Last weekend we moved house. Our new place is a house rather than an apartment, just 1km north of our previous apartment. If you need my new address then please drop me an email.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: The Two Towers OST

Simon Davies wrote an interesting blog post on “Why I’ve stopped caring about what the public thinks about privacy” in which he explains the trap of advocates for any social benefit caring too much about whether there is majority support for their position. I agree with him that privacy advocates who understand the importance of privacy rights and privacy practices should not despair when faced with survey after survey after experiment in which many people, often a majority, either state they don’t care very much about their privacy or demonstrate through action that even if they care about privacy, they ware willing to give it up for a small perceived benefit. However, I think Simon’s article needs further consideration. Of course those of us who see the importance of privacy should not give up our advocacy. However, we should understand where the apathy or even hostility to privacy rights comes from. We need solid empirical research on this and good conceptual presentations of why it happens. Only then can we try to apply force to the right levers to improve everyone’s access to privacy.

My own work on the psychological impact of social network site affordances shows some of the reasons why people’s responses to surveys show that they have limited their desire for privacy. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that in order to maintain their sanity in the face of peer pressure and network effects pushing them into using things like Facebook, including using their “legal name” and having most things open on there, is to downgrade their privacy perceptions. If we can push back against the privacy invasive nature of these systems, giving people technological, legal and economic possibilities to connect without exposure, then I am sure that their reported perceptions of privacy will swing back.

The ethics of big data is generating a lot of discussion these days. I read an interesting article today which showed that some managers in the health sector find the voracious attitude that “everything must go into the pot” “creepy”, while analytics professionals go on about the benefits of more (good quality) data giving more useful information. This article, though, was quite typical in the area in that it focussed on the US situation, with the problem that health-care providers in the US are driven by their revenue systems: the source of the data for big data health analytics in the US in the article is cited as the “Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) systems” which capture data mostly so that the healthcare provider can charge the right (i.e. the legally/contractually allowed) price to the funder. Of course it’s pretty much only the US that has this crazy system. Elsewhere there are fewer payers for healthcare for the majority of people, sometimes down to (almost) one in places like the UK. The US situation also raises large questions because of the crazy way its healthcare is funded in that patients are severely lacking in trust that the use of their data will not lead to significant individual problems, up to and including being sacked for being potentially too expensive to provide health insurance for.

Of course this does not mean that in other countries there are no big ethical issues with big data for health analytics. The proposals by the UK government to limit or ignore patients’ ability to opt out of the care.data program, through which private companies such as pharmaceutical companies would gain potentially significant private benefits alongside possible public health benefits, but with no guarantees of privacy or security of the data, raises similar questions to the century-plus debate about census data (before WWII ethnicity data in the US census was supposed to be inaccessible to the government at large – that guarantee was wiped away after Pearl Harbour, leading to the disenfranchisement, loss of property and internment of over 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent).

Europe, with its more heterogenous health funding systems must explore the issues around all the models and not be driven by US-centric concerns.

Current Mood: (contemplative) contemplative
Current Music: Raiders of the Lost Ark Soundtrack

There are many science fiction stories published each year with wild speculation, and usually few details. It’s not unusual, therefore, just by the law of averages, for sometimes the SF to be followed by the  a discovery of (somewhat) matching science. An interesting piece on anti-agathic (delaying or removing the effects of ageing) work I saw today reminded me of a piece in a Heinlein novel. In “Methuselah’s Children” where a secret bunch of families with naturally bred longevity flee the Earth in an early spaceship because of the threat of a pogrom and/or being the subject of vivisection to discover the secret of their longevity. Returning to Earth after some interstellar adventures and with time dilation having kept them even younger than ever, they find that their existence spurred Earth to invest in anti-agathic research and discover a “blood cleaning” process which seriously reduces ageing. Not a novel idea, actually, as this Guardian article points out, the idea was proposed by Libavius in 1615. It’s looking like it might have potential, though. The work of Wyss-Coray on the effects of young mouse blood on old mouse brains (and vice versa) shows that transfusion of young blood into an old mouse causes a revival of neuron birth, while old blood in young mice retards such development.

There’s a horror story in here about, say, the Chinese communist party using both sides of this – harvesting young blood to keep their gerontcratic leaders healthy, while deliberately transfusing older blood into younger dissidents to dumb them down.

As that very good Guardian article mentions (it’s an in-depth and very well-written science piece, a rarity in modern journalism) though, it’s not just the idea of transfusions – we can hardly keep up with other demands for blood for transfusions in most societies. The idea that we could track the protein components of blood plasma as we age and filter out the ones which contribute to ageing and synthesise and add back the ones which promote health and youth, are interesting. Of course there’s also the idea that’s been used by a number of SF authors where by tinkering with ageing and encouraging bodily regeneration, we “use up” our body’s ability to regenerate and instead of gaining (near)immortality we die quicker (sometimes very quickly) though with amazing powers of regeneration in the (usually short) time. Again, this is perhaps a worry with these real science ideas.

Current Mood: Interested

Ugh, two obituary posts in a row. I’m not blogging enough and too many people I admire are dying.

I can’t now remember when I first met Caspar Bowden. I think it was in London at perhaps a Scrambling for Safety event organised at UCL by Ian Brown and Ross Anderson. The most recent time was this year’s CPDP in Brussels where Caspar, a regular speaker at the event in recent years, was continuing his long crusade for privacy as an internationally recognised human right, in particular for the digital privacy of ordinary people (i.e. those of whom there is no serious evidence of criminal activity) to be recognised by all governments, whether or not that person happens to be a citizen or resident of the country or not. Snowden’s revelations bore out may of Caspar’s most pessimistic estimates of what the US (and their junior UK partners) were doing with the authority granted them by FISA.

