The Blog

Pokemism : A tendency to collect and try out cognitive biases to see how they feel. Can you collect them all?

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Quality travel excursions for Oxbridge alumni, led by a world class academic. eg 19 days through China and the 'stans following parts of the silk road. For only £3910 all in. 

A pipe-dream for the bucket list?
 Crossing the Ancient Silk Road »
The term Silk Road was coined in the 19th-century by the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen. It was not a single route but a vast network of roads stretching from Xi’an to the eastern Mediterranean. Linking India, Europe and the Far East, routes passed through spectacular cities and tiny hamlets, through forbidding mountains, gentle steppe lands and hot deserts. Along its length, intrepid merchants traded in a number of items such as Balt...

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I wonder how much easier travelling by bicycle makes border crossings compared with  motorcycle or car. And if the same applies to low power electric bicycles. So for instance, do you still need an escort in western tibetan China or the Waziristan and tribal parts of Pakistan? 
 Crossing Asia on my bike, I met countless others out to see the world on a bicycle | Emily Chappell »
Emily Chappell: Exploring the world on a bicycle is an adventure like no other – it is the best way of meeting the world on its own terms

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Yesterday's nature excitement was seeing a pair of Goldcrests in Hertford's Pinetum. They were feeding on midges and insects on a pile of Douglas Fir branches I was clearing. That came from the top of an old but weird shaped tree that had broken off in the high winds of a few days ago.

The Pinetum is looking good and the display of snow drops is looking perfect. They have an open day this Sunday with guided walks and cream teas.

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None of those "Shine-on; Let’s do an SF anthology about positive futures!" people have ever approached Peter Watts, for some reason. I wonder why. Here's his typically scary take on Zika and other emerging infectious diseases (EID).
 No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded) » Viva Zika! »
There's this guy I knew, Dan Brooks. Retired now, an eminent parasitologist and evolutionary biologist back in the day. He did a lot of work on emerging infectious diseases (EIDs, for you acronym fetishists) down in Latin America. A few years back I wrote some introductory text for an online ...

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Reading James Bridle's SciFi short about a post mass-data world[1]. Recommended by Bruce Sterling[2]. Leading to re-visiting Bridle's blog and a piece about 5-eyes surveillance[3]. And his short film of a CGI walk-through of UK immigrant detention centres[4]. And another piece about the Space Blanket as a A Flag For No Nations (or perhaps a Flag Of No Nation)[5]. All while listening to Fatima Al Qadiri - Brute, a soundtrack for 21st century protest[6]. 

[6] [7]
[7] Coincidentally, the image for Brute is a TellyTubby wearing riot police gear. And while it's obviously the purple TinkyWinky famously outed by Jerry Falwell for being a closet gay, It's got Po's circular aerial and not TinkyWinky's triangle. Except that actually it's Joe Kline's Po-Po [8]
 The End of Big Data | Motherboard »
It's the world after personal data: all identifying information is illegal. No servers, no search records, no social, no surveillance. A pair of satellites, circling the planet, make sure the data cen…

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The only possible response is "Oh dear". And that's what they want you to say.

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I'd like to propose an extension to Betteridge's Law. "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." 

"Any headline that contains 'could' can be answered by the words, Probably not."

eg "This $500 bamboo bicycle could be a key to reliable, affordable, and sustainable transportation". Hmmm!?! Probably not.
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Why is David Cameron's "Greenest Government Ever" turning away from investment in renewable infrastructure? Especially after Paris last year. We were doing quite well there for a while.

Did they make too many promises to their fossil fuel friends in the fracking industry?

There's something strange going on here.

There's a broad mix of opposition politicians, energy companies and green groups asking the same questions.

Last July, the UK government started to roll back support for renewable energy, citing forecasts of cost overruns and the need to keep down household bills.

New projections showed the Levy Control Framework (LCF) cap for low-carbon support would be breached, the government said. Yet it has never published the details of its updated calculations, despite the multi-billion pound implications for the direction of UK energy investment.

