Spinal tap

The NHS plan to stick all our data (“anonymised” for sensitive data in a way that will send you to a dictionary to see if you got the word “anonymised” mixed up with another word like “publicised”) has been temporaily shelved – until people forget that it’s an ongoing scandal. Or it gets overtaken by the new shock-horror of selling off our tax data…. from the BBC.

The HMRC plan is currently undergoing a transparent consultation process, so getting detail from the web is hard. However, even trying to find out about the NHS plans is illuminating enough. They’ve sort of embuggerated their website explanations so it’s close to impossible to work out what is currently included in what pile of NOTpersonal data. But the site Connecting for Health has information – which is apparently no longer relevant but which redirects me to a site where I can’t find any real information at all. (HSCIC)

Information held on the Patient Demographic Service

The PDS only contains demographic details about a patient. No clinical or sensitive information is held on itPDS fields. Here are a few of the fields involved and what each is for:

    PDS field Description of data

NHS Number The unique patient identifier.
Patient name Including any previous names, aliases and preferred name, e.g. Chris rather than Christopher.
Date of birth
Includes main, temporary and correspondence addresses.
The patient’s legal guardian, proxy, family/close contact.
Telecommunication contact details Contact details such as telephone number, fax number and email address.

NHS Care Record consent to share status Indicates that the patient has agreed to share their health record. (Oh, the irony)

I assume that HMRC also have a master index file like this.

General good advice: Never blame on a conspiracy what can be safely attributed to human stupidity.

I shall heed this advice and assume that the people who think it’s a good idea to do this are just ignorant. Can we all club together and send them on a comprehensive course on 21st century data mining? This was David Davis (aka, “the only good Tory, despite his excremental views on many other topics”) reported in the Guardian:

The Tory MP David Davis, a former minister and shadow home secretary, described the proposal as “borderline insane”, adding: “The Treasury lists no credible benefits and offers a justification based on an international agreement that does not lead other governments to open up their tax database,” he said. “The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risks to data in an electronic age. Our forefathers put these checks and balances in place when the information was kept in cardboard files, and data was therefore difficult to appropriate and misuse.

“It defies logic that we would remove those restraints at a time when data can be collected by the gigabyte, processed in milliseconds and transported around the world almost instantaneously.”

Billions lost through killer app

The UK has lost its AAA credit rating in the same week that the engrossing 360 degree London panorama was released, causing an estimated £8.3 billion loss in national productivity.*

I challenge anyone to keep up their industrial output if they’ve got access to this on their work pc. A massive privacy disaster, granted, but genuinely magic.

* Ok, I made that up. But I did say “estimated” (i.e. my guess is as good as yours. Well, better because I have access to the media – to wit, a wordpress blog) So it’s totally consistent with all the economic forecasts that you see normally.

No comment

Granted that I haven’t been posting for months but I’m a bit distressed to find that when I look at this blog I can’t see or solicit comments.
The comments are traditionally the best things on the blog so I promise to try to fix this….

History lesson – WMD

This is an object lesson in how to get WMD. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble or anything. Well, this chap didn’t.
Public records, released under FOI for a 2006 BBC TV Newsnight programme and discussed in a New Statesman article, showed how the ~1960 Israeli government managed to get its hands on nuclear weapons materials.
The BBC reported that the programme has shown “Secret sale of UK plutonium to Israel “ Secret indeed. Even secret from government ministers and quite probably the sitting Prime Ministers, and over the objections of Defence Intelligence, the MOD and – sometimes – the Foreign Office.
The New Statesman has the fullest account. Read it.

Kelly and his colleagues .. (i.e. the Defence Intelligence staff who mounted a pretty spirited attempt to uncover what was going on and try to block it) .. however, found their views were being challenged. Chief of the challengers was Michael Israel Michaels .. who was a senior official at the science ministry under Lord Hailsham during the Macmillan government, and went on to serve at the technology ministry under Benn. He was also Britain’s representative at the IAEA.(my emphasis) quotation is from New Statesman

Mr Michaels was in fact so keen on the idea of supplying Israel with bomb-making materials that he just carried on doing it, even after Tony Benn became Energy Secretary. Michaels just didn’t think to bother ministers with the knowledge.