Tragically Cassandra-like his pronouncements may have been  in some ways, yet his tireless work on behalf of the rights of ordinary people should inspire us all to continue his efforts.

BBC obituary: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33473105

Current Mood: (grumpy) grumpy

We lost Iain M. Banks last year and now we’ve just lost Terry Pratchett as well. Both taken well before their time and both still writing amazing work until the end.

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-31858156

Bright Burning Lights
Illuminate Life
Death Extinguishes Not
The Brilliance Of
Words Writers Wrote
Nor Crosses Off
Party’s Soul
Though Too-short Whole

(CC-BY-SA Andrew A. Adams)

Current Mood: (sad) sad

Almost a year since my last blog post. Very bad of me. The last one was a report that I’d finished Kiki’s Delivery Service Book 2. It’s taken me ten months to finish books 3 and 4, but I’ve now done so. I’m just over half-way through Book 5 (which I’m racing through, having read the first 150 pages of 280 in just over two weeks). I’ve also now seen the recent live action Kiki movie. This is definitely derived from the first book, rather than from the Ghibli animation. In some ways it sticks closer to the book. For instance Kiki cannot accept money in return for her magic services. It’s never quite explicit in the book, and the “economics” of this are somewhat glossed over in terms of how she manages daily existence if she can’t earn money (or possibly can’t even deal with money directly). There’s something of an implication of receiving services in “barter” for her own and she can certainly accept gifts in kind in exchange for her services. Although this bit is closer to the book, and some of the scenes/sequences in the movie are heavily inspired by chapters in the book, it’s still quite a departure from the book in many terms. In the book there’s a sequence with a girl asking her to deliver a black envelope to another girl, which it turns out is an old tale of witches cursing people. In the book this is dealt with on the small scale of the girls involved only, whereas in the movie it’s part of the plot whereby after this incident people start distrusting Kiki and even returning things she’s delivered to them, back to Kiki instead of back to the sender.

I watched the movie in Japanese (no choice – there doesn’t seem to be an English subtitle version available – but I wanted to do that anyway). Since I know the story pretty well and it’s a kids/teen movie, I was able to follow much of the dialogue well enough, but I certainly wasn’t understanding every sentence in detail. Harder than the book, of course, since spoken word is harder to follow because of speed and difficulty to re-tread (I was watching it with $DAUGHTER so could hardly stop every thirty seconds and re-play to get the dialogue, though I may do some of this later to try to improve my Japanese listening).

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished

As I noted in March, I had the second book of the Kiki’s Delivery Service series on order having finished the first book. I didn’t makea precise note of the day it arrived, but it wasn’t long after the 9th of March when that post was made. Tonight I finished book 2. I made much more of an effort to read at least six pages a day of this one, and to catch up if I missed a day. The book is 380 pages, although that seems longer in some ways than it is since it’s got a number of illustrations, some of which are full page or half the page. Japanese literary typesetting is also quite different to English in that it’s set vertically. Just as with English texts, this means much of the dialogue only takes up part of a line. However, since japanese books, like English ones, are taller than they are wide, the resulting white space in Japanese is a larger proportion of the page. For dialogue-heavy sequences with  lot of short statements, this can mean a page using less than half the space.

I have book three on the shelf, so it’s on to that, tomorrow.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: None

As I wrote last July, I started trying to Read Japanese (Teen) Literature. Well, I’m nowhere near as fast reading Japanese as the person I was sniffy about who took a month to read a Pratchett. However, eight months later and I finally reached page 259 of Majou no Takkyubin this evening. Book 2 is on order and should be delivered soon (for Y1 plusY250 P&P). Plus there’s a live-action movie due out soon. It’s almost impossible to find English-subtitled Japanese movies in Japan, of course, but as with the book I will try this out to see how well I can follow the movie. In particular I’ll be interested to see how much they follow the book, whether they draw anything from the Ghibli movie (that one was as close to the book as Howl’s Moving Castle was, by the way, i.e. it was clearly inspired by it but not in any way even an attempt to do any kind of semi-faithful translation to the screen) or whether they do their own thing with the concept.

It took me a long time, but I’m still pleased with being able to do this.

I signed up today for a conference in Spain. They are using PayPal for taking registration. I’m trying to avoid PayPal, but as the only alternative (bank transfer) is a real pain to do from Japan, I bite the bullet when the other party only offers PayPal as a sensible option. So, I was directed to a PayPal site to process the payment, having given them all the registration details they demanded (including them requiring a landline phone number! I just re-entered my mobile number, which they had already also required). The initial PayPal page was all in Spanish. There was no visible button for changing the language. An understandable (to me) bit asked for my country, so I selected Japan and the page renewed into English. Odd, but useful to me. So, I gave them my credit card details including the billing address and submitted them. The “review and confirm payment” page then came up in Japanese. These days I know enough Japanese to have been able to figure this one out.

So, PayPal displayed itself in three different languages during one transaction, with at no point that I could see a visible button to select a language I can definitely use, and with some apparently random selections of which language to display a particular page in. This is not good internationalisation.

Current Mood: (irritated) irritated
Current Music: Battlestar Galactica Season 4 Soundtrack

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