As for my MP, Pauline Latham, she clearly forgot about a key reason why UK manufacturing was performing so well in 2016. The frictionless trade provided by the EU single market and customs union and required by Toyota to make sense of their investment here. Had that fact not slipped her mind, I’m sure she wouldn’t have advised her constituents to vote to leave. Surely? It wouldn’t have been rational, given the difficulty she found in making her decision.
We may be at the eleventh hour and 58th minute before Brexit, but if Latham is a genuine champion of manufacturing in Derby, she needs to take Minford’s advice. Rather than the no-deal desired by her ERG colleagues, she must vote for an extension to Article 50. That way, her government may stand an outside chance of obtaining Minford’s 10 year transition period.
Alternatively, she could recognise that she was poorly advised in June 2016 by the Brexiter elite. It would be the mark of a principled politician to acknowledge that, after all, EU membership provides the best chance of giving our children and grandchildren the opportunities we’ve enjoyed since 1973. Voting to revoke Article 50 would be a start to repairing the damage of the last two years.
I recently had my attention drawn to this essay from May 2016 – The Empty Brain – written by psychologist Robert Epstein (thanks Andrew). In it, Epstein argues that the dominant information processing (IP) model of the brain is wrong. He states that human brains do not use symbolic representations of the world and do not process information like a computer. Instead, the IP model is one chained to our current level of technological sophistication. It is just a metaphor, with no biological validity.
Epstein points out that no-one now believes that the human brain works like a hydraulic system. However, this was the dominant model of intelligence from 300 BCE to the 1300s. It was based on the technology of the times. Similarly, no-one now argues that the brain works like a telegraph. This model was popularised by physicist Hermann von Helmholtz in the mid 1800s. The IP model of the brain can be traced back to the mid 20th century. Epstein cites John von Neumann (mathematician) and George Miller (psychologist) as being particularly influential in its development. His conclusion is that it is as misguided as the hydraulic and telegraphy models of earlier times.
If Epstein is correct, his argument has significant implications for the world of artificial intelligence. If humans are not information processors, with algorithms, data, models, memories and so on, then how could computing technology be programmed to become artificially intelligent? Is it even possible with current computing architectures? (*) There has been no successful ‘human brain project’ so far using such a model. I’m convinced (as both a computer scientist and psychologist) that there never will be.
However, I disagree with what I interpret as Epstein’s (applied) behaviourist view of human intelligence. The argument that we act solely on combinations of stimuli reinforced by the rewards or punishment that follow has been thoroughly debunked (+). There is a difference between explaining something and explaining away something. The behaviourist obsession with explaining away rather than attempting explanations of mental events is a serious blind spot to progress. As serious as the obsession with the IP model, to the exclusion of other possibilities, exhibited by many cognitive scientists.
Just because we can’t currently say how the brain changes in response to learning something, or how we later re-use this knowledge, doesn’t mean that the task will always be impossible. It certainly doesn’t mean that our brains don’t have biological analogues of memories or rules. Declarative and procedural knowledge exists, even if there isn’t a specific collection of neurons assigned to each fact or process we know.
Furthermore, the limits of our current understanding of brain architecture doesn’t invalidate the IP paradigm per-se – at least for partly explaining human intelligence. We shouldn’t be surprised at this. After all, blood circulates around the body – and brain – using hydraulics. This earlier model of how the brain functions therefore isn’t completely invalid – at least, at a low-level. It may therefore turn out that the IP model of intelligence is at least partly correct too.
Epstein finishes his essay by saying asserting “We are organisms, not computers. Get over it.” He’s right – up to a point. But the explanations (or explaining away) he offers are partial at best. Psychologists from all traditions have something to add to the debate about human intelligence. Discarding one approach solely on the grounds that it can’t explain everything that makes up human intelligence is just silly. And that’s something which Epstein definitely needs to get over.
Bloody neutrophils. Bloody absence of neutrophils, actually.
I’ve been feeling really good for the last week or so. Gnu has emerged from hibernation and I’ve racked up a hundred or so very pleasant miles in him across Derbyshire. I’ve survived a third PT session in the gym which involved a punchbag. Very cathartic. I managed a six-mile walk around the tramway trail at Calke Abbey on Saturday without ill effects and, good Liberal Democrat that I am, I’ve been out delivering Focus leaflets. So the call I got yesterday morning from the hospital was unexpected.
The conversation went something like this.
“Hello Mr. Holyoake. Are you feeling well?”
“Yes, very. Thank you for asking.”
“I’m calling about your blood tests. Your neutrophil count is low, so you’re very vulnerable to infection at the moment. Are you sure you’re feeling well? If you are feeling even in the least bit unwell you need to come to the hospital immediately so we can get antibiotics into you.”