Mr Benn told the programme that civil servants in his department kept the deals secret from him and his predecessor, Frank Cousins.
He had always suspected that civil servants were doing deals behind his back, but he never thought they would sell plutonium to Israel. He told Newsnight: “I’m not only surprised, I’m shocked. It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government. (From the BBC)

“Michaels lied to me, I learned by bitter experience that the nuclear industry lied to me again and again.” He thought Wilson may not have known that Britain was helping Israel to get the bomb. (From the Guardian)

Astonishingly, Michaels had the effrontery to complain to the BBC Trust about the programme, rather than to give disbelieving thanks that he hadn’t been arrested for treason.
From the Trusts’s ruling on his complaint about Newsnight

Summary of the finding
The complaints concerned an investigation carried out by Newsnight, and presented by Michael Crick, that looked into the British government’s involvement in assisting Israel with its development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. The item was based on recently released government papers suggesting that Michael Michaels, a senior civil servant and the British government’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, had acted with dual loyalties when he had ensured the supply of plutonium and other radioactive materials to Israel without the knowledge of the Minister responsible, and possibly without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.
Both complainants felt that the inclusion and repetition of Mr Michaels’ middle name (Israel) was unnecessary and, therefore, anti-Semitic.
They also objected to the suggestion that he had dual loyalties, which they felt implied disloyalty……..
The Committee concluded as follows:
The use of Mr Michaels’ middle name did not breach the guidelines on harm and offence.
It was satisfied that there was no intention to endorse a stereotype, and it was not anti-Semitic. In general, the use of the name had been as a form of shorthand to highlight Mr Michaels’ association with Israel.
With regard to “dual loyalties”, the Committee was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence put forward to suggest that Mr Michaels might indeed have had dual loyalties in his dealings with Israel. However, the Committee concluded that this was not the same as suggesting that Mr Michaels had been disloyal.
The Committee also felt that the report had raised the possibility that the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, might have known about the shipment to Israel. The item therefore did not breach guidelines on impartiality…
The Committee did not uphold the complaints.

More war on jokes

Jokes. Not necessarily funny jokes. Just things said in a lighthearted way. Who’d have thought the internet would kill them off?
Not Jokes with a punchline, clearly labelled as jokes. Or funny viral videos. Or internet cartoons. Or footage of comedians on YouTube. I think these are all OK.
Just the sort of things that you might say to your friends. Not real jokes. Banter. Mockery. Using figures of speech: Irony; Sarcasm; Hyperbole; Metaphors; Similes and so on. Exaggerating things for effect.
Whatever you do, don’t try this on the Internet. Don’t even react to other people doing it.
On today’s BBC site:

Labour councillor suspended over Facebook ‘Tory bomb plea’

The story is outrageous. A comment was posted on a Facebook site in July 2010.

It read: “We are appealing to the IRA to find it in their hearts to bomb the next Tory conference.” (from the BBC story)

That’s obviously a joke. Or, an amusing aside, rather than a “joke.” It’s elegantly phrased (“find it in their hearts”). It’s witty. I would even say that I liked it, if the consequences mightn’t be so horrendous. Because apparently, among twenty six people who Facebook-“liked” it in the following half a year (rather than people who just may have liked it unofficially) one was a local councillor, Florence Anderson.
She was suspended. She didn’t even write the joke herself. She had just responded to an elegant expression of frustration by casually clicking a button on a Facebook site. Clicking a button.
I don’t know anything about her record as a councillor but she looks like someone who’s devoted many years to working for her party and her local community. She probably never even made the Sunderland Evening Advertiser before. And here she is getting rewarded by getting suspended from her role and plastered over the BBC’s website because she once may have clicked on a “like” button.
Comedian Al Murray wrote about the ongoing saga of the Robin Hood Airport trial in last Saturday’s Guardian. Total respect to Al Murray and the other comedians who have kept this issue alive and raised the money for Paul Chambers’ appeal. (Paul Chambers was convicted of sending a “threatening” message after a jokey twitter comment that even the prosecutors admitted no one would have seen as a credible threat. After conviction, he lost his job and his life was pretty well destroyed).

