Intersectional Types

Chris Martens (@chrisamaphone) has founded Intersectional Types, a new mailing list for programming language researchers.
In some ways, this list should be considered just another research list, such as the TYPES forum. This space can be used for research questions, literature guidance, starting collaborative efforts, introductions and updates to current research projects, open-ended philosophical questions about grand research visions, links to blog posts/papers, announcement of CFPs and job postings, announcements of achievements and breakthroughs.

In addition, this list is a response to a problem: that PL research communities have a really hard time attracting, retaining, and especially *valuing* people who are marginalized in society. This problem is in no way unique to PL, but the purpose of this list is to bring together folks with similar enough research interests that we can provide each other support that’s meaningful within the context of our specific field.

Some specific examples of activity we encourage, but don’t see on traditional research fora, are: requests for career mentorship and advice (especially along an academic career track); requests for feedback on papers and blog posts; giving (remote) practice talks; organizing local meetups and events; posting about mentorship programs, fellowships, summer schools, and other opportunities; venting about the ways our environments are unwelcoming and dysfunctional; and discussing how we ourselves can create more welcoming and supportive environments when we are in positions of leadership.
I previously posted about Chris's research on linear logic and storytelling. Intersectional Types, along with Lambda Ladies, marks an important step toward supporting diversity in the PL community. Well done, Chris, and welcome!

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Lambda Days

I am on the programme committee for Lambda Days, Krakow, 18-19 February 2016.




Paul Hudak Symposium: Putting the Funk in Functional Programming

Thank you to John Peterson, who is organising a symposium in memory of Paul Hudak. I was sorry to miss the session devoted to Paul at ICFP. Paul made huge contributions to FP, and though he was only a little older than me I was proud to have him as a mentor. I'm looking forward to the meeting. The symposium will take place Friday 29--Saturday 30 April 2016 at Yale.

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Haskell gets Wired (but does Wired get Haskell?)

WIRED's business section has an article on Haskell, Facebook's New Spam-Killer Hints at the Future of Coding
LOUIS BRANDY PAUSES before answering, needing some extra time to choose his words. “I’m going to get in so much trouble,” he says. The question, you see, touches on an eternally controversial topic: the future of computer programming languages.
Brandy is a software engineer at Facebook, and alongside a team of other Facebookers, he spent the last two years rebuilding the system that removes spam—malicious, offensive, or otherwise unwanted messages—from the world’s largest social network. That’s no small task—Facebook juggles messages from more than 1.5 billion people worldwide—and to tackle the problem, Brandy and team made an unusual choice: they used a programming language called Haskell.
If you consider that companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon represent where the rest of the internet is going—as the internet grows, so many other online services will face the same problems it faces today—Facebook’s Haskell project can indeed point the way for the programming world as a whole. That doesn’t mean Haskell will be ubiquitous in the years to come. Because it’s so different from traditional programming languages, coders often have trouble learning to use it; undoubtedly, this will prevent widespread adoption. But Facebook’s work is a sign that other languages will move in Haskell’s general direction.
What about Haskell itself? In the long run, could it evolve to the point where it becomes the norm? Could coders evolve to the point where they embrace it large numbers? “I don’t know,” Brandy says. “But I don’t think it would be a bad thing.”
Spotted via Katie Miller (@codemiller) and Manuel Chakravarty (@TechnicalGrace).

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The control group is out of control

From The control group is out of control, by Scott Alexander (Star Slate Codex):

