I’m not necessarily known for the accuracy of my predictions. But having watched the coverage from Downing Street this morning while trying not to utter too many expletives, here’s my latest hostage to fortune.
I expect Theresa May to win the confidence vote tonight, with around 75-80 of her colleagues voting against her.
Not that it changes anything if she does win. It is all a self-indulgent side-show while the country burns – taking Derby with it. I hope that every member of the Conservative party is feeling a deep sense of shame.
After this afternoon’s debacle in the Commons, I’m certain that the Prime Minister is trying to run the clock down towards March 29th 2019 so that MPs will have to eventually vote for her deal or risk crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. At the same time I think she’s trying to engineer a personal backstop of a new referendum, should her continuing attempts to blackmail MPs not work. However, I’m convinced that should a Theresa May inspired referendum happen, it would be of the ludicrously high-stakes “my deal or crash out with no deal” kind.
I don’t know how I’d vote in such a referendum. Actively voting for “no deal” is easy to rule out. I want politicians to stop wasting time on Europe, and focus on mending the rifts in our society, tackling poverty and promoting opportunity for all. I’d quite like my cancer drugs, food and power supplies to carry on uninterrupted next year. I want my 33+ years of pension savings to be worth something in retirement.
But to willingly vote for her xenophobic deal which ends free movement and reduces the life chances of everyone in the UK? I think – maybe – I’d prefer to spoil my ballot paper. I can’t decide at the moment if that would be the principled thing to do – or merely stupid. It’s a decision I never want to be forced to make.
The Brexit can is still being kicked. We are all in it together. It’s about to go over the cliff edge with us to our collective doom.
Unless, of course, sane MPs on all sides of the house show some backbone and start to work together. They need either to cancel Brexit by withdrawing our article 50 notification, or ask the electorate to take that decision for them.
As we’re a parliamentary democracy, the first course of action should be the preferred one.
I recently found a couple of Pathescope films shot by my father in the early 1950s. The more interesting one is of grasstrack motorcycle racing in September 1951.
Pathescope is a 9.5mm cine film format with the sprocket hole in the centre. It was introduced in 1922 and was most popular with amateur film-makers in France and the UK. Pathescope Limited was the subject of a workers’ buyout in 1959, but went bankrupt in 1960. In a precursor to the VHS/Betamax wars of the 1980s, an arguably superior format fell to the greater marketing muscle of Kodak and the far wider range of suppliers supporting the 8mm standard. The very late introduction of Pathescope colour film also didn’t help.
When I had the film digitised (+) I thought the location may have been Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire. In 1951 Kirkby Hall was still standing, but only just (it was demolished in 1952), after wartime use by the military. The British Championships were held there on 2nd September, and this film was processed on the 25th. Grasstrack racing was held at Kirkby Mallory up until 1956. It ended when a tarmac circuit – Mallory Park – was laid for the princely sum of £50,000.
However, a closer examination of the film plus a glance through his 1951 diary instead confirms the location as Hopwell Hall (-), near Ockbrook. The racing took place on Sunday 23rd September. There’s a couple of seconds of my grandfather midway through the film, which was an unexpected bonus.
(-) Hopwell Hall was a Special School run by Nottinghamshire County Council (in Derbyshire) from the 1920s up until the 1980s/90s. In the 1950s, motorcycle racing took place in the surrounding parklands. It was converted into a £6m, 10 bedroom house in the late 1990s and has been privately owned since.
I spent the last weekend in Chester with friends. On Saturday morning we walked around the city and retook a series of six photographs that my father shot in 1952. Five of the locations were straightforward to find. The sixth location remains somewhat of a mystery (at least to me.) I’m hoping to be back in January for the Division of Occupational Psychology conference, so I shall take another look then.
The River Dee from the Old Dee Bridge.
Queen’s Park suspension bridge.
View from Chester Rows – The Grotto Hotel and Barlow’s in 1952. Tessuti designer clothing and a branch of Sta Travel in 2018.
The statue of Richard Grosvenor, Second Marquess of Westminster, Grosvenor Park. The 1952 photograph is looking towards the park, but the picture I took on Saturday is 180 90 degrees out. (The original 1952 image was reversed – thanks for spotting it Jon!) It does however have a bonus pigeon.
A view of St John the Baptist’s Church through the ruins.