This week I went to the Royal Courts of Justice to offer support to someone who is in a lot of trouble because of a not particularly funny joke. As an erstwhile pedlar of some not particularly funny jokes (just ask the Guardian’s comedy critic, he doesn’t dig what I do at all), this matters to me a great deal. (from Al Murray in the Guardian)

In the face of the all-out war on banter, Al Murray suggested that anyone using any figure of speech in banter might now have to put the tag #joke# around anything not meant to be taken literally, for the benefit of the hard of thinking.
This seems like a plan. It would cut down on prosecutions for banter. However, it would have the side effect of raising idle banter to the status of “joke,” which few items of banter could carry off successfully. The reader would usually be left thinking “Well, that’s a bit amusing but I don’t think it has much of a punchline”.
In any case, it wouldn’t have helped Florence Anderson. She didn’t even have an opportunity to acknowledge that she didn’t believe it was a serious attempt to direct Republican terrorists to the Tory Party assembly. Nor that she thought for one minute that dissident Republicans would take orders from random blog posts.
Hence, I suggest that Facebook and Google Plus etc should provide buttons that say “I would quite like this, on the understanding that I am only liking it as banter”
Who are these mean-spirited reporters-to-the-authorities of twitter banter or Facebook clicks. Who is policing people’s “likes”? Why don’t these enemies of free speech turn their attention to private conversations and start calling in Swat teams anytime they hear “Don’t be late or I’ll kill you” on the bus? Is it the scary magic of the internet that makes them unable to distinguish between the use of a figure of speech and a statement of intent? If so, let’s ditch the internet, human beings haven’t evolved enough to use it.
Tip for any one with any enemies:
If you really hate someone who may now or at any time in the future hold any public office or have a job that needs a clean criminal record (ie anyone) set up a honey trap Facebook page, fill it with seemingly lighthearted banter that could be misconstrued by someone who doesn’t really speak your language then encourage your enemy to express appreciation. You’ve destroyed them right there.

(You wait ages for a post and then two come along at once….)

Some sort of tribute

Benoit Mandelbrot died on 14th October.

(Non-breaking news from me. i.e. Probably 4 days after everyone else knows it. A good tribute on the BBC by the way but the images are poor.)

He was the main man for making maths beautiful, even to mathematically challenged people like me.. Fractal mathematics is the mathematics of life. In fact, for atheists, fractal maths is pretty much a direct route to what simpler people call looking at the face of “god” .

Here’s a beginner’s guide to what fractals are with links to some image galleries.

In the mid-nineties there were any number of graphics packages that let you play around with creating fractals, from a standing start, on a 486…. Especially the venerable and respected fractint.

I found a version that’s still online. version 20. It’s been updated to work on Windows 3.0…. Hmmm, even my PC isn’t quite that elderly.
(Wahay. I found a 2008 ftp site. Must try it out again.)

Here are a few fractal image links from tinterwebs.

* The classic Mandelbrot set.From a site that explains why it isn't evidence of Intelligent Design

I like the source that I got this image from. It points out that someone might see a visual representation of a Mandelbrot set as evidence for “Intelligent Design” and answers

But in fact, the Mandelbrot set is the product of a relatively simple mathematical equation.

That’s the non-divinely miraculous nature of fractal images. A few simple changes in start conditions and/or a slightly different equation and another infinite set of magical things appears.

* A fractal vegetable.

from wikipedia- image of a romanesco broccoli

Romanesco broccoli

Ok that’s cheating. Pretty much any living thing is “fractal.” The difference is that romanesco broccoli LOOKS like a generated fractal.

* The coastline of Norway
Space view of the coast of Norway

The coast of Norway looks like a generated fractal too. But, then, any coast is fractal. Zoom in and it breaks up into infinitely recursive self-similar patterns.

