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David Bradley science journalist, photographer, musician
Updated: 18 hours 8 min ago

Predictive text: Darwin’s computers

21 January, 2015 - 09:05

Charles Darwin’s IBM computers

There are lots of quotes around attributed to the great and the good throughout the years, but often these are anything but direct quotes and in some cases turn out to have far more intriguing origins.

For example, the quote often attributed to Thomas John Watson, Sr. (1874–1956) who was chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM) in 1943 had him as saying:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

IBM-five-computers

There are no recorded speeches nor documents that providence evidence for this as a quote from Watson. Indeed, the earliest mention of it was on the Usenet in 1986, although that may well have come from an article in the San Diego Evening Tribune by Neil Morgan, who wrote: “Forrest Shumway, chairman of The Signal Cos., doesn’t make predictions. His role model is Tom Watson, then IBM chairman, who said in 1958: ‘I think there is a world market for about five computers.’

It seems that Sir Charles Darwin (grandson of the naturalist) who was head of the UK’s computer research centre, the NPL (National Physical Laboratory) is probably the true father of the thought of this particular predictive text when he said in 1946:

“it is very possible that … one machine would suffice to solve all the problems that are demanded of it from the whole country”

But, The Yale Book of Quotations may have the truth about this particular misquote. Watson did indeed mention a market for only 5 computers, at IBM’s annual stockholders’ meeting in 1953, but he was referring specifically to the IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine which had been touted to 20 potential clients but Watson reported that they only expected to get orders for five (they actually sold 18).

More on the myth on Wiki and on the Freakonomics site.

Predictive text: Darwin’s computers is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Bait and Switch – a song

17 January, 2015 - 16:59

Don’t worry, you’re not going to be Rickrolled, despite the song title ;-)

Songs of Experience by Dave Bradley

Words and music by Dave Bradley, vocals, guitar, bass, percussion dB

Bait and switch

There was a key under-the-mat,
but you changed all the locks
There was a note deep in your pocket,
but no stamp for the box

I saw a light up in your room,
but your heart was like stone
And though you strayed out of the gloom,
there was nobody home

There was a seed inside the pot,
but no water for the bloom
There was food there on the table,
but no taste in the room

You wore a smile and a little more,
but you cried on the inside
And though you veil all that you feel,
there’s no place left to hide

When you turn about face
I can’t stay in that place
Switch and bait me
I know that you’re cunning

When I find the right pace
It’s the end of the race
Bait and switch
is the game that you’re running

bait-and-switch

Bait and Switch – a song is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Message in a Bottle – The Police (Cover song)

13 January, 2015 - 15:18

One of my favourite riffs from one of my favourite guitar players, the rarely revered Andy Summers, he has a long, long history dating back to the psychedelia of the 1960s (Soft Machine and many others, much of it LSD fuelled according to his autobiography). Summers is best known for his time with The Police of course, alongside Sting (who hails from my hometown near Newcastle and was given his nickname by my sister’s friend’s Dad!) and drummer Stewart Copeland.

Anyway, this is me doubling vocals (one at the original song pitch, falsetto in the background and the melody again an octave down on the verses). Played the Telecaster parts, and bass guitar but used a downloaded MIDI drumtrack to keep better time than any drummer, even Copeland (Sting joke from Ghost in the Machine era Montserrat recordings).

Posting here as preview sample while licencing on Loudr FM goes through for posting cover to iTunes etc.

The original song was in the UK charts in 1979. It was based on that video I mentioned actually composed in Dm not C#m and I reckon they notched it down a semitone in the studio to give Sting’s high voice a little more headroom…for me I’d need to notch it down another couple of semitones to get the full high without screeching.

Bottle on the beach photo CC licence via Flickr adapted c/o Jenni C

message-in-a-bottle-cover

Message in a Bottle – The Police (Cover song) is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Sunrise still later after Winter Solstice

21 December, 2014 - 10:00

Several people asked me about the odd phenomenon that in these here parts sunrise gets later each day until early January even though the days themselves get longer after the winter solstice.

sunrise

From EarthSky: The winter solstice always brings the shortest day to the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day to the Southern Hemisphere. But, the tardiest sunrise doesn’t coincide with the day on which the sun is above the horizon for the shortest time, least daylight hours; similarly, the latest sunsets don’t happen on the day of greatest daylight.