Allan Crossman calls parapsychology the control group for science.
That is, in let’s say a drug testing experiment, you give some people the drug and they recover. That doesn’t tell you much until you give some other people who are taking a placebo drug you know doesn’t work – but which they themselves believe in – and see how many of them recover. That number tells you how many people will recover whether the drug works or not. Unless people on your real drug do significantly better than people on the placebo drug, you haven’t found anything.
On the meta-level, you’re studying some phenomenon and you get some positive findings. That doesn’t tell you much until you take some other researchers who are studying a phenomenon you know doesn’t exist – but which they themselves believe in – and see how many of them get positive findings. That number tells you how many studies will discover positive results whether the phenomenon is real or not. Unless studies of the real phenomenon do significantly better than studies of the placebo phenomenon, you haven’t found anything.
Trying to set up placebo science would be a logistical nightmare. You’d have to find a phenomenon that definitely doesn’t exist, somehow convince a whole community of scientists across the world that it does, and fund them to study it for a couple of decades without them figuring out the gig.
Luckily we have a natural experiment in terms of parapsychology – the study of psychic phenomena – which most reasonable people don’t believe exists but which a community of practicing scientists does and publishes papers on all the time.
The results are pretty dismal. Parapsychologists are able to produce experimental evidence for psychic phenomena about as easily as normal scientists are able to produce such evidence for normal, non-psychic phenomena. This suggests the existence of a very large “placebo effect” in science – ie with enough energy focused on a subject, you can always produce “experimental evidence” for it that meets the usual scientific standards.
Bem, Tressoldi, Rabeyron, and Duggan (2014) ... is parapsychology’s way of saying “thanks but no thanks” to the idea of a more rigorous scientific paradigm making them quietly wither away.
You might remember Bem as the prestigious establishment psychologist who decided to try his hand at parapsychology and to his and everyone else’s surprise got positive results. Everyone had a lot of criticisms, some of which were very very good, and the study failed replication several times. Case closed, right?
Earlier this month Bem came back with a meta-analysis of ninety replications from tens of thousands of participants in thirty three laboratories in fourteen countries confirming his original finding, p < 1.2 * -1010, Bayes factor 7.4 * 109, funnel plot beautifully symmetrical [see figure above], p-hacking curve nice and right-skewed, Orwin fail-safe n of 559, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. ... This is far better than the average meta-analysis. Bem has always been pretty careful and this is no exception.
Spotted by Conrad Hughes. Cheers, Conrad!




Don Syme awarded Silver Medal by Royal Academy of Engineering

 Congratulations, Don!
For over two decades, the Academy’s Silver Medals have recognised exceptional personal contributions from early- to mid-career engineers who have advanced the cause of engineering in the UK.
Three of the UK’s most talented engineers are to receive the Royal Academy of Engineering’s coveted Silver Medal for remarkable technical  achievements in their fields, coupled with commercial success.
They are the inventor of 3D printed surgical instruments, an
indoor location-tracking technology pioneer, and the creator of the F#
computer programming language.
 Full RAE Announcement. Spotted by Kevin Hammond.

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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Sydney Padua explores an alternate universe wherein Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage complete the Analytical Engine and use it to (at the order of Queen Victoria) fight crime. I've blogged before about the web comic, but the book is even better.

Padua's tome reconciles hilarity with accuracy. I am not normally a fan of footnotes: if it is worth saying, say it inline; don't force your poor reader to break the flow of thought and eye, and leap to the bottom of the page. But here is the glorious exception, where the footnotes supplement, argue with, and occasionally threaten to overflow the comic. Even the footnotes have footnotes: endnotes cite sources for the dialogue, present pocket biographies of Ada and Charles' contemporaries Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Dodgson, and George Boole, quote at length from original sources, and explain the workings of the Analytic Engine. In the midst of an illustrated fantasia riff on Alice in Wonderland, the footnotes pursue an academic war as to whether or not Babbage truly considered Lovelace to be the Empress of Number. Padua makes pursuit of Victorian arcana a thrilling adventure of its own. Highly recommended!

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A brief bibliography on parametricity

Henry Story asked HoTT Cafe about parametricity, prompting creation of a handy, short bibliography including Hermida, Reddy, and Robinson; Ahmed; Dreyer; Milewski (artist of the elegant diagram above); and Shulman.

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How badly will Audible misuse my contact list?

In today's world, where our books, music, and photos belong to the Cloud rather than to ourselves, one problem we face is commercial concerns insisting on increased access to personal data.