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Beware neo-optimists (and pessimists) using "TED-Stats" to sell you a story. It starts with complicated but pretty graphics that combine 4 different things via multiple confusing axis scales mixed in with colour and different sized spots. Then notice that the graphics are only available as part of a youtube video of a powerpoint presentation with no citations or links to the underlying data. Dig deeper and you'll find the following common statistical strategies.   

1) Excessive accuracy. For instance total global population to an accuracy of 1000 in 7,000,000,000. Or total CO2 production against global GDP when this is hugely dependent on figures from China and India. One example is the de-coupling carbonisation story that requires a pause in CO2 production during a continued rise in GDP. Except that both figures just got restated for the last 10 years by 10 times the small change you're looking for. And with China the figures are coming out of a hierarchy with a huge incentive to lie about them. And as Eris knows, truth in communication is very hard in strongly hierarchical systems where self-serving lies are the norm.

2) Mistaking percentages for absolute figures. Total global population has been following linear growth for 4 decades with each successive billion taking about 12-13 years to add. If anything the time to add a billion is shortening from 15 to 12 years. But if you measure the growth as a percentage of the total, of course the percentage growth is dropping. You can sell this story as "Population growth has been dropping for 4 decades". Then extrapolate this drop in percentage out as a straight line and you can argue that it will drop to zero and so population will peak. Except that the linear growth is still happening and we're still adding a billion every 12 years. Even the most reliable source of figures, the UN, can simultaneously predict a drop in population growth due to fertility rates and also adjust the date we get to 9b closer by 6 years. So which is it; is growth slowing down or is it speeding up?

There's a similar kind of statistical lying in the story about CO2 production flat-lining. So the total yearly emissions in GtC/y didn't increase so the year on year rate changed by 0% or went down by 0.1%. Great. Except that yearly emissions were already at a record high and will be pretty much the same next year.

3) Focussing on detail and sub-sections instead of the holistic big picture. The classic example here is to argue that because the USA and developed world reduced their onshore fossil fuel use or pollution or CO2 output then things are getting better. If everybody could do this, then we'd solve the climate change problem. But this ignores the global picture that the developed world reduced it's emissions by outsourcing all its manufacturing to the developing world. And we outsourced all our pollution as well. Not only that but the shipping involved is a major polluter as well.

Now add all this together and attempt to argue that things are getting better because the numbers of people in extreme poverty are reducing rapidly due to capitalist globalisation. See, the percentage of people in extreme poverty is coming down year on year! If we keep this up we can wipe out extreme poverty by 2030. Add in a lot of hand-waving arguments about average incomes, education, fertility rates, urbanisation to justify that. But, wait. At the same time as the percentage was dropping we were adding 1b every 12 years. How come there were 1000m in extreme poverty in 1820 and still 1000m in 2010? And it's essentially the same people in subsistence farming in the poorest countries that are classified as in extreme poverty. Didn't we achieve anything in the last 200 years of progress? Clearly mankind has achieved an astonishing amount in the last 200 years and if nothing else we've added 5.5b people who are NOT IN EXTREME POVERTY. That's a cause for optimism as long as you don't think too hard about the implications of continuing to add more non-poor people to the mix indefinitely. But what we haven't done is to reduce the absolute number who are in poverty. Except maybe we have. Look closely and it's possible that the absolute numbers have been dropping a little this century. But be extremely wary of the accuracy of that reporting.

It makes you wonder. Does anyone know WTF is going on and can describe it accurately without bias and an agenda?

Bonus links

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In preparation for The Crisis, read this

while listening to this

And remember Hawkwind's immortal words,
"Think only of yourself".

The key is to freak out early and freak out often (FEFO) in an agile way, and work towards a lifestyle that (ideally) feels like one continuously integrated and deployed mid-life crisis. There is actually good intellectual justification for approaching life this way. It’s called the Lindy effect, which says you’ll live as long again as you already have, until you don’t.

