19.8.16

 

Eric Joyce: Why the Brexit vote pushed me to support Scottish independence

Former Labour MP Eric Joyce explains his change of heart.
At the referendum, still an MP, I gave independence very serious thought right up to the close of the vote. I finally came down on the side of No because I thought big EU states with a potential secession issue, like Spain and France, would prevent an independent Scotland joining the EU. This is obviously no longer the case. And I was, like the great majority of the economists and other experts whose opinion I valued, convinced that being outside the EU would be bonkers – it would badly harm our economy and hurt Scots in all sorts of unforeseen ways too.
The Brexit vote reversed that overnight: all of the arguments we in the unionist camp had used were made invalid at worst, questionable at best. This doesn’t mean they were necessarily all wrong. But it does mean that open-minded, rational No voters should at the very least seriously re-consider things in the light of the staggering new context. They should have an open ear to the experts saying that with independence, jobs in Scotland’s financial and legal service sectors will expand as English and international firms look to keep a foothold in the EU.  And to the reasonable prospect of an eventual £50+ oil price might realistically open the way to a final, generational, upswing in employment, and to security for Scotland’s extractive industries and their supply chain. And to the idea that preserving Scotland’s social democracy in the face of the Little Englander mentality of right-wing English Tories might be worth the fight.

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18.8.16

 

Propositions as Types generalised: The Rosetta Stone

From Physics,Topology, Logic and Computation: A Rosetta Stone by John C. Baez and Mike Stay, courtesy of @CompSciFact, @sigfpe, and @notjfmc.

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17.8.16

 

Roseburn to Leith Walk A vs B: time to act!

On 2 August, I attended a meeting in Roseburn organised by those opposed to the new cycleway planned by the city. Local shopkeepers fear they will see a reduction in business, unaware this is a common cycling fallacy: study after study has shown that adding cycleways increases business, not the reverse, because pedestrians and cyclists find the area more attractive.

Feelings in Roseburn run strong. The locals don't trust the council: who can blame them after the fiasco over trams? But the leaders of the campaign are adept at cherry picking statistics, and, sadly, neither side was listening to the other.

On 30 August, the Edinburgh Council Transport and Environment Committee will decide between two options for the cycle route, A and B. Route A is direct. Route B goes round the houses, adding substantial time and rendering the whole route less attractive. If B is built, the opportunity to shift the area away from cars, to make it a more pleasant place to be and draw more business from those travelling by foot, bus, and cycle, goes out the window.

Locals like neither A nor B, but in a spirit of compromise the Transport and Environment Committee may opt for B. This will be a disaster, as route B will be far less likely to draw people out of their cars and onto their cycles, undermining Edinburgh's ambitious programme to attract more people to cycling before it even gets off the ground.

Investing in cycling infrastructure can make an enormous difference. Scotland suffers 2000 deaths per year due to pollution, and 2500 deaths per year due to inactivity. The original proposal for the cycleway estimates benefits of £14.5M over ten years (largely from improved health of those attracted to cycling) vs a cost of £5.7M, a staggering 3.3x return on investment. Katie Cycles to School is a brilliant video from Pedal on Parliament that drives home how investment in cycling will improve lives for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

Want more detail? Much has been written on the issues.
  Roseburn Cycle Route: Evidence-based local community support.
  Conviction Needed.

The Transport Committee will need determination to carry the plan through to a successful conclusion. This is make or break: will Edinburgh be a city for cars or a city for people? Please write to your councillors and the transport and environment committee to let them know your views.

Roseburn to Leith Walk

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15.8.16

 

What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists

Many programming languages, especially domain-specific ones, are designed by amateurs. How do we prevent obvious irregularities and disasters in languages before they become widespread (aspects of Javascript and R come to mind).

Folk in the human-computer interaction community have a notion of 'expert evaluation'. I wonder if we could develop something similar for programming languages?

Jakub Zalewski passed me the article 'What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists', which treads related ground, but for physics rather than computing.

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2.8.16

 

Michael Moore: Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win

In the Huffington Post, Michael Moore give the most incisive (and hilarious) analysis I've seen. We have to understand why this is happening if we are to have a hope of preventing it.
1. Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit. I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes - Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states - but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. ...

And this is where the math comes in. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes. Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s 64. All Trump needs to do to win is to carry, as he’s expected to do, the swath of traditional red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt states. He doesn’t need Florida. He doesn’t need Colorado or Virginia. Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put him over the top. This is how it will happen in November.
4. The Depressed Sanders Vote. Stop fretting about Bernie’s supporters not voting for Clinton - we’re voting for Clinton! The polls already show that more Sanders voters will vote for Hillary this year than the number of Hillary primary voters in ‘08 who then voted for Obama. This is not the problem. The fire alarm that should be going off is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” - meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter. Because, when you’re young, you have zero tolerance for phonies and BS. Returning to the Clinton/Bush era for them is like suddenly having to pay for music, or using MySpace or carrying around one of those big-ass portable phones. They’re not going to vote for Trump; some will vote third party, but many will just stay home. Hillary Clinton is going to have to do something to give them a reason to support her — and picking a moderate, bland-o, middle of the road old white guy as her running mate is not the kind of edgy move that tells millenials that their vote is important to Hillary. Having two women on the ticket - that was an exciting idea. But then Hillary got scared and has decided to play it safe. This is just one example of how she is killing the youth vote.