Why is this? The main reason is that the Earth’s rotational axis is tilted to the plane of our orbit around the sun. If it were perpendicular to the orbital plane we wouldn’t perceive this discrepancy.

A secondary reason is that the Earth’s orbit is eccentric (an ellipse, like a squashed circle, with the centre of the sun slightly off its centre), Earth travels fastest in January and slowest in July. Clock time gets a bit out of sync with sun time – by about 30 seconds each day for several weeks around the winter solstice. Adapted from Latest sunrises for mid-northern latitudes in early January.

Additionally, says Royal Museums Greenwich, the longest natural day is about 51 seconds longer than the shortest. But, for clocks to be useful, days need to be fixed in length. We fix them on the average, or mean, length of a natural day (hence Greenwich Mean Time). By averaging out the length of each day like this, the clock time at which the sun reaches its highest point slowly drifts back and forth as the months progress. There is a knock-on effect on the times of sunrise and sunset. The earliest sunrise occurs a number of days before the longest day and the latest a number of days after the shortest.

Originally posted 3rd January 2014

Sunrise still later after Winter Solstice is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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No news is good news

5 December, 2014 - 17:22

Depending on whether or not you’re a pessimist or an optimist, either the aphorism “no news is good news” holds true or the maxim “all publicity is good publicity” is more accurate. But, could whether news is good or bad be self-perpetuating, particularly in terms of business and financial news?

UK researchers have analysed the impact of the financial crisis that began in 2008 by looking at news output in terms of company chair financial statements for the period 2006 to 2010 for financial companies. The regression analysis by Khaled Hussainey of the Plymouth Business School, at the University of Plymouth and colleagues suggests that overall UK financial companies disclose more good news information than bad news information. However, they also found that the crisis affected the financial reporting of good news and bad news. “After controlling for other firm characteristics and corporate governance mechanisms, UK financial companies disclose more bad news information during and after the crisis period, while they disclose less good news during these periods.”

Economists have predicted that the financial crisis of 2008 may well have a more detrimental impact in the long term than the so-called Great Depression of the 1930s. The crisis began in the USA when bad debts sold and then used as collateral for yet more borrowing ultimately led to a massive collapse of value across the global economy. While the notion that one should “neither a borrower nor a lender be” is perhaps unrealistic in the modern world, and probably always was, the crisis led to the failure of countless companies from small enterprises to massive banking conglomerates and many others. Governments around the world are still clamouring to prove that they now have a grip on growth but in the wake of multi-billion bank bailouts they are still foisting enormous austerity measures on the public through swingeing cuts to public services and more. Indeed, some regions are essentially bankrupt and however you look at it deficits that reach into the trillions suggest that the concept of anything having a real economic value has been lost entirely in some sense.

The problem that the Plymouth team has uncovered is that the 2008 “crisis” can be used and is being used as an external scapegoat for internal problems in many companies. The issue probably extends to governments. It is interesting to watch those in power being flown by private jet and chauffeured in luxurious cars from meeting to meeting will a well-stocked mini bar and buffet in every hotel room. Meanwhile, poverty was never made history and millions, if not billions, of people continue to suffer disease, lack of food, poor living conditions. What was that about pessimists and optimists? Your glass is it half full or half empty?

Research Blogging IconSaid Ressas, M. and Hussainey, K. (2014) ‘Does financial crisis affect financial reporting of good news and bad news?’, Int. J. Accounting, Auditing and Performance Evaluation, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp.410–429.

No news is good news is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Dave Bradley Music

20 November, 2014 - 21:12

In case you didn’t know, I’m a science journalist by day, a photographer on my days off and a musician by night. I’ve written and recorded a few songs over the last couple of years, which you can get hold of from the usual download sites: iTunes, BandCamp, Google Play, Pandora, Deezer, Rdio, Amazon mp3, Spotify, SoundCloud etc. Lots of original songs and various cover versions licenced through Loudr for iTunes etc.

dave-bradley-music

Here’s a very short list of a few of the musicians, bands and artists I admire: Athlete, America, The Beatles, David Bowie, Kate Bush, John Denver, Elbow, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, Gerry Rafferty, R.E.M., Nile Rodgers, Rush, The Smiths, there are many others. Apparently, I occasionally sound like a Geordie Glenn Tilbrook (that’s according to the Manchedelic Roger Waters better known as Dek “MonoStone” Ham), and sometimes a blend of Steely Dan, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Sting and David Bowie…according to various wiseguys and wisegals on the songwriting forums…hmmm.

