Spondon Home Guard

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.

Spondon Home Guard during WWII
Spondon Home Guard during WWII

Bulb Energy: Impressive customer service

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.

Bulb £10 credit email


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.

Transplant +68: York

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!

The mulled wine train at York Christmas market
There was also the mulled wine train at York Christmas market …

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.

The last cheeseburger
The last cheeseburger

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.

York Minster
York Minster

(*) 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.

Brexit withdrawal agreement: I called it wrong

Last night I started to write a post arguing that the Tories would fall in behind the withdrawal agreement that Rabb and May had negotiated. I became too tired to finish it and didn’t hit publish. This morning, looking at the utter chaos the strong and stable May government is in, I’m rather glad that I didn’t.

I believed that the withdrawal agreement would get through the Commons, due to the flakiness demonstrated in the past by the pro-remain Tory “rebels”, the love of power in the rest of the party, combined with abstentions and pro-Brexit votes from the utter shambles that claims to be the official opposition.

I convinced myself that many of the Brexit ultras would fall in behind the Prime Minister. Once out of the EU – even if it was Brexit in name only – it would be easier for them to chip away at the agreement over time and get what they wanted than go through a no-deal exit. My justification for this reasoning were the reports that Michael Gove had backed the deal in cabinet. Compared to many of the other Brexiters in the Conservative party, he looks like a genius. When Gove does something like that, he’s usually playing out some kind of clever strategy. After all, a no-deal will so damage the country the Tories would be unlikely to see power again in a generation.

But what do I know? Nothing at all, by the looks of it. The green crayon brigade seem firmly in control of the fate of the Conservative party – and the country – this morning. If you weren’t preparing for a no-deal Brexit already, now is the time to start. (While continuing to argue for remaining in the EU, naturally.)

Green crayons
Green crayons as (probably) used by Brexit-supporting Conservative ministers when writing their resignation letters

Is scientific knowledge about cancer controversial?

Today the British Psychological Society’s research digest has highlighted Lobato & Zimmerman‘s recently published research on how people reason about controversial (*) scientific topics. Their research asked participants to justify their position on evolution, climate change, genetically modified foods and vaccinations.

The researchers found that 34% of participants simply restated their thoughts with no justification. Of the remaining 66% who attempted a justification, 20% were subjective. Subjective justifications favoured personal experience, cultural identity, false reasoning and conspiracy theories over scientific evidence.

45% of participants said that no new evidence would change their minds for at least one of the four topics investigated.

This research is interesting because it questions the received wisdom that giving people more factual information about a topic will enable them to come to a valid conclusion. It could certainly explain why a ‘referendum on the facts’ about Brexit may still deliver the same verdict as in June 2016. Brexit, as the Prime Minister and her cabinet demonstrates, has become an article of faith.

Which brings me to the topic of cancer. Judging by some of the reviews on the Cancer Research UK Facebook page, scientific knowledge about cancer is controversial. Many of the reviews made me feel sad. Others made me angry. Some examples and the facts (even though it appears that facts may not be powerful for some):

Cancer research has NO intention of finding a cure, merely conning people out of money on the premise of such a possibility … You manufacture antiquated TREATMENTS that eventually kill the sufferer! More patients die from CHEMO than cancer!

The facts:

In the 1970s, only a quarter of people diagnosed with a cancer survived. More than half now survive for at least ten years.Novel chemotherapy drugs and other treatments developed through research programmes are responsible for this dramatic improvement in survival rates.

Cancer Research UK is a scam!!! Established 1902 and stil no cure? Makes big pharmaceutical companies billions so, ever wondered why there’s no cure?

The facts:

As cancer is not a single disease, it is unlikely that there will ever be “a cure” for it. Many different approaches will be required. Cancers that used to kill quickly in 1902 but now have a five-year survival rate of around 100% include cervical cancer, prostate cancer, many thyroid cancers and early stage breast cancer. My own non-Hodgkin lymphoma has a rapidly improving survival rate thanks to improved chemotherapy drugs, stem cell transplants and immunotherapy.

