So, Merry Christmas if you celebrate religiously or secularly or whetever.
I hope you have a nice time in this season with your friends/family, whomever you can.
Here's hoping 2019 is a better year than the complete crap of 2018.
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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.
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.
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-
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.
Bright Burning Lights
Death Extinguishes Not
The Brilliance Of
Words Writers Wrote
Nor Crosses Off
Though Too-short Whole
(CC-BY-SA Andrew A. Adams)
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).
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.
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.
2013 Typhoon No. 26 will make move through Tokyo area in the next 12-18 hours. It is not seriously dangerous, though will disrupt transport. Luckily for me I have no appointments tomorrow so will just work at home. $WIFE has to go to the office (but has rearranged a meeting outside since her interviewee is not sure of being able to make it in) but she uses the subway to get there, so should be fine.
Many may know of Studio Ghibli’s movie “Kiki’s delivery service”. What many may not know is that this is based on a series of books by a Japanese author (although set in a fictional Eastern European country [one with a coastline]). The books are really sets of short stories rather than novels per se, or so $WIFE tells me. Having watched Kiki (in Japanese 魔女の宅急便 or Witch’s Home Delivery Service) too many times lately due to $DAUGHTER, and having had $WIFE explain that the author had finally finished the series of books of tales with a finale in which Kiki’s daughter (by Tombo) heads off for her “year away” at 13, I asked $WIFE to get the books for me. It seemed to me that I should be up to reading teen literature in Japanese. She picked up the first book earlier this week and I’ve now started reading it, which is quite hard going but so far just about feasible for me. I’m reminded of an experience in the mid-90s though. A friend of mine was a nurse in London at the time and I used to visit her whenever I was there. At first she was staying in the nurses’ accommodation – multiple occupancy apartments owned by the hospital, and quite nearby (in this case right next door). She had a roommate who was a fairly nice guy but not really the intellectual type. My friend is an SF reader, though not an active fan. She told me on one visit that her flatmate had borrowed one of the early Terry Pratchett Discworld books from her and finally returned it a month later saying he’d really enjoyed it. it wasn’t that he’d taken a month to get around to reading it. He’d taken a month to read it. Being both heavy readers my friend and I found this rather alien. We figured he must be having to read every word as an individual word and then figure out the meaning of each sentence before moving on to the next. I’m feeling a bit like this with starting to try to read Japanese for “pleasure”, though of course part of the purpose is to improve my Japanese, but I’m also reading it because I want to know the story. I think I may be already ahead of friend’s flatmate’s English reading ability, though.
The first week this month, I was in LA. A few days after getting back from that I flew the other direction to Denmark. After a week of me being jetlagged at home $WIFE headed off to Canada leaving me to do my part of taking care of $DAUGHTER as a lone working parent (I am NOT complaining about this – I do it too often to her and she doesn’t complain). She arrived back in Tokyo yesterday and less than 24 hours later (just fourteen hours after she arrived home I left home) I flew out on the trip I’m currently in transit on. I’m in the Senator Lounge at Munich airport in transit to Lisbon (there are no direct flights from Tokyo to Lisbon that I can see, so I’m on Lufthansa via Munich on the way out and Frankfurt on the way back). Two days after I get back to Tokyo I head off to Hong Kong. At least that’s a medium haul flight, daytime flight both ways and only one hour time difference. I get a break from travel then until late August and Worldcon.
Unfortunately my talk is the first one in the first session after the opening plenary tomorrow morning, and because of the connection I’mnot even scheduled to land in Lisbon until 21:50. Still, I’ve no hold luggage and Lisbon airport isn’t far out so I hope to get to the hotel and fall over by around 23:00.
So, I arrived at Narita airport this morning expecting to get on a plane at 10:30 to fly to Kuala Lumpur on business. I should learn to check flights before leaving home as the departure time was listed as delayed until 19:25. Having checked in (it took 90 minutes, because I’m not flying with the airline alliance I have status with) so at 10:15 I headed home. THey later delayed the flight departure expectation to 22:10 and this has now been confirmed. So, I’m still at home for another half hour before heading back to Narita again (but this time having to take awkward trains since the Keisei Skyliner doesn’t run this late ). Instead of a nice daytime flight I’ll now have an overnight flight to arrive in KL about 6am. In fact, the further delay may well have been so that we can arrive amongst the first landings allowed at KLIA in the morning (I’m not sure if they have an overnight shutdown there).
As part of my research I need to look into Amazon.com’s Kindle account offerings. Because of their setup with geographic rights restrictions it’s difficult to set up such an account without a US-registered credit card. Does anyone reading this have an Amazon.com Kindle account who is also available to help us get information about their practices? It’s nothing bad, it’s that we’ve been told Amazon.com provide a “Family Account” with features we’re recommending more service providers should give, but which aren’t available on Amazon.co.uk (and Amazon.co.jp’s account information is mostly in formal Japanese which is a bit beyond me).
A non-Culture SF book by Iain M. Banks. According to something I read online there were some claims by non-M fans that this should have been an Iain Banks novel, becase it was mainstream not SF. Clearly the Margaret Atwood school of genre-definition – if it doesn’t include spaceships and space squid then it’s not SF. Rubbish of course. While a non-Culture novel, this is an SF novel in a grand tradition. Parallel universes have been a staple SF trope for many years. There are more than a few hints of Richard Meredith’s Timeliner Trilogy here, though with Banks’ take on it. There are multiple viewpoints, though only one told in first person, the rest in over-the-shoulder third person. There’s a complicated temporakl structure with flashbacks and time-skipping (of some kind, perhaps just moving to a near-identical parallel world which lagged behind the rest in time progression). This jumping around in time and viewpoint is perhaps a little over-contrived to turn what is actually a fairly simple story into something more complicated. Worth perservering with, but not his best non-Culture SF novel.
Te year just turned in Tokyo. Despite some illness this year my life is generally pretty good and I’m happy with it. I hope you are with yours, or at least that 2013 gets better for you.