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5.7.16

 

Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycleway: the website

There is a new website in support of the Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycleway. I especially like their promise to be evidence-based and to cover both sides, something increasingly rare in political discourse.
We are an informal association of local residents working to get the best for our community from the Proposed Cycle Route.  We've spent hundreds of hours gathering the facts.
  1. Even if you don't cycle, the Cycle Route has big benefits for you
  2. Common concerns don't match the facts
  3. The Council's latest revised design has addressed key concerns.

Our promise

Our site is evidence-based, including the disadvantages.  We are ready to engage in discussion with anyone.  Tell us about errors or omissions and we'll fix them as soon as we can.

Our goals

  • Get the best for all residents. This is not a website advocating cycling.  It's true that many of the founders do cycle, and many of us also drive.
  • Make decisions based on the facts.  We are concerned how many people are voicing fears and criticisms yet don't seem to know about some of the most important data and studies.
  • Listen to all views, and bring people together for discussion.  We don't accept the whole notion of classifying people as 'cyclists' and 'drivers'.  We are all ordinary people who use a variety of means of travel appropriate to different situations.

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2.7.16

 

Where we find ourselves

Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian sums up the state of affairs.
It’s gripping, of course. Game of Thrones meets House of Cards, played out at the tempo of a binge-viewed box-set. ...
This week’s antics of Gove and Johnson are a useful reminder. For the way one has treated the other is the way both have treated the country. ...
[Johnson] didn’t believe a word of his own rhetoric, we know that now. His face last Friday morning, ashen with the terror of victory, proved it. That hot mess of a column he served up on Monday confirmed it again: he was trying to back out of the very decision he’d persuaded the country to make.  ...
When doctrine is kept distilled, pure and fervently uncontaminated by reality, it turns into zealotry
So we have the appalling sight of Gove on Friday, proclaiming himself a proud believer in the UK even though it was obvious to anyone who cared to look that a leave vote would propel Scotland towards saying yes in a second independence referendum. The more honest leavers admit – as Melanie Phillips did when the two of us appeared on Newsnight this week – that they believe the break-up of the union is a price worth paying for the prize of sovereignty. ...
They did it with lies, whether the false promise that we could both halt immigration and enjoy full access to the single market or that deceitful £350m figure, still defended by Gove, which tricked millions into believing a leave vote would bring a cash windfall to the NHS. They did it with no plan, as clueless about post-Brexit Britain as Bush and Blair were about post-invasion Iraq.
Senior civil servants say Brexit will consume their energies for years to come, as they seek to disentangle 40 years of agreements. It will be the central focus of our politics and our government, a massive collective effort demanding ingenuity and creativity. Just think of what could have been achieved if all those resources had been directed elsewhere. Into addressing, for instance, the desperate, decades-long needs – for jobs, for housing, for a future – of those towns that have been left behind by the last 30 years of change, those towns whose people voted leave the way a passenger on a doomed train pulls the emergency cord.

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Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycleway: A vs B


Edinburgh City Council has released its report on consultation on the Roseburn to Leith Walk cycleway, and Henry Whaley has written a comment for the Edinburgh Evening News.

A few shopkeepers in the area are concerned that the cycleway will have a negative impact on their shops, a well-known cycling fallacy. Whaley describes the current impasse:
The Council have responded to specific concerns from some shopkeepers and residents by reinstating the loading bay on the north side of Roseburn Terrace, increasing the right turn lane and eliminating the floating bus stop whilst maintaining the cyclepath to form a much improved ‘Option A’.
The Council are also assessing an alternative ‘Option B’, which would take the cyclepath away from Roseburn Terrace, on an indirect and complicated route involving three road crossings as well as restricting the space for motor vehicles at the already tight Roseburn Street Junction and not widening the Roseburn Terrace pavements. It’s another option, but one that is worse for most people.
And from the City Council:
Transport Convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: "We had an overwhelming response to the consultation and the exercise has been extremely helpful to officers working on the proposed Roseburn to Leith Walk cycleway and street improvements.
"Thanks to the feedback received, we've been able to make deliverable adjustments to a number of aspects of the scheme. In terms of the Roseburn section, local concerns have prompted us to present an alternative route (Option B) via Roseburn Place and Roseburn Street for consideration by committee members. However, we remain in favour of Option A because it will enhance the street environment in Roseburn Terrace and is more direct for cyclists - involving one road crossing rather than the three that would be required for Option B.
"After further planned consultation with businesses, community councils and the Council's Active Travel Forum, the project team will consolidate feedback and finalise the preliminary design scheme for presentation to the Transport and Environment Committee on 30 August 2016."

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27.6.16

 

Brexit implies Techxit?