Dave Bradley Music is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Science is not just a theory

15 November, 2014 - 10:53

I say theory, he says theory but what do you think we mean when we talk about theories, like Big Bang theory, the theory of evolution by natural selection, the theory of relativity (both general and special) and quantum theory. Well, we don’t mean it’s “just” a theory, like some vague idea a bloke down the pub came up with to explain the woes of the world, it’s not some conspiracy theory. If only we could’ve been more positive and used another word without the negative connotations of the man on the Clapham omnibus’ conception of the word theory…well, that’s the theory anyway.

Science is not just a theory is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Put them on hold

15 November, 2014 - 09:17

Songs of Experience by Dave Bradley

It’s a quarter of a century since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but still lives are put on hold by those who will divide and subjugate us. Isn’t it time, once again, to reject their calls, put them on hold?

Put them on hold

I made the call that I’m a free man
I talked wild of spirit, throughout the land
I saw the wonders that were open to mankind
I held up hope and love and life as gifts that we might shine

Then days became much darker than the night
The hope we had soon vanished from our sight
The love we took for granted we’d never find
Life fading fast as fear our hearts would bind

We put you on hold
Despite your objections
Despite your deflections
You will do as your told

When you’re out in the cold
No time for reflection
No more defection
We bring you into the fold

I dreamed that I could be a free man
I wondered if my spirit just might find a plan
I saw with wonder how despair crushed all mankind
No hope to hold, no love nor life to help us shine

We put you on hold
Despite your objections
Despite your deflections
You will do as your told

When you’re out in the cold
No time for reflection
No more defection
We’ll drag you into the fold

But, surely we can this hate denounce
We can this fear renounce
If there’s one ounce, one single ounce of decency left inside

We put them on hold
Despite their objections
Despite their deflections
We come in from the cold

We tear down the walls
At last, On reflection
from your hate we’re defecting
We reject all your calls
We reject all your calls

From my mini-album Songs of Experience
Words & Music by David Bradley
Vocals, instrumentation and mixing by DB

Cover art adapted from a photo by Saxon Moseley. More information about the photo here j.mp/tacheles-berlin-89

put-them-on-hold-240px

Now with added belltree, but no cowbell

Put them on hold is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Is breast best?

5 November, 2014 - 14:43

Is it oversharing to tell you I wasn’t breastfed as an infant? Tough. I don’t feel that being bottlefed formula milk did me any harm. Breastfeeding is natural but it’s not always possible for new mothers and the push from the healthcare workers for breast is best waxes and wanes as any social fashion.

There is a lot of guilt poured on mothers who (a) choose to breast feed their infant (b) choose not to breast feed their infant (c) cannot breast feed their infant. Take your pick, there’s guilt from every angle. If it’s physiologically possible it should be every mother’s personal choice, but none should be made to feel guilty for the choice they make, especially not on health grounds fo their child.

Research published earlier this year looked at various indicators of health over a 25 year period between siblings breast fed and not breast fed. The bottom line is that “much of the beneficial long-term effects typically attributed to breastfeeding, per se, may primarily be due to selection pressures into infant feeding practices along key demographic characteristics such as race and socioeconomic status.”

The researchers report that, “A mother’s decision to breastfeed her child as well as how long she is able to do so is based on a complex web of personal, familial, and social factors.” Women often have to cut their working hours to carry on breastfeeding for some time after the baby’s birth. “This trade off, however, may be especially untenable for poor or minority women who already face reduced access to steady, full-time employment, have few or no benefits, and lower than average salaries often in conjunction with the added pressures of single parenthood,” they say.

Breast or bottle is a small component in a bigger picture of the growing child’s short-term and long-term health. Like all environmental factors the impact is strongly affected by all the other factors and it is very unlikely that any single factor unless obviously detrimental (such as not being vaccinated and succumbing to measles, mumps, rubella or whatever or being run over by a bus) will add up to a significant effect on long-term health.

Is breast truly best? Estimating the effects of breastfeeding on long-term child health and wellbeing in the United States using sibling comparisons.

Is breast best? is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Don’t worry about anxiety

2 November, 2014 - 09:20

This week’s BBC “Point of View” was purportedly humanist but is perhaps an age-old perspective that humanity has sought and found many times throughout history for living with less worry and hopefully overcoming existentialist angst at least temporarily.