Why give cancer patients fatty food and sugar WHEN cancer thrives on sugar.

The facts:

There’s no scientific evidence that removing sugar from your diet improves your survival chances.

And then there’s the comments from the green crayon brigade that really aren’t worth any response at all, but just make me angry.

A cancer charity that doesn’t tell you what causes cancer, or how to cure it. A low fat plant based diet both prevents and cures cancer. Please watch **** and **** and stop supporting corrupt charities like this one.

… what in hell are you researching there’s a cure already it’s called marijuana …

Scare tactics 1 in 2 people will get cancer? Smoking is down, Drinking down yet cancer rates are up..really why don’t you just say everyone will get cancer so just give us all your money.

The cancer research shop window displays have no mention of the ww1 100 years memorial. No poppies. No ” lest we forget” message. Nothing.


Green crayons
Green crayons for use by cancer research conspiracy theorists


I could go on, but there’s only so much stupidity I can cope with in one day. Nick Clegg is certainly going to have his work cut out cleaning up fake news or whatever it is he’ll be doing at Facebook in 2019.


(*) The participants were 244 American university students and staff, which may explain the inclusion of evolution as one of the controversial topics.

Transplant +56: The check up

Today I had my first check up back at Derby after my stem cell transplant. My blood test results were reasonable, if a little on the low side. (Haemoglobin 125 (normal is 120-180), Platelets 116 (150-450), Neutrophils 1.03 (2.0 – 7.0)). This means I’m still neutropenic, but at least I won’t bleed to death 🙂 . I have a shiny new stock of Aciclovir and Co-Trimoxazole to help fight off any bugs I might pick up between now and Christmas. Physically I appear to be getting there, but I’m still feeling very fuzzy mentally. I’m hoping that I’ll start to feel a little sharper as my blood counts improve.

The consultant has scheduled a PET/CT scan for mid December, which will show if I’m still in remission. I’ll get the results the week before Christmas at my next check up. I hope Santa thinks that I’ve been a good boy this year. My (not) fit note has been extended until the end of January. Hopefully my December test results will suggest that a phased return to work will be all right early in 2019.

All being well I’ll also start maintenance chemotherapy with Rituximab injections in the new year. These will be given two months apart, for 3 years. When I started on my MCL journey maintenance chemotherapy wasn’t widely practised, as the results from studies were inconclusive. However, more recent evidence suggests that the benefits of maintenance chemotherapy after a stem cell transplant for MCL outweigh the disadvantages for people in my age group.

I’ve one big Christmas wish for Santa this year. I’d like my head hair back please. I know it won’t improve my looks, but at least I won’t shiver with every little draft that comes my way.

A warm hat is essential after a stem cell transplant
A warm hat is essential after a stem cell transplant.

Artificial intelligence is (mostly) not intelligent

This is not AI-powered, even though it's about to forecast the weather.
This is not an artificial intelligence, even though it’s about to forecast the weather.

I last wrote about artificial intelligence here in February 2014. Four and a half years ago it wasn’t something that very many people were paying attention to. Artificial intelligence (AI) had been fashionable in computing circles back in the mid 1980s, but its popularity as a mainstream topic was long gone. Cognitive scientists and psychologists also appeared to have given up on the topic. For example, the Open University removed the chapters on cognitive modelling and connectionism from the final few presentations of DD303 sometime around 2011. Fortunately, this was after I’d taken the course.

However, you can’t help but notice that there’s been a huge surge in software companies jumping onto the AI bandwagon recently. Probably the most irritating manifestation of this trend is the shouty chap on the Microsoft TV advert. While what he’s peddling is interesting, it’s not a definition of AI that I recognise.

By these same standards, the camera on your smartphones isn’t using AI to take better photographs, regardless of manufacturer claims. Chess playing computers aren’t AIs. And self-driving cars – no, they’re not using AI to avoid obstacles.

