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The chip referred to in the article is implanted into the patient’s body, with electrodes placed deep within the brain. The algorithms used by the chip monitor the brain’s natural activity, and should that natural activity change or fail, the system can then use the electrodes to stimulate normal brain activity.
If it is effective, this could have massive benefits for those suffering from long-term debilitating brain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Great! But when I read the article, I can’t help but parse its content into “this chip has read-write access to your brain”.
Obviously its small size requires it to be a very simple chip, capable of replicating proper neuronal activity to only a very general and non-specific extent – much the same as a pacemaker keeps a heart in rhythm without understanding what it is interacting with. It’s not going to be enough to affect your thoughts or your memories.
But it might be enough for me to fire up my compiler and start coding a drug. Recreational, performance-enhancing, y’know. Whatever sells.
Unfortunately, to produce anything better than these kind of large-scale, insensitive effects on the brain would require much more processing power than a little chip can achieve right now. It would also require a much better understanding of how the brain computes, and to start doing that, we’d have to build a computer that operates like a brain.
Oh. Okay, that seems to be going pretty well too.
So, er… Can we bump up the electrode count on the ReNa, give it and the million-core processor a bit of WiFi, and see if we can make ourselves some Guardian Angels? Because I would be camping outside the lab like an Apple fanboy on NewiPhonemas.
In Douglas Carswell MP’s blog post “Is Mantis going to fly?”, he bemoans the amount of money the Ministry of Defence have spent funding BAE’s Mantis unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), suggesting instead that we should not have invested in it and should instead have bought existing off-the-shelf UAVs, by which he presumably means the MQ-9 Reaper. He goes on to presume that a Mantis procurement contract must no longer be on the cards, based on the response he received to his question to the Secretary of State for Defence.
With all due respect to Mr Carswell, I do believe he’s missed the point here. Not only has the Royal Air Force already bought 13 of the Reaper aircraft, but they have already seen operational use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
BAE’s Mantis vehicle is, as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State Peter Luff says, a technical demonstrator – a one-off prototype built in order to prove the technology behind it. There never was a procurement programme for the Mantis. Sure, BAE received some funding from the Ministry of Defence, though as this DefenseNews article suggests, it may not have been all that much. Mostly it seems like BAE and the other consortium members threw their own money into the Mantis programme, and the MoD put some of their own research budget into it in the hope that the Mantis would suit Britain’s needs better than the Reaper does.
As I write this post, Mr Carswell has updated his own to address the comment of “an angry reader” (not me, by the way) who points out that “Mantis is just a demo project… We’re just seeing if we can do it better”. The MP’s response is to bring up the SA80 rifle and the Future Lynx and Eurofighter programmes. Issues with the SA80 and with the Typhoon have been widely broadcast in the press (though I can’t find anything particularly damning about the Future Lynx from my brief online search). But the fact that the Mantis is a technical demonstrator is still relevant here – the SA80 and the Typhoon are in active production and use by our armed forces, the Mantis is not.
Maybe with our glorious 20/20 hindsight, we should have abandoned the Eurofighter project and bought F35s and F22s. Who knows – it’s not as if those are the epitome of successful programmes. But shying away from technical demonstrators entirely, particularly ones that are largely privately-funded, would result in stagnation. Britain is one of the few countries that maintains a high level of military research of its own, rather than committing to buying all our gear from the Americans or the Russians. While I don’t pretend to have any big numbers to throw around, I would imagine that the defence sector is reasonably important to the British economy, and it would be in poor shape indeed if the Ministry of Defence no longer wished to invest in the kind of technical demonstrator programmes that further our country’s engineering prowess.
(Disclosure: I’m a former employee of QinetiQ, a member of the Mantis consortium, though I’ve had no involvement with Mantis itself.)
A job for bored lazywebbers:
What with Saudi Arabia recently having declared software piracy to be a criminal offence punished by imprisonment, there are certain kinds of DS cartridges that I would be unwilling to take into the country! I will however be taking my DS, my 2nd gen iPod Touch, and my HTC Magic (running Android).
Are there any games for those platforms that offer a shedload of play time per £ – ideally RPGs, strategy games, or the combination thereof?
I have already played to death: TWEWY, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars and Heroes of Mana on the DS, Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds on the iTouch, and every damn tower defence game on Android.
And no, I still don’t have enough spare cash to buy a PSP!
All suggestions appreciated! :D
tl;dr: Internet, please recommend time-sink games.
Just met Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook. Really smart guy with some good ideas on improvement digital engagement in policy making. (Source)
Could I please be the 32768th person to say: “Aaaargh! We’re doomed!”