Adam Gopnik identifies four different types of anxiety that afflict modern people and suggests ways to cure them. Bottom line: make the thrill of the ameliorative, the joy of small reliefs, of the case solved and mystery dissipated and the worry ended, for now – to make those things as sufficient to live by as they are good to experience.

If it’s 10:1 it’s going to happen, then it probably will, this week. 100:1? This year! 1000:1? Maybe this decade. 10000:1 Just once in a lifetime. 100000:1 it ain’t gonna happen. In the words of Bobby McFerrin: Don’t worry, be happy!

You can listen to Gopnik’s monologue via the BBC. If you’re not in licence-fee territory (Britland) you may need to find a proxy or a VPN to tunnel into the UK…

#anxiety #depression #coping #strategies #psyche #psychology #angst #death #fear

Don’t worry about anxiety is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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Who was Gerry Mander?

7 October, 2014 - 20:12

Moving the political goalposts – Gerrymandering is the deliberate design of voting districts to achieve a specific outcome other than fair representation in a governmental election. It is named for US Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who signed the Massachusetts Senate Redistricting Bill of 1812 that included several “creatively” drawn districts designed to ensure his political party’s continued majority in the state senate. This less than ethical approach to democracy continues unabated in many parts of the world to this day.

gerry-mander

In 1973, political scientist PJ Taylor defined various shapes in The American Political Science Review, 1973, Vol. 67, No. 3, pp.947–950) that revealed the creation of indentations, elongations, separations and other choice boundary movements that were indicative of gerrymandering. Unfortunately, politicians, while not renowned for the subtlety on many matters are rather too adept at masking their unethical behaviors. The term originated with an editorial cartoon entitled ‘Gerry-mander’ that portrayed one oddly shaped district in Gerry’s redistricting plan of 1812 showing a salamander with wings (Boston Gazette, 1812). Now, Brian Lunday Assistant Professor of Operations Research at the Graduate School of Engineering and Management at the US Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Airforce Base, in Ohio, USA, has developed a mathematical metric to provide quantitative evidence building on the somewhat more subtle shapes proposed by Taylor .

Wikipedia cites examples of gerrymandering in modern times in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sudan and the UK…but of course, the vice is used elsewhere and in particular in the home of gerrymandering the USA. Gerrymandering is essentially precluded in Israel and The Netherlands because there is only a single voting district for elections there.

Lunday explains that in the US, at least, for House of Representatives as well as state legislatures, political districts exist to ensure elected representatives are responsible for and accountable to the residential constituents from local geographic regions rather than representing a state at large, lest a legislator be potentially more accountable to a political party. As populations grow and relocate, so boundaries must be shifted periodically to ensure fair representation. It is at these times that gerrymandering can be carried out to shift the political focus of particular regions, which has to be considered an unfair exploit within a democratic system.

Lunday has looked at the 16 main shapes and compared 80 different combinations to find the metrics associated with each that might be combined into a single figure to define whether gerrymandering has or has not been implemented. He has also calibrated the metric against recent “redistricting” plans. He has proposed a method for evaluating objectively the shape of political districts based on the presence of undesirable geometric characteristics such as puncturedness, indentation, elongation, and separation, the presence of which portend the absence of compactness and/or contiguity, he says, the metric was calibrated against court decisions by federal courts and the Supreme court on boundary changes. Tests of the metric against human judgment of whether or not gerrymandering took place are highly correlated (correlation coefficient of 0.804, which means a little over 8 times out of 10, the metric was right to say whether gerrymandering took place or not).

Research Blogging IconLunday, B.J. (2014) ‘A metric to identify gerrymandering’, Int. J. Society Systems Science, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp.285–304.

In case you hadn’t realised my headline and graphic is a joke, there was no Gerry Mander in this context, rather, the word is a portmanteau of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s name, with “salamander” and was coined in a famous cartoon showing “The Gerry-Mander”, this political satire lampooned the way in which Gerry had adjusted borders to favour specific candidates in the 1812 elections.

The-Gerry-Mander

Who was Gerry Mander? is a post from the science blog of science journalist, photographer and musician David Bradley
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WebElements: the periodic table on the WWW [http://www.webelements.com/]

Copyright 1993-2011 Mark Winter [The University of Sheffield and WebElements Ltd, UK]. All rights reserved.