In the wake of the EU referendum, there appears to be considerable information about its consequences that many might wish to have seen before the vote. Some of this concerns the negative impact of Brexit on technology firms. Among others, the BBC has a summary.
I was particularly struck by one comment in the story, made by start-up mentor Theo Priestley (pictured above),.
And Mr Priestley thinks that in the event of a Scottish independence referendum that leads to reunification with the EU, it's possible some start-ups could move north of the border, perhaps to rekindle "Silicon Glen" - a 1980s attempt to compete in the semiconductor industry.

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24.6.16

 

A sad day

I don't know what to say. I feel let down, and I feel the UK has let the world down, as well as itself.

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21.6.16

 

Brexit is a fake revolt – working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite


What dismays me most about the EU debate is that what people say it is about and what it is really about are quite different. Paul Mason in the Guardian analyses the problem clearly.
To people getting ready for the mother of all revolts on Thursday, I want to point out the crucial difference between a real revolt and a fake one. The elite does not usually lead the real ones. In a real revolt, the rich and powerful usually head for the hills, terrified. Nor are the Sun and the Daily Mail usually to be found egging on a real insurrection. ...

I want to have one last go at convincing you that leaving now, under these conditions, would be a disaster. First, let’s recognise the problem. For people in the working classes, wages are at rock bottom. Their employers treat them like dirt. Their high streets are lined with empty shops. Their grownup kids cannot afford to buy a home. Class sizes at school are too high. NHS waiting times are too long. ...

But a Brexit led by Ukip and the Tory right will not make any of these things better: it will make them worse. Take a look at the people leading the Brexit movement. Nigel Farage, Neil Hamilton, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove. They have fought all their lives for one objective: to give more power to employers and less to workers. Many leading Brexiters are on record as wanting to privatise the NHS. They revelled in the destruction of the working-class communities and cultures capable of staging real revolt. Sir James Dyson moved his factory to Malaysia, so much did he love the British workforce. They talk about defying the “elite”. But they are the elite.

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Joy of Coding


Despite a gamy leg, I had a fantastic time in Rotterdam at Joy of Coding. They do a fantastic job taking care of their speakers and their attendees. Highlight was learning from a fellow guest about Ethereum ('We used to have one computer per institution, then one per person, and now one per planet'), and then coming home to a post about it tweeted by Crista Lopes.

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Brexit: The cost to Tech and the cost to Universities


Two articles by computer security researcher Ross Anderson.
A UK that makes up 1% of world population and 3% of world GDP has little influence on IT markets; a post-Brexit Britain would have even less. Most software markets have been global for decades.
The EU has real clout though. From the viewpoint of Silicon Valley, Brussels is the world’s privacy regulator, since Washington doesn’t care and nobody else is big enough to matter.
Brussels also calls the shots on competition policy. The reason you get offered a randomised choice of default browser when switching on a new Windows PC in Europe is that the EU competition authorities insisted on it. This was punishment for Microsoft using its desktop monopoly to trash Netscape – which was an offence in the US too, but the Bush administration couldn’t be bothered to prosecute it.
If you want someone to police the side-effects of network effects and globalisation, the European Commission is just about the only sheriff in town.
But in the long term the biggest problem may not just be money.
Great universities thrive by drawing the best and the brightest from round the world, to be our students, to be our research staff, and to be our academics. Most of our new hires are foreign.
We already have a hard time competing with America for the best people. What will happen if Britain votes to leave Europe following a campaign of xenophobia – which has spilled over into outright racism?
This is not just about money; it's about who we are, and also about what other people perceive us to be.
Even if Remain wins on Thursday, we've all been damaged. If it goes the other way, the world may conclude that Britain is no longer the best place to send your kids, or to build one of your research labs.

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20.6.16

 

“Dishonesty on an industrial scale”: EU law expert analyses referendum debate


Authoritative sources in the EU debate are thin on the ground, so I was pleased when a colleague pointed me to a video by University of Liverpool Law School’s Professor Michael Dougan, a leading expert in EU law. It runs 25 minutes and is well worth the time. I've transcribed a couple of segments below.
I've just watched with increasing dismay as this referendum debate has unfolded, and though I have to say the Remain side has not covered themselves in glory at points with their use of dodgy statistics, I think the Leave campaign has degenerated into dishonesty, really, on an industrial scale --- there's really no other way to put it ...  For someone who works in the field like I do, it's probably the equivalent of an evolutionary biologist listening to a bunch of creationists tell the public that creation theory is right and evolution is completely wrong. It really is that bad ... and yet it's working.
The second idea I think which has become pervasive is that somehow this is a debate about us and them. The EU is somebody else, and we are somehow the pathetic victims of Brussels as if this country was incapable of looking after itself.  To an EU lawyer, indeed to anyone who works in the field, this is just absolutely bizarre.  ... In the field we refer to The Big Three, the UK, France, and Germany, because between them the UK, France, and Germany provide the EU with its political, its economic, its diplomatic leadership. And indeed, virtually nothing happens in the EU without the big three being in control of it. The UK, to put it simply, has enormous influence within the EU.  It sets agendas, it negotiates alliances, it builds and brokers compromises.  ... Remember, the EU is not run by the unelected eurocrats of the commission as we hear all the time, it's actually run by the 28 governments of the council working together with the European Parliament.  Despite the fact that majority voting is the normal rule within the council, in practice about 90% of EU decisions are still taken by consensus.  In other words, the member states negotiate until everyone feels basically happy with the decision. And it couldn't be otherwise.  The EU is the creation of its member states, it has to serve their basic national interests, and it does so through a process of compromise and negotiation. So the EU isn't someone else, it's not something that happens to us, we are major players, leading players, within the European Union.
Here's to an informed debate!