In fact, everything is pretty much fractal. Incredibly simple and endlessly complex. And we can see this mainly thanks to teh work of Mandelbrot.

Numbers of the beasts

Quite fascinated to find that every post that I read on on Rapture Forms had 225 recommendations. Strange – nay, almost uncanny – coincidence, maybe? Nothing orchestrated about that, clearly,

More numbers: There are 500 “religious organisations” on Facebook. For the first few pages, these religious organisations don’t even have names, just combinations of dots and dashes. (Must be some esoteric form of morse code that only gods understand).

But blow me down with a celestial feather. They all have lots of Friends.

Even if the group name is a dot-dash combo, the picture is a question mark and their entire content is a spam-for-christ by something called st andrews bookshop* (which is a precise description of a few dozen) they still attract Friends numbered in into double or triple figures. It’s hard to find a named group has less than 150.

For example, a site that announces its name as //, has a description that’s just a cuss word repeated and a couple of posts about mobile phone tariffs being shite has 348 members. (Ok, that one possibly isn’t really a religious organisation.)

I am forced to concede that the one about voting for Motorhead to be Pope isn’t really a religious group either. Though I might have got the “Lemmy for Pope” idea slightly wrong. (Yes, I’ve found out that “popolo” does mean “people”…) A babelfish translation of its intro produced this, which appears to make as much sense as most normal religious announcements:

It tires of the political usual? It tires of politics of moralisti feints and who sermon and marazzola well badly? L’ only alternative is the popo of the Motorhead. you have been always not class? You have always had March or Die? You have always dreammed of aprirti a whorehouse blues?

176 people joined this. Maybe it makes perfect sense in Italian.

Downhearted by the uselessness of babelfish and fearing a door-bursting visit by the security services, I didn’t look at any of the islamic groups. Nor any of the many Indonesian or Eastern European ones. If babelfish makes a worse dog’s breakfast of translating Italian than I could do by guesswork, I don’t want to let it loose on a non-European language.

So I stick mostly to reading the groups written in English, which sort of biases the sample. But it seems that any religious group on Facebook – real or spoof – gets close to 200 friends. I start to feel relatively very unpopular.

I see a group called “All Christians take back America” (You might assume that’s the lead in to “….and demand a refund”) 189 Facefriends. This turns out not to to be full of plans to take over America, so much as requests for prayers for various unfortunates. So it’s depressing rather than funny/frightening.

Momentary diversion in the form of a post link (from the not-at-all-stereotypically-named Lula May something-or-other**) to www.baghdadprayerpatrol.com but that turns out not to exist.

Find this on another post there, made by Cathy J some-surname**:

Satin is really working hard to bring me down. He knows I have God in my heart and he is trying so hard to break me down. …….Please pray that Satin does not win

I am personally praying for Silk to sweep the board. But Cotton is very durable. So, I guess that I also hope that Satin doesn’t win.

It seems that the demonic fabric is making headway in Italy, (but in Italian they misspell it, using an A where the word clearly has an I) so that the 181-member group FACCIAMO CHIUDERE IL GRUPPO “SATANISMO RAZIONALE” has been set up to counter it (Bloody babelfish translation again:)

we make to close this orribile group that idolatra the evil, therefore is against every religion… participated numerous, makes to close it

Satin may be so unpopular that it only attracts a hate group but several other everyday items have their own worship groups, each with nearly 200 members: Alcohol; Kinder eggs; White milk (Yes, there is such a thing and, no, I don’t know how it differs from regular milk, which was indeed white when I last looked.. Well I do know, now, it’s the colour of the cap. And 189 people joined this group.)

I haven’t found any Atheist “religious organisations” yet. Oh yes, contradiction in terms. D’oh. Face palm even.

*Standrewsbookshop seems to have cornered the market in Face-spamming-for-jesus. The only other spams that appear often enough to be noticeable are for an airline that I’ve never heard of.
** See how I am scrupulously half-protecting their identities. Even though they’ve blithely put their full names and photos on Facebook…..