Sunday, 26 June 2016

A letter to my MP about the Referendum

The result of the Referendum has been very divisive and the sooner we all know where we stand the better, and it is important that our MPs make it clear to their constituents that they understand the  pros and cons of either leaving immediately - or standing back to properly assess how we can best move forward to a prosperous and more democratic society.

As a result I have written the following letter to my MP saying that I will support him in whichever decision he makes as long as he can assure me that he understands the risks involved.

Dear Sir
As you will be getting many very lengthy letters I will just give a brief analogy.

A group of people by a buys and democratically elect you as the bus driver in the belief that you will drive them safely to wherever they want to go. They discuss two possible outings in the bus and then democratically vote (by a majority of one) to go to a very attractive place for which no clear road map exists.
You set out and find the road runs between quick sands and suddenly there is water rising round the wheels of the bus. In democratic terms you have two choices.

(1)   The advisory vote on the destination is absolute and you drive on through the rising tide, ignoring the screams from some of the passengers (including some who voted for the destination) who are looking out of the window.  Perhaps you can get through before the tide overwhelms the bus – but if not the resulting the tombstones can carry the words “Died upholding democracy.”

(2)   The democratic vote that chose you to be a safe bus driver is more important than the later advisory vote. Safety of the passengers is more important than whether a particular destination is reached to a particular day. You reverse away and ignore the jibs from the party at the back who are so drunk with the success in winning the vote on the destination that they have not had time to look through the window.

As my MP you are now in the equivalent of the bus drivers seat. because I, and many other voters in the constituency, have trusted you beleiving that you have the welfare of the passengers at heart, and would not take any unjustified risks.
Option one has very high risks associated with it and if this option is taken there is no coming back. It you take this option it is important that you have a very good understanding of how the very powerful tidal forces of the international trading world – including the possibility of hurricanes of uncertainty certain strength. In case the bus gets deflected from the road you will also need to have an excellent understand how to navigate through the political quicksand of Europe and other countries we want to trade with. Because some of the passengers are panicking their actions could destabilize the bus and increase the possibility of failure

Option 2 has not significant risks for the passengers as the journey can be made on a later date, once the route has been mapped and a tide table acquired. There may be an immediate risk to you personally – as the jibs from the back could lead to someone else being democratically elected to your position in your place.
As long as you can convince me that you have the skills and knowledge to properly assess the risks associated with the route you choose you have my full support.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Trapped by the Referendum It will be a disaster whatever the result

There is no escape. The referendum will happen and the result, whatever it is, will be a disaster, because it is addressing the wrong issue in a way that can only make the current situation more unstable.
from The Times, 31st May

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Australian Government is burying its head in the sands of the Great Barrier Reef

In 1990 I flew to Australia to work on a computer system to provide information relating to the possibility of climate change -see To Australia in a Box. Shortly after I arrived the project was cancelled, because it was clearly not considered a sufficiently important project to spend government money on it.

Coral in the Great Barrier Reef
Since then climate deniers in the Australian government have come and gone - and the temperature has continued to rise - with more and more highest temperature records being broken. It is clear that warmer seas made more acid by the increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide could have a serious effect on natural features such as the Great Barrier Reef.

A news item today reveals that the Australian section of the UN World Heritage site report on the effects of climate change has been axed. Apparently the Australian Department of the Environment still believes that burying one's head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away is the answer to the realities of climate warming. At least their attitude is clear - the whole world now knows that the Great Barrier Reef is not in safe hands.

We should not underestimate the Neanderthal Mind

3D reconstruction
Neanderthal "rock circles"

An article in Nature, reported on the BBC News Site, describe the discovery of circles of stalagmite fragments deep inside a French cave. they are dated to have been constructed about 175,000 years ago - long before Homo sapiens reached Europe - at a time when Neanderthals are known to have been in the area. We will probably never know what motivated the people who broke off and arranged these stalactite fragments  but it is clear that they had sufficient control of fire - for lighting - to travel more than 300 metres into the cave and were prepared to explore pitch-dark underground passages for a considerable distance and spend some time working there.

Looking Back over 50 years computing

Fastrand II
I entered the computer industry just over 50 years ago, and a purchase I have just made really brings home the scale of change over the years.

In 1966 my employer, Shell Mex and BP, was planning to move from a batch processing Leo 3 system involving the files of some 250,000 customers to a new computer which had direct access storage. In 1967 placed an order for a Univac Computer with FastRand drum drives. Each drive could store 100 megabytes of data  and cost about £100,000. It came in a large cabinet and weighed about 2,200 kilo.

This weekend I decided to reorganise all my computer files as part of a move from Windows XP on a rather tired desktop to a laptop under Windows 10. These files include historical archives going back some 25 years, and urgently need restructuring. I purchased a drive big enough to hold all my personal files from several generations of personal computers and separate hard drives. The drive cost about 30,000 times less than a Fastrand (adjusted for rise in cost of living), weights about 100,000 times less, and can contain about 20,000 times more data!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Brain - The Last Frontier
Brain - The Last Frontier by Matteo Farinella
Regular visitors to my blog know that I believe that thinking creatively "outside the box" is an important part of science. Recently I have been introducing many of my science posts with a short summary of the issue in the form of a limerick - because it is a challenge to get the essence of a scientific idea into a few human-friendly words. I also like photography and I am creating a record of the area where I live with occasional posts on my Remembering Tring blog - but like to include some of the more creative shots on this blog under the heading "Captured by the Camera."

However there is no point in giving me a pen or paintbrush  because any attempt to produce an attractive picture using such tools would be a complete waste of time - and I admire those who can combine artistry with science. I was therefore delighted to learn of Matteo Farinella's blog.

Matteo is a scientist who did a Ph.D. in computational neuroscientist - and then decided to become a freelance cartoonist. He has just become a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia University with the goal of creating "a new paradigm for interdisciplinary university-sponsored research to advance understanding of mind, brain, and behavior, and the social foundations and consequences of new neuroscientific findings."

I wish Matteo well in his endeavours and will certainly be following his blog with interest.  My feelings are that much existing research in computational studies of the brain are so deeply involved in"fine science" and "sophisticated mathematics" that the human side is forgotten. Matteo's cartoons could bring in a welcome breath of fresh air.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Leo Computer Society Reunion

The Leo Computer Society committee line up for a photograph.
I spent a most enjoyable day at this meeting talking to old colleagues and came away with a lot of interesting ideas relevant to my research - which I hope to follow up on this blog over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Link between Codil and the Evolution of Human Intelligence

The following notes have been prepared for the Leo Computer Society Reunion on April 10th. It is a brief summary describing the link between the original observations made of how salesmen understood complex sales contracts at Shell Mex and BP and later research in CODIL. It also outlines the recent reassessment which relates the earlier work to neural nets and the relevant to research into human intelligence. If you want to know more do not hesitate to contact me.

The Surprising Connection between the Leo III and Research into the Evolution of Human Intelligence
by Chris Reynolds
10th April, 2016

In 1967 I was asked to look in detail at the Shell Mex & BP sales accounting programs which ran on their Leo 3 computers at Hemel Hempstead. The aim was to see how they might be moved to the next generation of computers – which would have computer terminals. The result was a proposal for a computer with a user-friendly symbolic assembly language called CODIL (COntext Dependent Information Language). Nearly 60 years later it is possible to link my original observations on how salesmen though about contracts with a model of how human intelligence may have evolved. This note briefly explains the link and suggests that some way should be found to re-vitalize the research.