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19.6.16

 

CAPS: Cycling Action Plan for Scotland


In 2010, the Scottish Government set out a 'vision' that 10% of all trips should be made by cycle and foot by 2020. In the recent Scottish parliamentary elections, the SNP maintained it is 'determined' to achieve this vision, but funding remains low, at 2% of the transport budget. But the government established CAPS, the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, and its most recent report includes a heartening call to action.
CAPS 2016 Pre-requisites for Success: A successful modal shift to cycling requires the following six pre-requisites for success being met:
  • A shared national vision for a 10% modal share of everyday journeys should remain, with a related clear aspiration for reduction in car use, especially for short journeys, by both national and local government.
  • A long term increase in sustained funding is required, with year-on-year increases over time towards a 10% allocation of national and council transport budgets as Edinburgh is achieving. The long term commitment to 2030 to dual carriageways between seven Scottish cities should be matched by an equally long term commitment to cycling if modal shift ambitions are to be met and sustained.
  • The national 10% modal share vision should be supported by local cycling strategies and delivery plans at council and regional levels. Local modal share objectives should be coordinated with the national vision to create a feasible route to 10%.
  • Cities will be the driver of significant modal shift and the national vision should be directly coordinated with a specific focus on reaching at least 10% modal share in the cities and the largest urban areas, implementing best practice.
  • The primary investment focus should be on enabling cycling through changing the physical environment for short journeys to enable anyone to cycle.
  • Government at all levels needs to build and maintain staff capacity to manage cycle infrastructure and the local road network in the present financial climate. 


Build and maintain dedicated cycling infrastructure, enabling people aged 8-80 to cycle on coherent cycle networks in cities and towns. This entails cohesive, comprehensive and seamless networks of on-road segregated paths in cities and, where appropriate, alongside trunk roads and busier local roads in rural areas. In the urban setting such networks will link into and incorporate existing off-road networks where they deliver direct and high quality routes. ‘Success’ should not only be measured in terms of additional kilometres of network but have a qualitative aspect, including following good practice design standards, numbers of segregated cycle lanes, and integration with public transport. Perceptions of safety and protection of non-motorised users - both of which must be tackled - will be enhanced by the introduction of measures such as 20 mph speed limits in urban settings. 
Develop a long term communication plan that represents cycling as something that anyone can do, not simply a minority and is a transport mode that brings many benefits to Scotland: a healthier, less polluting nation, enjoying better public space, improved air quality and less congested streets. A continuous and consistent campaign would aim to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of the public about the benefits of cycling. Rather than about behaviour, or indeed about the environment, the main message for this campaign should be about improved quality of life for people. The economic benefits for rural and suburban areas should not be overlooked. Cycling for leisure, recreation and sport can be essential gateway activities to enable more people to try and enjoy everyday utility cycling and the economic benefits of leisure and tourism-related cycling, especially in remote areas, should not be overlooked. Programmes should reinforce different forms of cycling to maximise inclusiveness while never losing sight of the over-riding need for modal shift. 

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Roseburn to Leith Walk


I want the UK to stay in the EU, and I want Scotland to be an independent country. But it is hard for one person to have an impact on such major issues. I've decided on a more modest focus: improving cycling in Edinburgh and Scotland, and specifically building more segregated cycle paths.

Thanks to the work of many, including Spokes and Walk Cycle Vote, there is already progress. In 2012 Edinburgh City Council has agreed to commit 5% of its transport budget to cycling, increasing by 1% a year until it reaches 10% next year. One of the first major outcomes is the proposed Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycle route.

The proposal includes a detailed economic case, which is worth a look from anyone interested in promotion of segregated cycling. It predicts that the estimated £6.3M cost will lead to an 88% increase in folk cycling in the affected regions, leading to a £13.1M savings from improvements to health, £5.3M improvement to the GCP (Gross Cycling Product, e.g., increases in tourism and is sales of cycles), and £1.0M of benefits from reduced car usage (such as fewer accidents).
Benefits: Gross Cycling ProductResearch suggests that cycling benefits the local economy and a national study carried out by the London School of Economics (LSE) in 20108 concluded that each cyclist contributes a Gross Cycling Product (GCP) of £230 per year to the economy. This research was supported by a European wide study which found that cycling delivers wider economic benefits in terms of supporting jobs and driving tourism – with cycling having a greater employment intensity than any other transport sub-sector. Applying the findings of the LSE study to the forecast increase in cycling, the scheme will generate a GCP benefit of £5,753,218 over the 10 year scheme life.