All of these examples are simply using the vast computing power we have available today to scan for patterns in ever-larger datasets. Domain-specific algorithms are then used to obtain a result. Algortihms that enable them to play chess, avoid obstacles and take better photographs. The more computing power there is, the more options these algorithms can run, and the more intelligent they seem. But they use the power of brute force computing rather than anything resembling an articificial human – or biological – intelligence to obtain results.

If you ask your camera phone to play chess, you won’t get very far. Likewise, you’ll not find a self-driving car that can diagnose illnesses. There are people who can do both – maybe even simultaneously – and avoid obstacles while driving a car, figure out that Brexit is a bad idea and so on.

Having said all of that, these examples are still better uses of computing resources and power than cryptocurrency mining. At the time of writing this activity is consuming as much electricity as the whole of Austria and adding incrementally to climate change.

So if my earlier examples aren’t AI, what is?

The term AI should be reserved for systems that (a) simulate human cognition and (b) can subsequently be used to explain how human cognition works. An AI system should also not be inherently domain-specific. In other words, the computing framework (hardware plus software) used should be capable of being retrained to deliver solutions in multiple domains, potentially simultaneously, just as a person can.

Without such rigour being applied to the definition of AI, any or all computer programs could be called AI. Much as I love the algorithm I wrote for my premium bond simulator a few days ago, it’s not an AI. Neither is my weather forecaster.

I’m not trying to argue about the number of angels that will fit on a pin-head here. I have a real concern about the misuse of the term AI. There is genuinely interesting research being performed in artificial intelligence. SpiNNaker at Manchester University appears to be one such example.

However, nothing will stop the flow of funding to valuable AI research faster than the inevitable perception (I predict within 3 years) that AI has failed. This will happen because software marketeers don’t understand what AI is and don’t really care anyway. For them, AI is simply a means to shift more computing “stuff”. When it is no longer a hot topic it will be unceremoniously dumped and rubbished for the next “big thing”.

Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at the rise and fall of any big computing trend of the last 40 years. Object databases in the mid 1990s, for example. Computing has always been the equivalent of the fashion business for nerds (like me).

Derby would now vote to remain in the EU

I missed Channel 4’s “Brexit: What the Nation Really Thinks” last night. However, the headline was that by an eight percentage point margin, Britain would now prefer to remain in the EU. Jonathan Calder noted yesterday evening that a number of areas in the East Midlands would now vote to remain. My home city of Derby is one of them.

The Boy and the Ram, Wilfred Dudeney, 1963
The Boy and the Ram, Wilfred Dudeney, 1963.

In the June 2016 referendum, 57.22% of those voting in Derby said that they wanted to leave the EU. Survation’s data for Channel 4 now suggests that only a minority – 49.8% – are comfortable with that choice. This represents a 7.42 percentage point change in favour of remaining in the EU – the equivalent of around 1 in 8 voters switching from leave to remain.

The other cities in the East Midlands have seen even larger movements in opinion. Leicester is ever more firmly in the remain camp by 10.59 percentage points. Nottingham (10.77% change) and Lincoln (9.41% change), like Derby, have switched from leave to remain.

Of course, this is all moot unless our MPs choose to act on new information about the public mood. You can politely encourage your MP to do so by writing to them at the House of Commons. Alternatively, you may want to customise Open Britain’s latest email template.

Premium bond mythbusting

One of yesterday’s budget announcements was the lowering of the minimum premium bond purchase from £100 to £25 by March 2019. Inevitably the usual conspiracy theorists and/or people who don’t understand probability came out to play on various forums.

Some facts:

  • Every bond in every draw has an equal chance of winning a prize. Currently, these odds are 24,500 to 1 against.
  • If you hold a single £1 bond, then with average luck you’ll win a prize once every 24,500 months – or once every 2,041 years.
  • A £100 holding would improve these odds to once every 20 years or so.
  • Someone with the maximum holding of £50,000 could therefore expect to win around two prizes a month. 2.04, to be precise.