I received the following note from Audible:

It looks like you may have an older version of Audible app installed on your device which needs to be updated before 6/30/15 to ensure that you enjoy uninterrupted access to your library.
Option 1: Continue to use the older version of the app.
If you receive an error message when you attempt to sign in, look in your emails for a password that you will need for sign in.
Option 2 (Recommended): Upgrade to the latest version.

Warmest Regards,
The Audible Team
What the note doesn't mention is that updating the app requires giving Audible access to my contacts list.

Does anyone know how Audible is using the contact list? Worst case scenario is they email advertisements to my friends in my name, telling them what I am currently reading.

Do customers have any legal redress? Changing the terms of service to require access to the customer's contact list is the sort of thing the law should protect against.

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Haskell in Production: Bdellium

At Medium, Fredrik (@ique) describes using Haskell in anger.
At the start of the products’ life we mostly analyzed small retirement plans with 100 to 500 plan participants. As time went on we started seeing plans with 2,000 participants and even 10,000 participants. At these numbers the execution time for the processing started going outside of acceptable bounds. Luckily, every participant could be analyzed in isolation from the others and so the problem was embarrassingly parallel.
I changed one line of code from
map outputParticipant parts
map outputParticipant parts `using` parListChunk 10 rdeepseq
and execution times were now about 3.7x faster on our 4-core server. That was enough to entirely fix the issue for another 6 months, during which time we could focus on further enhancing the product instead of worrying about performance. Later, we did do extensive profiling and optimization of the code to further reduce execution times significantly, but we didn’t want to prematurely optimize anything.
Spotted via Manual Chakravarty @TacticalGrace.

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Stylish Academic Writing

Surprised to discover myself the subject of a "Spotlight on Style" in Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword. Thanks to @ctford for the heads up. The segment is about titles (no surprise there) and also quotes Robby Findler, Simon Peyton-Jones, Ralf Laemmel, Sam Lindley, Simon Marlow, Martin Odersky, Enno Runne, and Jeremy Yallop.



Royal Navy whistleblower says Trident is "a disaster waiting to happen"

A Royal Navy weapons expert who served on HMS Victorious from January to April this year has released via WikiLeaks an eighteen-page report claiming Trident is "a disaster waiting to happen".

McNeil's report on WikiLeaks.

Original report in The Sunday Herald.
McNeilly's report alleges 30 safety and security flaws on Trident submarines, based at Faslane on the Clyde. They include failures in testing whether missiles could be safely launched, burning toilet rolls starting a fire in a missile compartment, and security passes and bags going unchecked.
He also reports alarms being muted because they went off so often, missile safety procedures being ignored and top secret information left unguarded.
The independent nuclear submarine expert, John Large, concluded McNeilly was credible, though he may have misunderstood some of the things he saw.
Large said: "Even if he is right about the disorganisation, lack of morale, and sheer foolhardiness of the personnel around him - and the unreliability of the engineered systems - it is likely that the Trident system as a whole will tolerate the misdemeanours, as it's designed to do." 
(Regarding the quote from Large, I'm less sanguine. Ignoring alarms is a standard prelude to disaster. See Normal Accidents.)

Second report in The National.
“We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking, and yet everybody is accepting the risk to the public,” he warned. “It’s just a matter of time before we’re infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist.”
Coverage in CommonSpace.



Summer School on DSL Design and Implementation

The Scala team at EPFL is running a Summer School on DSL Design and Implementation, 12-17 July in Lausanne, Switzerland. They have a great line-up, including Martin Odersky, Tiark Rompf, Kunle Olukotun, and Matthew Flatt. I'll be there, speaking on A practical theory of language-integrated query and Quoted Domain Specific Languages: Everything old is new again.

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Status Report 5

I am recovered. My bone marrow biopsy and my scan at the National Amyloidosis Centre show no problems, and my urologist has discharged me. Photo above shows me and Bob Harper (otherwise known as TSOPLRWOKE, The Society of Programming Language Researchers With One Kidney Each) at Asilomar for Snapl.