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14.6.16

 

Naomi Klein: The Best is Yet to Come


Amidst all the bad news, Naomi Klein shines a ray of light.
Taken together, the evidence is clear: The left just won. Forget the nomination—I mean the argument. Clinton, and the 40-year ideological campaign she represents, has lost the battle of ideas. The spell of neoliberalism has been broken, crushed under the weight of lived experience and a mountain of data.

What for decades was unsayable is now being said out loud—free college tuition, double the minimum wage, 100 percent renewable energy. And the crowds are cheering. With so much encouragement, who knows what’s next? Reparations for slavery and colonialism? A guaranteed annual income? Democratic worker co-ops as the centerpiece of a green jobs program? Why not? The intellectual fencing that has constrained the left’s imagination for so long is lying twisted on the ground. ...

Looking beyond this election cycle, this is actually good news. If Sanders could come this far, imagine what a left candidate who was unburdened by his weaknesses could do. A political coalition that started from the premise that economic inequality and climate destabilization are inextricable from systems of racial and gender hierarchy could well build a significantly larger tent than the Sanders campaign managed to erect.

And if that movement has a bold plan for humanizing and democratizing new technology networks and global systems of trade, then it will feel less like a blast from the past, and more like a path to an exciting, never-before-attempted future. Whether coming after one term of Hillary Clinton in 2020, or one term of Donald Trump, that combination—deeply diverse and insistently forward-looking—could well prove unbeatable.

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Scientists for EU


Scientists for EU wrote a cogent letter explaining how the EU advances UK science, and how UK science advantages the UK. You can sign it here.
Please read this letter, add your name and share this link with other scientists.
Scientific advance and innovation are critically dependent on collaboration. To remain a world-leading science nation, we must be team players.
The EU leads the world in science output, is beating the US in science growth – and is rapidly increasing investment in research. The EU is a science superpower. Our place in this team has boosted our science networking, access to talent, shared infrastructure and UK science policy impact. The economy of scale streamlines bureaucracy and brings huge added value for all. International collaborations have 40% more impact than domestic-only research.
Strong science is key for our economy and quality of life. It creates a virtuous cycle, leveraging investment from industry, raising productivity and creating high-value jobs for our future. In fact, 20% of UK jobs currently rely on some science knowledge. Science brings better medicines, cleaner energy, public health protections, a safer environment, new technologies and solutions to global challenges.
If we leave the EU, the UK will lose its driving seat in this world-leading team. Free-flow of talent and easy collaboration would likely be replaced by uncertainty, capital flight, market barriers and costly domestic red-tape. This would stifle our science, innovation and jobs.
It is no surprise that a recent survey showed 93% of research scientists and engineers saying the EU is a “major benefit” to UK research. The surprise is that many voters are still unaware that UK science and its benefits would be demoted by a vote to leave.
We, the undersigned, urge you to seriously consider the implications for UK science when you vote in the referendum on UK membership of the EU.

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A week of cycling ideas from Copenhagen



People for Bikes is visiting Copenhagen to learn about its famous cycling infrastructure. A week of stories is archived here, including The Great Copenhagen Loading Zone Compromise and How bikes make Copenhagen's neighbourhood business districts thrive.


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12.6.16

 

David Turner Festschrift


Your chance to submit to a Festschrift for David Turner.

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A busy summer

I'll be speaking at the following events.
Hope to see you at one of these!

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10.6.16

 

Papers We Love: John Reynolds, Definitional Interpreters for Higher-Order Programming Languages


I've added online links to the relevant papers (not behind paywalls), copied here.

Papers we love: John Reynolds, Definitional Interpreters for Higher-Order Programming Languages

7 June 2016, Skills Matter, London.
Certain papers change your life. McCarthy's 'Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and their Computation by Machine (Part I)' (1960) changed mine, and so did Landin's 'The Next 700 Programming Languages' (1966). And I remember the moment, halfway through my graduate career, when Guy Steele handed me Reynolds's 'Definitional Interpreters for Higher-Order Programming Languages' (1972).
It is now common to explicate the structure of a programming language by presenting an interpreter for that language. If the language interpreted is the same as the language doing the interpreting, the interpreter is called meta-circular.
Interpreters may be written at differing levels of detail, to explicate different implementation strategies. For instance, the interpreter may be written in a continuation-passing style; or some of the higher-order functions may be represented explicitly using data-structures, via defunctionalisation.
More elaborate interpreters may be derived from simpler versions, thus providing a methodology for discovering an implementation strategy and showing it correct. Each of these techniques has become a mainstay of the study of programming languages, and all of them were introduced in this single paper by Reynolds.

Related material

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6.6.16

 

Papers We Love: John Reynolds, Definitional Interpreters for Higher Order Languages

I will be speaking on John Reynolds paper, Definitional Interpreters for Higher Order Languages, at Papers We Love, London, 6:30pm Tuesday 7 June; details here.

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30.5.16

 

Speaker's Trust removes all trace of Leanne Baghouti

Leanne Baghouti, a British-Palestinian won her local round of Speaker's Trust "Speak Out" competition with an impassioned talk about Palestinian human rights. Her talk, and all sign that she had won the competition, were later deleted from the competition web site.