The mystery photograph. It’s clearly a view taken in the ruins of St John’s, but I’ve either taken mine from the wrong spot or part of the ruins have been demolished since 1952. I can’t find any record of ruins being demolished (and the site is Grade I listed!) so it’s probably the wrong spot. However, the arch and steps on the left hand side of the 2018 photograph do seem to match those of the 1952 image. If you can help with the identification, please leave me a comment!
Update 4th December 2018: Mystery solved – the 1952 image (like that of the statue) was also reversed. If I retake the photograph from the plinth in the bottom right of the 2018 image, I’m pretty sure that this is still the view today.
Like many others, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of WordPress 5.0 and its new Gutenberg editor. The project, however, appears to have run into problems. The release date has been moved twice – it currently sits as “TBD”.
I’m hoping that the people running the project have read “The Mythical Man Month“. To get the release back on track, Brooks recommends:
“Take no small slips … allow enough time in the new schedule to ensure that the work can be carefully and thoroughly done, and that rescheduling will not have to be done again.”
“Trim the task … In practice this tends to happen anyway … only alternatives are to trim it formally and carefully, to reschedule, or to watch the task get silently trimmed by hasty design and incomplete testing.” (No-one in their right mind would want the last type of trimming to take place).
To not add more people into an already late project. “Brooks’ Law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”
I’m looking forward to seeing WordPress 5.0 in the wild, but I’m happy to wait. In the words written on the menu of the Antoine restaurant in New Orleans:
Good cooking takes time. If you are made to wait, it is to serve you better, and to please you.
I’ve recently been dipping into Brainchildren – essays on designing minds, by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. The essays in the book were written between the mid 1980s and 1998. There’s a whole section dedicated to artificial intelligence, hence my interest. It’s instructive to look at this topic from a philosophical rather than a pure technology perspective. It certainly makes a pleasant change from being constantly bombarded with the frenzied marketing half-truths of the last couple of years. I mean you, shouty Microsoft man.
My conclusion from reading Brainchildren is that many of the problems with AI, known in the 80s, have not been addressed. They’ve simply been masked by the rapidly increasing computer power (and decreasing costs) of the last three decades. Furthermore, the problems that beset AI are unlikely to be resolved in the near future without a fundamental shift in architectural approaches.
Exploding Robots – The Frame Problem
One such hard problem for AI is known as the frame problem. How do you get a computer program (controlling a robot, for example) to represent its world efficiently and to plan and execute its actions appropriately?
Dennett imagines a robot with a single task – to fend for itself. The robot is told that the spare battery it relies on is in a room with a bomb in it. It quickly decides to pull the cart its battery sits on out of the room. The robot acts and is destroyed, as the bomb is also on the cart. It failed to realise a crucial side effect of its planned action.
A rebuilt (and slightly dented) robot is programmed with the requirement to consider all potential side effects of its actions. It is set the same task and decides to pull the cart out of the room. However, it then spends so much time evaluating all of the possible implications of this act – Will it change the colour of the walls? What if the cart’s wheels need to rotate more times than it has wheels? – that the bomb explodes before it has had time to do anything.
The third version of the robot is designed to ignore irrelevant side effects. It is set the same task, decides on the same plan, but then appears to freeze. The robot is so busy ignoring all of the millions of irrelevant side effects that it fails to find the important one before the bomb explodes.
AI is impossible to deliver using 20th century technologies
Dennet concludes that an artificially intelligent program needs to be capable of ignoring most of what it knows or can deduce. As the robot thought experiments show, this can’t be achieved by exhaustively ruling out possibilities. In other words, not by the brute-force algorithms commonly used by chess playing programs and presumably by this fascinating system used in the NHS for identifying the extent of cancer tumours.
The hardest problem for an AI isn’t finding enough data about its world. It’s about making good decisions (*) – efficiently – about the 99% of data held that isn’t relevant.
Human brains do this qualification task incredibly efficiently, using a fraction of the computing power available to your average mobile ‘phone. Artificial “brains”, unless ridiculously constrained, simply don’t perform with anything like the flexibility required. My belief is that the key problem lies with the underlying computing architectures used for current “AI” systems. These architectures have been fundamentally unchanged since the 1940s. An entirely new approach to system architecture (hardware and software) is required, as the computational paradigm is unsuitable for the task.