My thanks again to staff of the NHS. Everyone was uniformly friendly and professional, and the standard of care has been excellent. My thanks also to everyone who wished me well, and especially to the SIGPLAN EC, who passed a get-well card around the world for signing, as shown below. I am touched to have received so many good wishes.




Bright Club: Computability

A brief introduction to the hilarious subject of computability theory. Performed as part of Bright Club at The Stand in Edinburgh, on Tuesday 28 April 2015.

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Fractal Maps

Sky Welch's Fractal Maps updates Alasdair Corbett's Mandelbrot Maps. It renders faster, and displays the two curves side-by-side (rather than displaying one large and one tiny). Mandelbrot Maps is the most popular Mandelbrot app in Google Play, with over 10,000 downloads. I expect Fractal Maps to catch up soon. Try it today! (Disclaimer/boast: both Sky and Alasdair produced their software as part of UG4 projects under my supervision.)

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Bright Club

I'm performing at Bright Club, Edinburgh, Tuesday 28 April at The Stand. Doors open 7:30, show begins 8:30. See you there! Details, tickets £5.

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Prime Minister of Singapore plans to learn Haskell

The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, plans to learn Haskell.
My children are in IT, two of them – both graduated from MIT. One of them browsed a book and said, “Here, read this”. It said “Haskell – learn you a Haskell for great good”, and one day that will be my retirement reading.
Spotted by Jeremy Yallop.

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Multiple inheritance, revisited

Via @ReifyReflect (Sam Lindley) and @PedalKings. Previously: Multiple inheritance.




A complement to blame

A complement to blame
Philip Wadler.
SNAPL, May 2015.

Contracts, gradual typing, and hybrid typing all permit less-precisely typed and more-precisely typed code to interact. Blame calculus encompasses these, and guarantees blame safety: blame for type errors always lays with less-precisely typed code. This paper serves as a complement to the literature on blame calculus: it elaborates on motivation, comments on the reception of the work, critiques some work for not properly attending to blame, and looks forward to applications. No knowledge of contracts, gradual typing, hybrid typing, or blame calculus is assumed.

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Blame and Coercion:Together Again for the First Time

Blame and Coercion:Together Again for the First Time
Jeremy Siek, Peter Thiemann, Philip Wadler.
PLDI, June 2015.

C#, Dart, Pyret, Racket, TypeScript, VB: many recent languages integrate dynamic and static types via gradual typing. We systematically develop three calculi for gradual typing and the relations between them, building on and strengthening previous work. The calculi are: λB, based on the blame calculus of Wadler and Findler (2009); λC, inspired by the coercion calculus of Henglein (1994); λS inspired by the space-efficient calculus of Herman, Tomb, and Flanagan (2006) and the threesome calculus of Siek and Wadler (2010). While λB is little changed from previous work, λC and λS are new. Together, λB, λC, and λS provide a coherent foundation for design, implementation, and optimisation of gradual types.

We define translations from λB to λC and from λC to λS. Much previous work lacked proofs of correctness or had weak correctness criteria; here we demonstrate the strongest correctness criterion one could hope for, that each of the translations is fully abstract. Each of the calculi reinforces the design of the others: λC has a particularly simple definition, and the subtle definition of blame safety for λB is justified by the simple definition of blame safety for λC. Our calculus λS is implementation-ready: the first space-efficient calculus that is both straightforward to implement and easy to understand. We give two applications: first, using full abstraction from λC to λS to validate the challenging part of full abstraction between λB and λC; and, second, using full abstraction from λB to λS to easily establish the Fundamental Property of Casts, which required a custom bisimulation and six lemmas in earlier work.

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Codes that changed the world

Aleks Krotoski tackles programming languages in BBC Radio 4's Codes that Changed the World. The five episodes comprise: Fortran, Cobol, Basic, Java, and The Tower of Babel. Functional programming and Haskell are singled out for special attention in the final programme, which includes a interview with Haskell developer Elise Huard; online is a clip of interview with Simon Peyton Jones that did not make it on air.