A colleague characterised her talk as "full of anti-Semitic and aggressive material from sources in the Middle East". I watched the video, and heard nothing anti-Semitic. It is a word that should be used with care.

Speaker's Trust has released a statement regarding the matter:
“There are two fundamental rules that are made explicit during the training: the speech must have a positive and uplifting message – in fact this is one of the core terms of the agreement with the Jack Petchey Foundation [and] a speaker should never inflame or offend the audience or insult others and this, by definition, means that propaganda is ruled out absolutely from the outset… Speakers Trust and Jack Petchey Foundation judging panel decided unanimously against sending Leanne Mohamad through to the next stage and she will not be speaking at the Grand Final. These were precisely our concerns.”
And another:
Our primary duty of care is to the young people we work with and we cannot tolerate any form of insult or abuse. We are concerned and saddened that Leanne’s experience has been less than positive.
Leanne Mohamad is the Redbridge Regional Final winner and there has never been any suggestion that she should be disqualified. Almost 190,000 young people have spoken out over the years on any topic which they feel passionately about and none has ever been banned from the process or silenced.
We are, however, a small charity without the capacity to moderate comments 24 hours a day and it was considered essential to protect Leanne by temporarily suspending the regional video over the bank holiday, until we were able to consult with her school and family.
Of 37 talented regional Champions only fifteen can be voted through to the Grand Final. This selection process took place on Saturday 21st May based on standard judging criteria and without any external influence or input.
The general “rules” of effective public speaking are guidelines to help speakers to create a speech that will connect with a large and diverse audience and every speech was judged on its own merits. At the heart of what we do lies the determination that all of our young speakers, irrespective of background, race or creed, should be able to speak out in a safe and supportive environment.

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Omar Barghouti banned by Israel for travelling for supporting BDS

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian living in Israel, has been denied the right to travel, for no reason other than that he is an effective supporter of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). Glenn Greenwald interviews him in The Intercept.
Despite having lived in Israel for 22 years with no criminal record of any kind, Omar Barghouti (above) was this week denied the right to travel outside the country. As one of the pioneers of the increasingly powerful movement to impose boycotts, sanctions, and divestment measures (BDS) on Israel, Barghouti, an articulate, English-speaking activist, has frequently traveled around the world advocating his position. The Israeli government’s refusal to allow him to travel is obviously intended to suppress his speech and activism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the world leaders who traveled last year to Paris to participate in that city’s “free speech rally.” ...

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told the Electronic Intifada that “Israel’s refusal to renew Barghouti’s travel document appears to be an effort to punish him for exercising his right to engage in peaceful, political activism, using its arsenal of bureaucratic control over Palestinian lives.” She added: “Israel has used this sort of control to arbitrarily ban many Palestinians from traveling, as well as to ban international human rights monitors, journalists, and activists from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.” ...

Barghouti: Many people are realizing that Israel is a regime of occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid and are therefore taking action to hold it to account to international law. Israel is realizing that companies are abandoning their projects in Israel that violate international law, pension funds are doing the same, major artists are refusing to play Tel Aviv, as Sun City was boycotted during apartheid South Africa. ...

We live in a country where racism and racial incitement against indigenous Palestinians has grown tremendously into the Israeli mainstream. It has really become mainstream today to be very openly racist against Palestinians. Many settlers and hard-right-wing Israelis are taking matters into their own hands – completely supported by the state – and attacking Palestinians.

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20.5.16

 

Cycling Fallacies

Cycling Fallacies is a handy reference from The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. A sample entry is copied below. Spotted by Ewen Maclean.

Your cycling fallacy is…

“If you put in a cycle lane, or pedestrianise a road, shops will get less business.”


The Response

Cycling infrastructure (or pedestrianisation) does not restrict access to shops – it can actually make the streets and roads shops are on nicer places to visit, increasing footfall, and overall demand.
Many studies – from the Netherlands in the 1970s, to big US cities in the 2010s – have found that installing cycle infrastructure does not have a negative effect on income of businesses, and in most cases has a positive effect.
It's a popular myth that people who arrive by car spend more. People who arrive at shops on foot, or by bike, may spend less per visit, but they will visit more often, and they will spend more money overall. And being able to access a shop easily by foot or by cycle means that more frequent trips involving smaller ‘baskets’ become more convenient.
The headline message is: well-designed streets that make cycling and walking attractive are good for business. And in any case, cycling infrastructure won't stop people driving to shops, or parking near them and walking a short distance.