Now I’m sure there was nothing particularly sinister discussed at that meeting, but I can’t help the shivers down my spine when I discover that my government has been taking advice from Facebook.
From News Feeds to Beacon to Connections to the impossibility of quitting, Facebook’s privacy is continually worsening at a worrying rate. (danah boyd rant; scary employee interview.) And Zuckerberg’s famously cavalier attitude doesn’t help matters either. Facebook are about the only people I would trust less at the helm of the Labour party’s aborted Überdatabase less than the government themselves.
Though that said, perhaps Jacqui Smith needn’t have bothered trying to force the Database State on us after all – half the population (myself included) already signed up for a bigger, leakier, privately owned one.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pipe my net connection through an SSH tunnel so Jeremy Hunt can’t see how close I am to finishing building my stable.
From Tory plans for communities to create their own schools to Guardian hacks begging for alternative currencies, ex-Soviet strategies for social collapse to alarmist talk of counter-insurgency on American soil, there has been a lot of talk lately about the advantages of small, self-sufficient communities over the single one-size-fits-all approach of the nation state. Half the world seems to think that, due to the economic downturn or by deliberate policy decision, the governments of the world won’t be effective at ruling their nations anymore.
In the latter three cases, it reeks of scaremongering – “The End is Nigh, prepare while you still can!” But this kind of idea is infectious. There’s a secret thrill in imagining the downfall of society, and somehow a rose-tinted aura of romance around the idea of self-sufficiency. There’s something that feels good and honest about being part of a small community rather than just one citizen out of 60 million.
But there’s a reason why, over the centuries, fiefdoms and tribal territories merged together into the nations we have today. Being a small, self-sufficient community is really hard and you don’t want to do it.
Whatever scale of small community you pick, there are problems.
With a village, maybe you can be self-sufficient on food provided you have enough arable land and people to farm it. But you’ll all be getting by at the subsistence level, your quality of life will be poor.
With a group of villages working together, you can grow more things, your diet gets better and you get more resistant to crop shortages and disease. But that’s the kind of issues we’re still talking about. Economic doomsayers who suggest that this is the kind of community we should be working towards are suggesting we revert our massively successful first-world country to third-world near-poverty.
With towns working together, finally we see infrastructure, healthcare, education. But we still can’t afford to defend ourselves. Effective police forces and militaries, and with them the public’s confidence that they can go about their daily business with little risk of assault or invasion, only really become possible at the level of the nations we live in today.
Splitting up into self-sufficient communities becomes even more difficult because the infrastructure we’ve built up over thousands of years of being a country doesn’t lend itself well to being split up again. Case in point: I live in a conurbation, a fusion of three towns that’s home to around 400,000 people. How much farmland do we have within the boundaries of this conurbation? Oh, none. How would we feed that many people? Well, we’d have to absorb the rest of Dorset (population 700,000) into our community. Suddenly it’s not small and romantic anymore. We might as well call it Wessex and find someone called Alfred to be king of it for about 5 years until Athelstan 2 turns up.
To top it all, we ourselves have, through thousands of years of moving away from this lifestyle, become incompatible with subsistence-level communities. They’re not going to have a lot of demand for autonomous vehicles, or for warship combat system designers, or even (god forbid) bloggers. What if – and I know this is going to come as a shock – the hairdressers and management consultants and advertising executives that live on my street turn out to not be very good at farming?
No, it’s not going to work. Nations are what we have, and nations are what we have to stick with for the foreseeable future. If the econopocalypse brings down governments, makes them inefficient, so be it. What we have to do, and luckily what happens naturally, is try our best to fix them.
As a country and a collective body of people, all we ever do is the bare minimum to ensure that life carries on as normal. And for once, that’s not a bad thing. When our society breaks in little ways, we need to find little ways of patching it up. If the Tories’ “free schools” work, then great – it’s a little patch to a problem which is tiny, if it exists at all.
But politicians telling us that “Britain is broken!” and bloggers telling us to prepare for a life of subsistence farming just aren’t helpful.
My attendance at the latest RABIES event, and the ensuing “oh god I’m old” melancholy, have set me off really, really missing my own generation of Southampton geeks. And since Twitter seems generally in agreement, I propose: Some Sort of Event! (Fanfare please.)
I’d like to organise another Geek Meet, with a list of attendees more akin to RABIES 1 than RABIES 6. That would include, in no particular order: Myself and Eric, Andy, Rhiannon, Mark (+Alice?), Chantelle, Claire, Donna, Anna, Racheet (+Anne?), Ali, Nick, Martin, Leo, Pete.