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Toolkits for the Mind

An article on programming languages aimed at a general readership, from MIT Technical Review. Spotted by De Lesley Hutchins.
When the Japanese computer scientist Yukihiro Matsumoto decided to create Ruby, a programming language that has helped build Twitter, Hulu, and much of the modern Web, he was chasing an idea from a 1966 science fiction novel called Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. At the book’s heart is an invented language of the same name that upgrades the minds of all those who speak it. “Babel-17 is such an exact analytical language, it almost assures you technical mastery of any situation you look at,” the protagonist says at one point. With Ruby, Matsumoto wanted the same thing: to reprogram and improve the way programmers think....When I meet Yaron Minsky, Jane Street’s head of technology, he’s sitting at a desk with a working Enigma machine beside him, one of only a few dozen of the World War II code devices left in the world. I would think it the clear winner of the contest for Coolest Secret Weapon in the Room if it weren’t for the way he keeps talking about an obscure programming language called OCaml. Minsky, a computer science PhD, convinced his employer 10 years ago to rewrite the company’s entire trading system in OCaml.

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Pension cuts - respond to USS

The UCU has lain down its placards and ended the strike to avoid cuts to pensions. Our one remaining hope is for members to make their outrage known in the USS consultation exercise, which ends 22 May 2015. I hope everyone with a USS pension will respond. Suggested responses from UCU Left and UCU are linked; please comment below, especially to list other suggested responses.

Universities UK argue that the reductions are necessary to avoid a deficit, but their claim has been widely criticised. A group of prominent statisticians point out Universities UK inflated the deficit by assuming a buoyant economy when predicting future salaries but assuming a recession when predicting investment returns.

In 2011, Universities UK imposed vastly reduced pensions on new hires. Old hires who pay into the pension fund for forty years receive a pension of one-half their final salary; new hires who do the same receive a pension of one-half their average salary. Basing pensions on average rather than final salary may be sensible, but to do so with no little or no adjustment in multiplier suggests employers used this as an excuse to slip in a large cut; new hires receive about 2/3 the benefits received by old hires. All staff also suffered other cuts to pensions: additional caps and less good adjustment for inflation. At the time, it was predicted that within a few years old hires would be moved to the inferior scheme for new hires, and that is what has now come to pass.

Like many in USS, employees and employers alike, I am concerned that the changes will make UK academia a less attractive option for potential scholars.

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Status Report 4

It seemed as if no time had passed: the anaesthetist injected my spine, and next thing I knew I was waking in recovery. Keyhole surgery to remove my left kidney was completed on Tuesday 17 March, and I expect to leave the Western General on Saturday 21 March. Meanwhile, progress on diagnosing the amyloid spotted in my liver: I had a bone marrow biopsy on Thursday 19 March, and two days of testing at the National Amyloidosis Centre in London are to be scheduled. NHS has provided excellent care all around.

My room was well placed for watching the partial eclipse this morning. A nurse with a syringe helped me jury rig a crude pinhole camera (below), but it was too crude. Fortunately, there was exactly the right amount of cloud cover through which to view the crescent sun. My fellow patients and our nurses all gathered together, and for five minutes it was party time on the ward.

Update: I left the hospital as planned on Saturday 21 March. Thanks to Guido, Sam, Shabana, Stephen, and Jonathan for visits; to Marjorie for soup; to Sukkat Shalom council for a card and to Gillian for hand delivery; and to Maurice for taking me in while my family was away.

Related: Status report, Status report 2, A paean to the Western General, Status report 3.




Multiple inheritance

Retweeted by Don Syme.




Petraeus won't serve a day in jail for his leaks. Edward Snowden shouldn't either.

Trevor Timm in the Guardian argues that David Petraeus' crimes, inspired by adultery, are more serious than Edward Snowden's, inspired by liberty.

The sweetheart deal the Justice Department gave to former CIA director David Petraeus for leaking top secret information compared to the stiff jail sentences other low-level leakers have received under the Obama administration has led to renewed calls for leniency for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And no one makes the case better than famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Ellsberg, the first person ever charged under the Espionage Act or any other statute for leaking the Pentagon Papers to Congress and seventeen newspapers, told me on Thursday: “The factual charges against [Edward Snowden] are not more serious, as violations of the classification regulations and non-disclosure agreements, than those Petraeus has admitted to, which are actually quite spectacular.”