Further reading

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27.4.16

 

Paul Graham on Writing, Briefly


Thanks to Arne Ranta for introducing me to Writing, Briefly by Paul Graham.
I think it's far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated. 
As for how to write well, here's the short version: Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can; rewrite it over and over; cut out everything unnecessary; write in a conversational tone; develop a nose for bad writing, so you can see and fix it in yours; imitate writers you like; if you can't get started, tell someone what you plan to write about, then write down what you said; expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it, and 50% of those you start with to be wrong; be confident enough to cut; have friends you trust read your stuff and tell you which bits are confusing or drag; don't (always) make detailed outlines; mull ideas over for a few days before writing; carry a small notebook or scrap paper with you; start writing when you think of the first sentence; if a deadline forces you to start before that, just say the most important sentence first; write about stuff you like; don't try to sound impressive; don't hesitate to change the topic on the fly; use footnotes to contain digressions; use anaphora to knit sentences together; read your essays out loud to see (a) where you stumble over awkward phrases and (b) which bits are boring (the paragraphs you dread reading); try to tell the reader something new and useful; work in fairly big quanta of time; when you restart, begin by rereading what you have so far; when you finish, leave yourself something easy to start with; accumulate notes for topics you plan to cover at the bottom of the file; don't feel obliged to cover any of them; write for a reader who won't read the essay as carefully as you do, just as pop songs are designed to sound ok on crappy car radios; if you say anything mistaken, fix it immediately; ask friends which sentence you'll regret most; go back and tone down harsh remarks; publish stuff online, because an audience makes you write more, and thus generate more ideas; print out drafts instead of just looking at them on the screen; use simple, germanic words; learn to distinguish surprises from digressions; learn to recognize the approach of an ending, and when one appears, grab it.

24.4.16

 

John McCarthy presents Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions

“John McCarthy presents Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I”, Painting, 1662, Ferdinand Bol. From Classic Programmer Paintings.

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21.4.16

 

Pedal on Parliament


Come join Pedal on Parliament! Gather in the Meadows from 11am Saturday 23 April, procession sets off at noon.

A few years ago, I took my son with me to ICFP in Copenhagen. We had a blast cycling around the city, and marvelled that there were bike paths everywhere. When I lived in Morningside, my cycle to work was along quiet roads, but even so it felt safer when I arrived on the bike path through the Meadows. Now that I live near the Cameo, I'm even happier to get off the busy road and onto a path. And I look forward to the future, because Edinburgh is a city that invests in cycling and has a plan on the table that includes a cycle path from the Meadows to the Canal, which will run past my flat.

Getting more people cycling will cut pollution, benefit health, and increase quality of life. Studies show that people don't cycle because they feel sharing the road with cars is unsafe, so investment in cycle paths can make a huge difference. If people in the UK cycled and walked as much as people do in Copenhagen, the NHS would save around £17 billion within twenty years. The video below makes the case brilliantly.

Scotland has set a goal that 10% of all travel should be by cycle or foot (the buzzword is active travel), but only spends about 2% of its budget on active travel. The City of Edinburgh has pledged to up it's active travel budget by 1% a year until it reaches 10%. Pedal on Parliament is our chance to support the positive steps in Edinburgh, and encourage the rest of the country to take action.


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4.4.16

 

Greenwald on Clinton, Sanders, and Israel

Democracy News interviews Glen Greenwald on Clinton, Sanders, and Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of Hillary Clinton addressing AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
HILLARY CLINTON: Many of the young people here today are on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS. ... We must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton addressing AIPAC. Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: What she’s doing there is affirming one of the most vile slanders that currently exists. There is a campaign in the United States and in Israel to literally outlaw any advocacy of a boycott movement against Israel, similar to the boycott and divestment and sanctions campaign that brought down Israel and the United States’s closest ally, which was the apartheid regime in South Africa. Now you can certainly raise objections to the tactic of boycotting Israel, and lots of people have, but to render it illegal depends upon this grotesque equating of an advocacy of a boycott of Israel with anti-Semitism and then saying that because anti-Semitism should be banned from universities or from private institutions, that it should be literally outlawed, to ban advocating the boycott of Israel, as well. And people in Europe are actually being arrested for advocating a boycott of Israel. Students in American universities are being sanctioned and punished for doing so.
And what Hillary Clinton did was go before AIPAC and pander, as grotesquely as she typically does, by affirming this line that if you "malign," quote-unquote, the government of Israel and support a boycott of it, in opposition to their decades-long occupation of the Palestinians, it means essentially that you’re guilty of maligning the Jewish people. She is conflating the government of Israel with Jews, which, ironically enough, is itself a long-standing anti-Semitic trope. But it’s just part of her moving to the right in order to position herself for the general election by affirming some of the United States government’s worst and most violent policies.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Democratic candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was the only one to skip the AIPAC conference earlier this week. He did address the issue on the campaign trail, though, from Utah, calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It is absurd for elements within the Netanyahu government to suggest that building more settlements in the West Bank is the appropriate response to the most recent violence. It is also not acceptable that the Netanyahu government decided to withhold hundreds of millions of shekels in tax revenue from the Palestinians, which it is supposed to collect on their behalf.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders in Utah. Glenn Greenwald, I believe he did offer to address AIPAC by video stream or Skype, as did Romney in 2012, but we heard he was told no.
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, a couple months ago, Donald Trump, on an MSNBC program, said, when asked about Israel and Palestine, that he thought the U.S. should be neutral in order to be a more effective arbiter, which until 20 years ago was a standard mainstream U.S. position, but now has become very shocking. Same with what Bernie Sanders just said. To hear a prominent American politician stand up and actually criticize Israel in such stark and blunt terms, calling them occupiers, essentially, and criticizing how they’re treating the Palestinians, is almost shocking to the ear. Hillary Clinton would never do it, nor would leading Republican politicians. And yet it’s really a very mild way to talk about Israel. And it shows just how far to the right the discourse has shifted in the United States when it comes to Israel, and how much a part of that rightward shift is Hillary Clinton, when you think about how almost shocking it is to hear pretty mild criticisms of Israel coming from Sanders or mild proclamations of neutrality coming from Trump.