“I’m feeling fine. I feel better than I have done since the transplant. (Pauses, while making sweary noises in my head.) How low are they?”
“Well, they’re at … 0.14. We need to give you a course of GCSF injections immediately …”
Anything below 0.5 is considered severely neutropenic. No salad, blue cheese or pâté for me for the next few days! I’d hoped that I’d left such concerns behind after finishing with chemo last year, but it appears that my optimism was misplaced. The hospital (and other SCT survivors) have told me that it’s not unknown for this to happen. I know from past experience that the injections will sort the problem out, in the short-term at least. I’m slightly less panicked today than yesterday about what will hopefully be a minor setback.
However, there’s another wrinkle in this story. GCSF (Filgrastim) injections are (as far as I’m aware) the only way to get a haematology patient’s neutrophil count back up quickly, to protect us from life-threatening infections. (With a neutrophil count of 0.14, pretty much anything could be a life-threatening infection.)
Because of this, Filgrastim is on the WHO’s list of essential medicines. It should always be in stock.
The hospital pharmacy were only able to dispense three of the five injections I need. The other two will have to be collected separately on Friday afternoon. If the medicine supply chain is already struggling, it doesn’t fill me with confidence that it will work at all in the event of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.
Are you listening, Pauline Latham MP, and all of your fellow travellers in the ERG? (I know the answer to that question – it’s no.)
I’m annoyed (*) to report that I’ve now felt driven to start my own no deal Brexit stockpile. I don’t trust the government, nor at least two-thirds of Derby’s MPs (one Conservative, one Labour, both appalling), to act in our best interests. I hope that this post looks silly – really silly – very soon, but I’m too uncomfortable to do nothing before March 29th. Most people who answered my poll a couple of weeks ago – on Twitter and on Facebook – were thinking about stockpiling as well. There seems to be an increasing number of Brexit preppers around.
I’ve decided not to take my stockpiling to the extremes that some preppers have. I’m not stockpiling camping gas and bottled water for example. If the lights go out, the gas goes off and water supplies fail, then there’ll be rather more to worry about. It would take “Death of Grass” style preparations to properly address such a possibility. My brother isn’t a Yorkshire farmer with a stockade and machine gun, so I’m already at a disadvantage over the characters in John Christopher’s novel.
Instead, I’m targeting non-perishable and long shelf life goods, and aiming for 4-6 week’s supply by the time Brexit day arrives. I realise that I’m fortunate to be able to do this and others won’t be. If I’d been having my stem cell transplant around this time it wouldn’t have been possible.
My list currently has the following items on it. They’re mostly things I’d buy anyway (with a couple of exceptions), so I guess I could justify it as forward buying, but it’s not. I’d usually want to outsource stock rotation to the experts in the supermarket …
Toilet paper, washing machine tablets, dishwasher tablets, razor blades, soap, other detergents and cleaners, deodorant, toothpaste, over the counter medicines
Salad leaves, runner beans, broad beans, tomatoes etc.
Long-life orange juice, diet cola, beer, wine
While a calamitous no deal Brexit remains a possibility I shall keep on adding to my stocks. Once it’s clear that particular threat has gone away (and I hope that it does), then I will donate any surplus I have to a local food bank.
If you still think this is all a little extreme, even confident Tory Brexiter MPs seem to be stockpiling in the name of “preparedness”. I guess the snowdrifts must be really something to behold in Berwick if they last throughout the summer.
Otherwise known as preparedness. I have enough dry goods and tins in my celar in case of big snow. Always. Even in the summer! #lessdrama#moreplanning
Having survived my first week back at work, I made the trek over to the Royal Derby this morning for my first Rituximab maintenance session. One of the car parks is currently closed so I left plenty of time for queueing. This was definitely needed, even with an early appointment.
Unfortunately, my blood counts decided that today wasn’t going to be the day after all. While my haemoglobin is normal again and my platelets are stable, the white cell and neutrophil counts have tumbled since Christmas. Even so they’re not desperately bad, but maintenance won’t proceed until the neutrophils are above 1.5 again. It appears to be “just one of those things” that can happen after a stem cell transplant. A bump in the road. Oh well. I shall try again in a month.
To help my immune system I’ve been put back on Aciclovir and Co-Trimoxazole for the first time since early December. This means that the pill organiser will be pressed into service once more. I’m likely to be on these for the next three years now – yummy.
One other milestone achieved this week was stepping back into a gym for the first time in years. It really wasn’t too bad, honestly. Did I mention that my son-in-law is a brilliant personal trainer with very reasonable rates? If you’re still feeling the after-effects of Christmas and live in the Derby area, then you should definitely invest in a few sessions. Ben’s website is here.