Which means you’re always at mid-life. Until you’re not.
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Star Wars VII - Here be some small spoilers. Look away now.

I remember watching Star Wars IV in the cinema. And then going back with friends a few days later to the matinee performance and lying on the carpet in front of row 1 to watch it again. It was easy to enjoy a small boy's pleasure in lots of guns going pew-pew and fighter planes in dog fights. Then a few days later I bought a copy of International Times and was dismayed to read a critique of the film as a disgusting and obscene celebration of the US-UK Military-Industrial-Complex. That moment of cognitive dissonance as the concerned adult fought with the small boy for control has stayed with me ever since.

Now it's getting on for 40 years later, a new Star wars film has come round with almost exactly the same story line. It's got the same fighter plane dog fights. The same pew-pew gun noises. And the usual bloodless violence and obligatory hand to hand fighting. Amazingly, International Times has resurrected itself as well. And here's one of their suitably obtuse critiques of "Stop Wars" complete with free verse and obligatory Banksy. It's not as hard hitting as in 1977, but I'm feeling the same cognitive dissonance.   
 Stop Wars | IT »
Video and Montage by Alan Cox. Banksy . “All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.” – John Steinbeck . One in eight babies is born in a war zone, Its consciousness seized by toxic shock. First made aware of life by an act of love. The flow of love, due to war, is blocked.

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Migrant refugee camps seen as a city-building, architecture problem. Every so often Bruce Sterling finds this stuff and this is one of those things that spins off ideas.

In several places around the world, but especially in the Middle East and Europe we've got an ongoing migration problem as war or water or climate change or food shortages force people to move to say alive. Traditionally we treat this as a temporary crisis and set up temporary camps with tight controls. But these camps aren't really temporary with it being common for people to be stuck in them for 15 years or more. The people inside them start doing city building and building a camp society regardless of how we attempt to control it. So the big idea is to place the camps in places that need repopulation and encourage the refugees to use free enterprise to build a new city there. Examples might be the empty southern central Italy, and especially the empty new towns and building projects in Spain. But this also applies to places in Central Germany as well.

The question is how much infrastructure, law and order and control we have to provide to kick start the process. The infrastructure is not just food/water/housing. Modern migrants have cellphones so electricity/cellphone coverage/internet is important as well. Perhaps the Migrant City should be a temporary autonomous zone or free port. Does that mean an "Escape from New York" compound with high walls? There's the possibility of experiments in new forms of social organisation here. Then there's the jobs problem. The ideal locations for re-population are often empty because there's no work. That's certainly true of Italy/Spain but less so for Eastern Europe. If this is a permanent rather than temporary city then the occupants need to fairly quickly move to generating wealth not just consuming it. What happens to guaranteed basic income or benefits for the migrants? How quickly do they get citizenship of the regional, national and super-national sructures where it's located?

It's good to see architects being interested in this as part of a long tradition from Wren to Corbusier. Both on the macro and micro scale from city layout planning to IKEA flat pack housing. The camps may start as rigid lines of tents but the residents quickly start modifying it. Which then leads to Favela Chic and the kind of (semi)functional chaos of Sao Paolo or the townships of S Africa. Should this be encouraged or discouraged? ather than try and control it, perhaps it would be better to have an orientation point that hands out the essentials but then to let the city self organise.

Finally there's the problem of land ownership. The whole of the western world is now owned. To make this work a space has to be cleared, presumably by government, for the Migrant City to be placed in. Does that mean compensating the current owners of the land in some way? Or do they get to charge rent?

How does this vary round the world? From S to N America. Europe compared with Africa. China compared with Siberia.

And all that starts with a simple idea. Refugee Camps aren't temporary and they shouldn't be.

Via one of Bruce Sterling's tumblrs

btw. That photo really reminds me of the really big festivals like Glastonbury or Burning Man. Camps should include entertainment, art and music. And no, Glastonbury and Burning Man are not preparation for finding yourself as a refugee!