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US citizens in Scotland: How to renew your passport

The US Embassy website states that if you reside in Scotland you must send your passport to London to renew it, but this is not correct: passports can be renewed by mail to the US consulate in Edinburgh or in person. I renewed in person last week, and found the staff friendly and helpful. They know that the website is incorrect, but London has not yet fixed it. I copy below the information I received from the Edinburgh consulate, in the hope that it may help others.
Thank you for your email.  If you meet the following criteria you are eligible to renew your passport by mail:
1.      Your passport was valid for 10 years;
2.      It was issued within the last 15 years;
3.      It is in good condition;
4.      Was issued in your current name or you have changed your name and can submit legal documentation (e.g. marriage certificate, Statutory Declaration) to prove this change.

You can mail your renewal application to this office using the address at the foot of this email.  The passport must be sent using the Royal Mail special delivery service and the following items must be sent:
1.      The passport to be renewed;
2.      Your original marriage certificate, if you wish to change your name by marriage, or Statutory Declaration, if you wish to change your name by this method;
3.      Completed passport renewal form DS82, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/212241.pdf.   Please note:  if your current passport was issued within 12 months of this application and you are applying for a new passport in your married name or to correct a data error you should use form DS5504,  http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/212249.pdf;
4.      Completed credit card payment form for the fee of $110 - no fee is payable if you are able to use form DS5504 to apply for a replacement passport, http://photos.state.gov/libraries/unitedkingdom/164203/cons-acs/card_payment_ppt_by_mail.pdf;
5.      A U.S. passport photograph, https://uk.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/u-s-passports/how-to-renew-a-passport/photographs/;
6.      A pre-paid, self-addressed Royal Mail special delivery envelope for the safe return of the passports.
Our turnaround time for applications by mail is approximately 2 weeks.

If you prefer to apply in person you can do so during our counter service hours, 9am-11:30am Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  No appointment is necessary.  Our turnaround time for passports submitted in person is approximately 7-10 days from submission of the application.

If you do not meet the above criteria you will have to book an appointment online, selecting the option for residents of Scotland, to apply in person at the Consulate General,  https://uk.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/u-s-passports/

Kind regards
U.S. Consulate General
3 Regent Terrace
Edinburgh
EH7 5BW

Follow us on Twitter - @USAinScotland

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17.3.16

 

Ban academics talking to ministers? We should train them to do it


Ben Goldacre in THE decries a backward step by the government.
Last month it was quietly announced that anyone receiving research grants from the state will be banned from lobbying “government and Parliament” on either policy issues or funding. The rule is said to be aimed principally at charities, but who knows the truth: in any case it covers all government grants “related to research and development”, and that means academics like me.

You might wonder how this came about. Presumably some unsuspecting charity worker or academic frightened one struggling politician who has, in the fog of war, overreacted. The ban is hardly improved by the fact that government departments can issue specific exemptions for approved individuals: if anything, that makes the whole project more sinister. A complex, centrally administered database of academics with permission to speak to politicians will be more expensive, more unmanageable and much more bizarre than any straight blanket ban.

Let me explain my concern. I’m an academic, and in the past two weeks I’ve had meetings with two ministers, one permanent secretary, one departmental director, and various other civil servants, analysts and wonks. I can only describe the process that led up to these meetings, if not the meetings themselves, as lobbying. But I also hope this activity is in the public interest. What’s more, I know there are many academics like me, seeking out politicians and senior civil servants on everything from alcohol to poverty, forestry and more. This is part of being a public servant, but it’s a practice without a public presence, toolkit, handbook or diploma.

That’s a problem. I don’t just want this ban overturned: I want to see more academics talking to policymakers, and I want the public to know what we do, so that they can decide if it’s good or bad. That’s why I’m now going to describe, in banal human terms, the meetings I’ve had in Whitehall over the past few weeks: to pool knowledge and share techniques, to promote transparency, and to help fearful, inexperienced politicians understand that there is nothing to fear from academics in practical outdoor clothing.

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6.3.16

 

The Ask

Scottish elections take place on 5 May 2016.

The Scottish Government have set a target of 10% of all trips by foot or bicycle, but less than 2% of the Scottish travel budget goes to 'active travel' (the buzzword for getting from one place to another minus a motor). We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote and Spokes suggest you ask your candidate to pledge the following:
To raise the share of the transport budget spent on walking and cycling to 10% over the course of the next parliament.
See the pages linked above for more info, including hustings you can attend to put the question to your local candidates. A don't forget to Pedal on Parliament on 23 April 2016.


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