It’s hard to overstate the shocking nature of the government’s case against Petraeus. The information that he gave Paula Broadwell, his friendly biographer with whom he was then having an extramarital affair, was among the most sensitive in the US government. According to the indictment, Petraeus gave Broadwell eight black books containing “classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings … and [his personal] discussions with the president of the United States.”

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Status Report 3

I have a date for keyhole surgery to remove my kidney: Tuesday 17 March. This fits what I was told previously, so all is to schedule. Recovery time is likely to be four weeks. I expect to be in hospital until Monday 23 March: visitors most welcome! Please call the Western General, or Level 4 office has my contact details.

My liver biopsy took place on Thursday 19 February; the hardest part was to lie still for six hours after. I had meetings with my infectious disease doctor on Wednesday 25 February and with my cardiologist on Monday 2 March. My endocarditis is clear, but will need to be monitored once a year. The biopsy shows a deposit of amyloid protein; experts are being consulted, but it has no effect on my surgery. My thanks to all my doctors and the staff at the Western General, who have been excellent.

Related: Status report, Status report 2, A paean to the Western General, Status report 4.



An Open Letter to John Swinney

Dear John Swinney,

I sat in the gallery yesterday to watch the debate on Privacy and the State. As a member of the Open Rights Group, I have a keen interest in the subject.

The Identity Management and Privacy Principles, published in October 2014 with your name on the foreword, states in Section 4.6:
If a public service organisation needs to link personal information from different systems and databases (internally or between organisations), it should avoid sharing persistent identifiers; other mechanisms, such as matching, should be considered.
Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie drew attention to the proposal that stakeholders should share the Unique Citizen Reference Number (UCRN). Using the UCRN as a key would link multiple databases, in effect forming a super-database, which is what concerns those who object to the plan. In your closing speech, Harvie intervened to ask you to acknowledge that the proposal breaches the Scottish Government's own guidelines. You responded:
I do not believe that the proposal breaches the data privacy principles that we set out.
Time was short, so you said no more, but I invite you now to elaborate on your bald denial. The proposal certainly appears to contravene the principle  advocated by your own document---how can you claim it does not?

It is not only your own guidelines which question your plan. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners have raised concerns about sharing information collected by the NHS with HMRC, and the UK Information Commissioner has warned that the proposal may breach European and British data protection laws. Both these criticism were raised during the debate, but ignored by you---I invite you to answer them as well.

There are ways forward that meet the needs of government and citizens that are far less problematic. I welcome your offer to review the proposals, and I hope that in light of these criticisms the Scottish Government will rethink its plans.


Philip Wadler
Professor of Theoretical Computer Science
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh


Minutes of the debate on Privacy and the State

Identity Management and Privacy Principles

Report of the debate from BBC News

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This may come in handy next time I need to lecture on Russell's Paradox. From SMBC.

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Watchdog says plan for super-database could create national ID number for every Scot

The Herald Scotland  has got the message. Let's hope Holyrood does as well.
Watchdog: SNP plan for super-database could create national ID number for every Scot.

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Say no to a Scottish national ID system

The Scottish government has opened for consultation plans of that would lead to database sharing among a vast range of organisations, and could lead to the introduction of de facto ID cards via the back door. Responses to the consultation are due by 25 February 2015. ORG Scotland writes:

A minor, barely noticed consultation is not the way to make a major change to Scottish citizens’ privacy and their relationship with the state. Creating a national ID register was rejected by the SNP and the UK, and the bare minimum should be for the Scottish Executive to introduce primary legislation whereby the public and MSPs can debate the nature of these changes and whether they are acceptable.

Respond to the consultation quickly, courtesy of ORG.

ORG is planning meetings to discuss how we can stop the Scottish Government's plans in EdinburghGlasgow and Aberdeen, and is tracking developments in their blog.

