March 2007

Pointed at by Piled Higher and Deeper (Cecilia’s Blog) is this Nature report, where scientists managed to (apparently) “delete” a pavlovian response in rats by providing the stimulus while they had been given a memory consolidator-suppressing chemical.

Congratulations to Charlie Stross on getting another novel Hugo nominated. Eventually, maybe he’ll win “the big one”. Still, it is, as they say, an honour to be nominated.

I’ve just spoken to BBC Online researcher Joe Campbell about the effectiveness of CCTV systems in crime prevention and detection. This was as background for material regarding the Woolmer case, where the hotel had CCTV cameras trained on nearby corridors but, as is often the case, the analogue tapes used to record the images had been so heavily used that they were “fragile”.

Despite the rush to deploy CCTV cameras all over the UK in the late 80s and 90s, there was almost no significant research into their effectiveness. Indeed, Norris and Armstrong (The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of CCTV) suggest that politicians did not want to know whether it was effective or not.Since finding the money centrally to promote jointly funded local schemes to deploy CCTV was relatively simple and the public believed that they helped to reduce crime, politicians would rather spend the money and be seen to be doing something rather than find out if what they were doing was effective (and exactly what is effective out of the various options) and be held properly to account for their efforts in tackling crime. In particular, no cost/benefit evaluations were done which considered the use of the money spent in other ways to reduce crime, either by providing other law enforcement measures or simply providing better street-lighting, or more facilities for young people (since much of the crime that CCTV has targetted is public order and low-value thefts).

Only recently have some studies suggested that CCTV has been effective:

Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal (2004) 6, 21–33: Evidence-based Crime Prevention: The Effectiveness of CCTV by Brandon C Welsh and David P Farrington.

It is ironic to note that many of the religious types currently arguing against the new anti-discrimination laws in the UK, banning discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in the provision of goods and services to the public, are the same groups who were so vocal in support of laws banning discrimination on the grounds of religion in the last couple of years. Today I heard a Christian on Radio 4 claiming that discrimination against homosexuals in the provision of adoption services or hotel provision was a matter of religious conscience. The debate about the partially state-funded Catholic adoption agencies is a classic “separate but equal” argument last used by the racists in the Southern US states during segregation. (more…)

Ah, these things abound, but thanks to Sparks, I had to try this one out. What a surprise (not):

What kind of soul do you have?
Dark Soul
Evil is your game and you don’t wear it out. You dream of destroying the world and making minions of all lesser then you. Who can stand in your way when Darkness is in your soul.
Take this test

Another old link revisited resulted in this

Caricature of A^3

after a bit of messing around with the placement of the elements (the standard placement is on a grid and doesn’t quite work with some of the elements being smaller than others). Still, it gives an easy starting point for a tiny bit of messing with a graphics package to come up with something fun.

Rediscovered an old favourite link of mine when I was cleaning up my bookmarks: the Surrealism Compliment Generator.

A colleague, Mario Arias Oliva, from the University Rovira I Virgili gave an interesting talk here today. As part of it he used a case study about Zara. I couldn’t place the name when he mentioned it at first, but that’s because I’m a distinct anti-fashionista. However, Zara recently became the second largest clothing retailer in the world, he claimed – and I have no reason to doubt it although he simply stated it rather than providing a reference – when it overtook GAP. Only Benetton is larger. It has done this in a very short time for such a large company and has been built up from literally nothing. The owner, Amancio Ortega, comes from a working class background and started his working life as a retail assistant. The model of most of the other fashion stores is that designers produce designs, production managers source large order in bulk from cheap manufacturing in China, India et al. and then the marketing managers at regional levels decide what goes into the stores where. Local store managers must do what they can with what they are sent. Oh, and these companies have huge marketing budgets purchasing TV, radio, billboard, newspaper and magazine adverts and expensive sporting sponsorships.


When the phrase “The Semantic Web” was coined, it was hailed by some as a resplendent vision, by others as an unachievable goal and by others as a new bubble. The point is that the current Web is indexed almost entirely syntactically. So, there is no simple way to differentiate between people who make bread (Baker) and the titular descendants of someone who might have baked bread hundreds of years ago (Baker) in a purely syntactic fashion.

Even within database-oriented proprietary systems, the injudicious digitisation or storage of digital information can lead to significant difficulties. While doing the research for my LLM thesis on copyright, I found that it was quite difficult to search the standard legal databases for “copyright”, since almost all written material included a copyright notice which triggered the search mechanism. I’m now finding a similar problem when trying to find papers on Google Scholar, and proprietary academic databases, regarding privacy. Many of the database engines include privacy policy links on their pages and the Google Scholar indexing system cannot distinguish between headers and links to privacy policies and papers about privacy issues.

Pandora’s Box: Social and Professional Issues of the Information Age is now listed on Amazon.

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc (26 Oct 2007)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0470065532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470065532
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