(*) As good decisions, and ideally better, than a trained person would make.
Carsington Water is a pleasant 30 minute drive from home. It’s somewhere I enjoy going to think, especially when it’s quiet. It was very quiet this morning, as well as being cold and rather eerie in the winter sunlight. It’s a good job the 7 has a heater – however inefficient. At least it keeps my legs warm while the top half of me is wrapped in a fleece, scarf, snood, woolly hat, driving gloves and a big coat.
This was probably the last excursion for Gnu this year as the weather for the rest of this week looks poor. He’ll be safely stored away and SORNed by 1st December for a couple of months.
I spent some time walking around Stones Island and reflecting on the last year. It’s one I don’t want to repeat in a hurry. Chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant is no fun at all. Worse than the treatment was missing out on too many social occasions – including work. But I hope that I’m now through the worst of it and that any relapse is many years away. Maybe something else will get me first after all!
Having made appreciative noises at the sculpture, my twenty-minute walk became too cold to bear. So I did what any sensible person would do and headed to the Mainsail restaurant. My sausage cob (breakfast is served until 2.30pm – very decadent) and pot of tea were a bargain at £5.25.
I’m cautiously optimistic about 2019 from a personal perspective. Maybe even my head hair will grow back soon. I hope this optimism is better-founded than my Old Timmy’s Almanac predictions were at the start of this year.
A conversation I had earlier on today reminded me that I have a photograph of the Spondon Home Guard. It was taken during World War II, outside the gatehouse lodge at Locko Park. I don’t have a key to the people in the picture, although my assumption is that there must be at least one Holyoake present. I can see a couple of possible candidates.
If anyone does recognise any of the volunteers, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
I had this email from Bulb Energy today. Impressive stuff – particularly as I’d rung off before the call had been answered. As it happened, I’d found the answer I needed on their website while I was waiting. Such a different experience to the unlamented Iresa Energy, who were nothing but trouble in the year we were with them. Fortunately I’d managed to switch from Iresa to Bulb a few weeks before they went under.
If you’d like to switch to Bulb, using this link will get you a £50 credit towards your energy bill. Full disclosure – if you use it and switch, I’ll also get a £50 credit.
As part of my recovery from the SCT I’ve just returned from a long weekend in York. Other than a few day trips and a weekend there when my children were very small, it’s somewhere I’ve never spent much time. There was also a weekend at York University on an Open University management course in 1990. All of the smart students seemed to be WHSmith trainees. How times change. But I digress.
York was wonderful. We went in the museums and galleries, met friends and enjoyed time together. Some of my favourite experiences were:
Food & Drink:OXO’s Restaurant. Now that I’m getting my appetite and taste buds back, this was a brilliant place to spend an evening. Well cooked and presented food, an excellent host and waiting staff plus a barman who made great cocktails. Non-alcoholic for me at the moment!
Culture & History: York has this by the bucketful, obviously. We enjoyed the Castle Museum, York Minster and the Jorvik Centre, but the stand-out for me was the Art Gallery. Specifically the Strata | Rock | Dust | Stars exhibition, which is there until 25th November. Agnes Meyer-Brandis’ installation, drawing on her Moon Goose project, is both charming and bizarre. I especially enjoyed the weathered samples of goose eggs showing how they crumble to dust over 500 years or so on the moon (*).
Trains: The National Railway Museum. Free entry (although there is a £5 suggested donation – still a bargain). We spent a few hours on Sunday here before catching the train home. The museum has lockers (£3 or £4) which are handy for overnight bag storage, making it an ideal final stop. The ride on Agecroft No.1 was an extra £4.
The railway ephemera in the collections room is as bizarre as the Agnes Meyer-Brandis’ Moon Geese. An encased cheeseburger package has pride of place in one of the cabinets.
Walking: York is an easy city to walk around, if you avoid the crowds. While we didn’t manage to walk all of the remaining walls, the view of the Minster was rewarding from near the railway station. I managed to clock up more than 30,000 steps in the 3 days we were in York. Thankfully, I seem to be making faster progress on the recovery front.
(*) Pedantic bit. Technically there is no weathering on the moon, as it has no air or water. However, a similar process occurs through micrometeorite impacts. But I’m not convinced that a goose egg would be dust in as little as 500 years, even so.