Some other complications:
- Anyone know how to get in touch with Anna or Claire? I haven’t spoken to either in years (for which I now feel rather guilty).
- Is Racheet still a controversial guest, or can we consider all the drama “soooo 2006”?
- I can’t remember if Sam and Emily were at RABIES, but they should certainly be invited to this.
- Millzee, Zane, Jo and possibly Frankie were at RABIES 1 too, we might want to invite them too?
- I would feel kind of harsh deliberately excluding 2nd-gen geeks such as Mike & Gemma, Alex, Hugo and Little Andy, but this is already turning into quite a huge guest list.
Next issue: where to hold it? Southampton would seem reasonable; do we have enough people who could offer crash space? Our flat in Bournemouth is on offer, though we couldn’t sleep everybody. And London is probably the easiest place for everyone to get to (and the most to do), but where would we all stay?
And the other question, when should we hold it? Summer might be best for things to do, but holidays and a lack of notice might make it hard to get everyone. Perhaps later in the year?
So that our discussion doesn’t stay relegated to Twitter, here’s a blog post. Let’s have it out in the comments and see what we can come up with! (Probably best if we all comment on LiveJournal to keep everything in one place - and for old time’s sake!)
My main argument against owning an iPhone, despite their shininess, has been one of vendor lock-in. Once you have an iPhone, you are virtually compelled to also use iTunes, as it won’t sync with anything else. And that dictates your choice of operating system and primary media player, both of them towards software that I’d not otherwise pick (Windows or Mac over Linux, and iTunes over virtually anything else).
So I don’t have an iPhone. But I do have an Android phone, and even there the perceived lock-in is starting to irritate me. Android phones are at least indifferent to your choice of OS and media player, and do not pretend that in this day and age you still have a reason to sync your phone to your computer by a cable and dedicated software.
Even though I’m unlikely to abandon Google products – at least in the realms of web-based e-mail and calendaring, they’re almost certainly the best around – the fact that owning an Android handset would make it painful to do so if I wanted to is growing irritating. I’m for some reason tempted, next time my phone contract is up for renewal, to buy something like an unlocked N900, to forego shiny interfaces and thousands of apps in favour of a mediocre experience that at least doesn’t make my choices for me.
Perhaps this is leading my brain down dark, geeky alleyways, and I should go install Gentoo on my toaster or something to get it all out of my system.
Somehow, against all odds, a party we threw in June of 2005 to celebrate the graduation of Racheet and Andy turned into a regular yearly event. This, for spaffy self-indulgent reasons, is its history.
RABIES, a horrible backronym of “Racheet and Andy’s Big Incredible Extravaganza of Summertime”, came at what was the end of my second year at University. Andy and I cooked what was to be a sit-down meal for 18 specially-invited guests, and would have been just that if we’d had enough chairs and tables to seat everybody. In practice most of us sat on the floor and served ourselves buffet-style from food on the two big tables we’d borrowed from the Games Society.
There was suspicious vegetarian stuffing, an experimental recipe all of our own. There was Christmas pudding (what better time than June?), there were swordfights in the garden under the blazing sun, and there was performance of the worst lemon fanfic we could find on the internet.
It marked the closing of a time in my life that was saturated with the company of so many friends – a time I knew would soon be gone, but RABIES was always about forgetting that for a day.
It was, with the possible exception of the day I proposed to my girlfriend, the happiest day of my life.
If the first RABIES marked the end of a year of friendship, the next marked the end of a year of drama. So much fell apart in the nine months that preceded it, yet by the end, by the time June and RABIES rolled around, much was fixed again.
2006 was the graduation year for many of us, myself included. We spent days trying to figure out another suitably horrid backronym involving everyone’s initials, but in the end gave up and declared it “RABIES 2”. Racheet and Andy were both still in attendance, so it didn’t seem too much of a stretch!
Out of necessity we relocated to a different house and the sit-down meal became a barbecue, a change that was to define all future events.
RABIES 3 was a turning point for me. Having graduated and moved away, I was coming back to Southampton just for the party. And having not spent a great deal of time in my old University town that year, RABIES had moved on a generation. It had become adopted by the Games Society as a society event, attended now by freshers that everyone else knew, but I had never met.
I had no imminent leaving to forget that year. But as a father-to-be with a brain full of all the stress that entails, I suppose it helped me forget about that for a day – pretend I was back at University again, with a child’s carefree existence away from what my life had become.