However, two myths seem to be in common circulation. The widespread belief in these myths perhaps explains why 42% still think that the NHS will get £350m/week extra after Brexit. (Also a myth – along with the idea that a Brexit of any type will deliver a dividend to the UK).

  • Myth 1 – blocks of consecutive bond numbers stand a better chance of winning than widely scattered bond numbers.
  • Myth 2 – a newer bond has a better chance of winning than an older bond.

Neither is true – as every bond in the draw has an equal chance of winning a prize.

Myth 1

It makes no difference whether you hold a single block of consecutive bonds or if they are scattered. Believing otherwise is as fallacious as suggesting that the sequence 6,6,6,6,6,6 is more or less likely than 1,2,3,4,5,6 when rolling a die six times. Assuming a fair die, any six number sequence is as likely as any other, as a die has no memory for what was rolled previously. The same is true for premium bonds – there’s no memory for which numbers have been drawn.

Myth 2

The old number / new number myth probably stems from the observation that new bonds seem to win more frequently than older ones – if you just look at lists of prize winners. However, this neglects the obvious point that older bonds are more likely to have been cashed in than newer ones. Regardless of when a bond was bought, it still has an equal chance of winning a prize. This myth is especially pernicious, as someone who withdraws older bonds to purchase newer ones loses at least a month of opportunity. This is because a bond bought (say) in November won’t be entered into a draw until the following January.

Crunching the numbers

Now, I realise that if you’re still struggling to see past these myths, some proof might be useful. So as part of my mental recovery from chemotherapy, I’ve written a premium bond simulator this morning. It’s aim is to dispel these two myths.

It works by simulating 82 years worth of bond draws. 81 is the average UK life expectancy. The extra year stems from the rule that bonds can be left in the draw for up to a year after someone’s death.

To make the programme run in a reasonable length of time, the number of bonds in each draw has been scaled back from 60 billion (approximately the number in circulation) to 6 million. Maximum bond holdings have been scaled back proportionately – from 50,000 to 5. This means that the outcome – an average 2.04 prizes per month – is maintained in line with the real NS&I draw.

There are four bondholder types defined. Someone with a block of consecutive numbers, someone with widely scattered numbers, a holder who has old bonds (represented by low numbers) and a holder with new bonds (represented by high numbers).

Here’s the output of a couple of runs from earlier on this afternoon. They demonstrate that every bondholder type has an approximately equal chance of winning over a lifetime of bondholding.

On this run, the bondholder with scattered single bonds won more times than the bondholder with consecutive numbers
On this run, the bondholder with scattered single bonds won more times than the bondholder with a block of consecutive numbers.
On this run, older bonds outperformed new bonds.
On this run, older bonds outperformed new bonds.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s the source code so you can play with it yourself.