The IKEA refugee shelter is an inspiring story.
(apologies fr the daily mail link. ;) It's there for the 10,000 figure. )

The better shelter has made it to bOingbOing

What we do now will stick around for 400,000 years. Flex your muscles, mankind. Doesn't that give you a sense of ... Power!

SeeAlso: Hot Earth Dreams - Frank Landis.
 Fossil fuel burning 'postponing next ice age' »
Climate change is altering global cycles to such an extent that the next ice age has been delayed for at least 100,000 years, according to new research identifying Earth’s deep-freeze tipping point

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White Noise Best Tracks of 2015 - The Playlist

I've done a YT playlist of my favourite music blog's best of list. It's all club music but biased towards the early evening "cocktails at sunset" mood and the end of night walk home. There are some bangers but mostly down tempo. Whatever, It's all good.  

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That was quite a final performance.

Farewell, then, whatever your name was.

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Looking at the Indian Sub-Continent as a whole, it appears to contain a perfect storm of chaos factors.

- 1.6b people growing at 20m/year. Maybe 2b by 2030.

- Nowhere to go since the land routes out all involve 15,000ft passes that are closed, easily defensible and that already have military presence. Or into Myanmar which is dense jungle. Or into Iran and that route's harsh and lawless. Or into Afghanistan which is an active war zone. The sea routes are difficult, long and the likely destinations uninviting. All of which makes any mass emigration very unlikely. 

- Pollution problems (see all the main cities but especially Delhi, Karachi)

- Large areas at risk of flooding from rising sea water when they're not being flooded by the monsoon.

- One country (India) that controls water flow to two others (Pakistan, Bangla Desh)

- Dysfunctional governments

- Religion

- Nuclear weapons

- Severe and increasing danger of Black Flag weather every year. That's a combination of heat and humidity that kills humans without air conditioning.

- Mass exposure to Black Swan weather. Bangla Desh in particular is densely populated and prone to flooding. But so are the poorest states in India.

- Very rich anarcho-capitalists, in control of technological industry, powered by very large reserves of coal but with little oil.

- A proxy war zone on one porous border with Afghanistan that keeps spilling over into Pakistan with the help of US drones.

That's quite a pressure cooker.
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This is deeply disturbing, on so many levels.

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A question for the #lazyweb. Is there a site online that gives a good summary of the state of borders round the world? I imagine this on several dimensions. It's a directed graph or matrix for each major country pair with sub-divisions for specific border crossings. But then with detail depending one one's home country, transport mechanism and a bunch of notes. So for instance, USA->Canada, Blaine-I5, for a German, by bus. Or AzerBaijan->Turkmenistan, Baku-Turkmenbashi, Ferry, Motorcycle.

This was prompted by watching the excellent "Walking the Himalayas" series on Channel 4 where Levison Wood attempts to walk from Afghanistan to Bhutan. The first couple of episodes involved walking the Wakhan corridor to the Afghan-Pakistan border. Then helicoptering out, Kabul-Islamabad, Gilgit to continue walking from the Pakistan side of the same border post. Then repeating the exercise at the Burzil pass between Pakistan and Kashmir-India having to go Lahore-Amritsar-Srinigar-Dawar to continue the walk only a kilometre or two from where he got stuck and had to bug out. Both were 1500Km detours. The second event was the beginning of the end of the Schengen agreement in the EU where Germany->Denmark and then Denmark->Sweden are turning into check points. This is forced by the influx of middle eastern migrants but it's forcing everyone to carry ID and explain themselves. This is all symptomatic of a world where borders are not opening up. Increasingly they're closing down. And places where you used to be able to cross easily, are now blocked by armed guards. Where you used to be able to just cross, you now need a visa; or a paid guide.

Talking of Refugees. Just came across this,
A bunch of UK tech journalists and commentators brainstorming apps for refugees. That sounds horrendous and easy to criticise but they're actually producing some useful stuff.
 Walking the Himalayas »
Explorer Levison Wood sets out to walk the length of the world's highest mountain range, from Afghanistan to Bhutan

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[from: Librarything]

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