As the now increasingly inaccurate RABIES 4 approached, a thread appeared on the Games Society forum asking what on earth “RABIES” stood for. It dawned on me then: they don’t know who Racheet and Andy are. Three years had passed. Those graduating that year could have spent three whole years of University life in the time since we’d said goodbye to those two.
New traditions were born here – the location moved once more, though the barbecues remained. It was here that the dubious tradition of “Shirtless O’Clock” was born, and where our fondness for fire staves and poi blossomed into fire-swords, fire-chucks and the fire-naginata. Truly, it was a new generation of drunken recklessness!
The fifth RABIES continued in a similar vein, with alcohol and barbecue and fire aplenty. We also ventured deep into the hedge behind what was by then known as the House of A (and E), no longer the preserve of Gemma and Tallulah and the Chemistry students of the once-glorious Extreme Breakfasting Society. Beyond that hedge we found all kinds of bizarre things. We emerged bearing them, but we emerged changed people.
The attendance these days tops 40, and the hunt continues for ever larger back gardens in which to hold it. Nothing short of 20 pounds of mince and 40 sausages were bought for the barbecue, and outdoor tables groaned under the weight of drinks bottles piled high.
And oddly, things have come full circle, for Andy is graduating again this year, albeit in a city far from us.
I am the last of what we called the Soton Kiddies to still be in attendance at RABIES; the only person to have been to all six. I don’t organise, these days, and I am barely involved with the cooking.
And I wonder, at times like these, how long RABIES will continue.
Will I still be going when I’m 30, five years from now? Did we create a tradition that will last the test of time, still happening every year 10 or 20 years from now, when no-one remembers any of us, and RABIES has become an acronym for something else entirely?
I guess it’s funny who you do and who you don’t stay in touch with. After all this time I’m still partying with people whose time at Uni didn’t even intersect with mine, but yet I see my best friends maybe once a year at most. And of the three people I spent my time at Uni developing crushes on? I haven’t spoken to two of them since 2006.
I returned to my hotel at half past ten last night, having drunk just enough Kräuser to make Labskaus palatable, to find a Giant Smug Cameron Face grinning at me from a lectern outside 10 Downing Street. “The Queen has asked me to form a new government,” he began, and I started to wonder if I should have had more beer after all.
So we have a new Tory government. It plans to fight the deficit, but yet to raise the inheritance tax threshold to a million pounds. It promises an end to the National ID Card scheme and database, yet wants to crack down on immigration, especially those who have the audacity to not speak English very well. It promises to make the poor better off, but it seems to want to achieve this by paying people 150 quid to get married while they sell off what public services we have left.
It says “Britain is broken” and means, as all parties mean when they push that agenda, “Britain is changing, we don’t really understand how or why, and we’re a bit scared”.
But this Conservative government is a little special because, even at its heart, it is also a Liberal Democrat government. The two are in coalition for the first time in 60 years, and no-one’s really sure what will become of that. Do we dare hope for something good?
It’s quite telling that not only do we have a hung parliament, in which no party has been given an overall majority, but we don’t even have an easy coalition either.
Despite 13 years of dubious wars, expenses scandals, erosion of privacy and our worst recession since the 1930s, Labour still command nearly a third of the vote. Despite widespread fear and mistrust amongst the young, the Conservative party command over a third. And the Lib Dems are still a non-entity for a lot of people – not having been in power for over 70 years, we have no way of knowing if we can trust them or even if they’re competent.
Though there were campaigns asking people to vote tactically in order to deliberately produce a hung parliament, no-one seems happy with any of the options it’s produced. A Labour / Lib Dem coalition was unpopular as it could have meant another four years of the same PM, cabinet and policies. The Conservative / Lib Dem coalition that we now have was unpopular too, with many staunch Tories and Lib Dems accusing their party of turning traitor or selling out. And the alternative to these was a minority government, which would have been no different at all to a majority one except that we’d probably all go to the polls again much sooner.
But on the prospect of electoral reform, which all three parties have talked about and a good proportion of the electorate are in favour of, could we have asked for a better result? The Lib Dems have been pushing their agenda strongly, and at least a referendum seems to be on the cards. The Conservatives also seem to be coming around to the Lib Dems’ plan to increase the tax threshold to help those on low incomes, so perhaps the poor won’t be shafted after all.
I do worry about the next election, though. Labour has a tough job to ditch its reputation and win voters back. Even with Proportional Representation, the Lib Dems don’t have enough support to rule outright. And Cameron’s modernism and willingness to dish out cabinet seats to the Lib Dems could spark an all-out war in the Tory ranks. If we thought all the parties were pretty unappealing at this election, it could be a whole lot worse next time around. Who will we elect when we don’t trust anyone?