#include <stdio.h> 
#include <stdbool.h>
#include <stdint.h>
#include <time.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#define TOTALBONDS 6000000
#define WINODDS    2.45
#define BONDSHELD  5
#define TOTALDRAWS 984
double rand0to1()
    	/* return a pseudorandom number between 0 and 1 */
        return ((double)rand()/(double)RAND_MAX);
void main()
        int prizes, winner, i, drawnumber, prizesallocated; 
        int blocktotal=0, singletotal=0, oldtotal=0, newtotal=0;
        /* Different bondholder types and their bond numbers */
        int blockbonds[BONDSHELD]={200000,200001,200002,200003,200004};
       	int singlebonds[BONDSHELD]={10534,248491,1000302,4000522,5200976};
        int oldbonds[BONDSHELD]={1,10,100,1000,10000};
        int newbonds[BONDSHELD]={5999900,5999910,5999920,5999930,5999940};
	bool allbonds[TOTALBONDS]; 
        /* Seed the pseudorandom number generator */
        /* Total prizes are calculated using current NS&I odds of 24,500 to 1 per bond held, scaled to 2.45 to 1 per bond held for this simulation */
        /* The total number of bonds in ciruclation is also scaled back by the same propotion, from around 60 billion to 6 million */
        /* Therefore the maximum holding in this simulation is 5 bonds, equivalent to 50,000 in the real draw */
        /* Average luck implies each bondholder should win 2.04 times per draw - the same as in the real draw*/
        /* Run the draw multiple times - 12 is equivalent to 1 year's worth of real draws */
        for (drawnumber=0; drawnumber<TOTALDRAWS; drawnumber++) {
       		/* Set up the draw - no-one has won yet */
        	for (i=0;i<TOTALBONDS;i++)  { 
        	/* Work out the total number of prizes */
		prizes = (int) (TOTALBONDS / WINODDS);
        	/* Draw a new bond to win until all prizes are allocated */
        	while (prizesallocated<prizes) {
            		winner = (int) (rand0to1()*TOTALBONDS);
            		/* The NS&I rules state that the same bond cannot win twice in the same draw */
           		/* prizesallocated is not incremented in this event and the prize is reallocated */
            		if (!allbonds[winner]) {
               			allbonds[winner] = true;
        	/* Check each bondholder against the draw, and increment the total number of times they have won */
                printf("\nWinners for draw %d\n",drawnumber+1);
		for (i=0;i<BONDSHELD;i++) {
  			if (allbonds[blockbonds[i]]) { printf("Block bond %d wins!\n",blockbonds[i]); ++blocktotal; }
  			if (allbonds[singlebonds[i]]) { printf("Single bond %d wins!\n",singlebonds[i]); ++singletotal; }
  			if (allbonds[oldbonds[i]])  { printf("Old bond %d wins!\n",oldbonds[i]); ++oldtotal; }
  			if (allbonds[newbonds[i]]) { printf("New bond %d wins!\n",newbonds[i]); ++newtotal; }
        /* Calculate what the average luck was for each of the bondholders */
	printf("\nSummary of results\n");
        printf("Block bond holder won on average %.2f times per draw\n", (float) blocktotal/TOTALDRAWS);
        printf("Single bond holder won on average %.2f times per draw\n", (float) singletotal/TOTALDRAWS);
        printf("Old bond holder won on average %.2f times per draw\n", (float) oldtotal/TOTALDRAWS);
        printf("New bond holder won on average %.2f times per draw\n", (float) newtotal/TOTALDRAWS);

Transplant +45: Gentle exercise

Since I last wrote on T+30 I’ve continued to make progress. I’m still tired much of the time and if sleeping was an Olympic sport I’d be a certainty for the gold medal. However, it feels as if some kind of normality might not be that far away.

Physical exercise

This is the easiest to measure. Since T+30:

  • I no longer need my walking stick.
  • I’ve managed to drive both the Alfa and the 7 a couple of times, although not very far.
  • I spent a couple of hours at the Donington museum.
  • I’ve walked around the woods on Oakwood (several times), Kedleston Hall and yesterday spent some time walking around the gardens at Chatsworth (when I wasn’t eating cake, naturally). My daily step count has gone up from around 1,500 to averaging 5,000 or so. Yesterday I exceeded 8,000 for the first time in two months. My resting pulse has continued to come down (73 today), although it’s still a little above my mid-sixties norm.
Chatsworth - the view from the grotto
Chatsworth – the view from the grotto

Mental exercise

This is a little harder to measure, but since T+30:

  • I’ve built a surveillance camera for the driveway. This was motivated by the possibly paranoid belief I hold that an intruder tried to get into the house the first night I was home from hospital. It consists of a Raspberry Pi 3B+ inside a custom case, running MotionEye on Raspbian. (I originally tried MotionEyeOS, but it proved to be unstable). So far the only intruder its spotted is a spider.