Here is the original consultation,  and a detailed response by ORG.

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A paean to the Western General

I resided in Ward 42 of the Regional Infectious Disease Unit of Edinburgh's Western General Hospital from 17 Dec—2 Jan. For most of the time I received antibiotic by drip or injection every four hours, day and night, and I thought my stay would be six weeks. Fortunately, my infection reacted well to antibiotic and I could be released early for outpatient treatment.

The building is ugly, but the people inside it are beautiful. I cannot recall another time or place where everyone was so unfailingly helpful and friendly. On the first day, a nurse found a staff member willing to lend me a charger when my phone ran down. The doctors took as much time as needed to answer my questions. The nurses were cheerful despite constant interruptions. The men who brought the coffee remembered that I liked it with milk, and one often asked after my twins (he had twins as well). No one objected when my daughter brought me a poster of the Justice League and I blue-tacked to my wall; several admired it.

Most often, I interact with institutions where the people who help you are, clearly, in it for the pay. They are nice only to the extent required by their job, and often less than that. Part of the difference in attitude here must be that the people know they are actively helping patients in need. I take my hat off to an institution that inculcates a caring attitude in everyone.

(Picture above courtesy of The Edinburgh Sketcher, whose pictures adorn a couple of corridors in the Western General. The RIDU is a different building, though somehow every building in the complex contrives to be equally unattractive.)

Related: Status report, Status report 2.



Status Report 2

An update to my status. My doctors continue to monitor my heart infection, but it appears cleared up, along with the problems in my abdomen.

I met with my urologist on 4 Feb. My latest CAT scan (27 Jan) shows a small mass in my liver and that the tumour on my left kidney has not grown. The mass is unlikely to be a metastasis of the tumour, but the first order of business is to biopsy my liver; this should happen in the next two weeks, and it may take a further two weeks to get the results. Meanwhile, I am on the waiting list for keyhole surgery to remove my left kidney; this should happen in about six weeks. (Hospitals are fined £1000 if it takes more than four weeks, but the Western General currently has thirty people over that limit.) Recovery time is about four weeks. So, with luck, back to work in ten weeks, mid-April.

All four kidney surgeons at the Western General are in the top 10% in the country, so I am in good hands. If keyhole surgery converts to ordinary surgery the recovery time is three months; this happens in 4% of cases. My doctor says it is unlikely to happen to me because, compared to most of his patients, I am young, fit, and slim. Not words I usually hear applied to myself!

Previously: Status report, A paean to the Western General.




Status report

I am off work this semester, being treated for two things: an infection affecting my heart and abdomen; and a tumour on my kidney. I was in hospital 17 Dec—2 Jan, and self-administered antibiotics as an outpatient 3 Jan—29 Jan. The photo shows me partway through self-administration, which required 90 minutes each day.

The infection of my heart and abdomen appears cured, and I am feeling much better. I am awaiting an appointment with urology. It is likely the kidney will need to be removed. The tumour, I am told, is too small to have metastasised. I will have better information once I meet my urologist, but my current guess is that I will be back at work sometime in March.

My thanks to the NHS and to the Western General Hospital for the excellent treatment I have received, and to all my colleagues for their support.




Democracy vs the 1%

To celebrate the 750th anniversary of the first meeting of the British parliament, the BBC Today programme sponsored a special edition of The Public Philosopher, asking the question Why Democracy? The programme spent much time wondering why folk felt disenfranchised but spent barely two minutes on the question of how wealth distorts politics. (Three cheers to Shirley Williams for raising the issue.) An odd contrast, if you compare it to yesterday's story that the wealthiest 1% now own as much as the other 99% combined; or to Lawrence Lessig's Mayday campaign to stop politicians slanting their votes to what will help fund their reelection; or to Thomas Picketty's analysis of why the wealthy inevitably get wealthier. (tl;dr: "Piketty's thesis has been shorthanded as r > g: that the rate of return on capital today -- and through most of history -- has been higher than general economic growth. This means that simply having money is the best way to get more money.")

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