Archive | June 2014

Why I Don’t Worry About Being Wrong

I was reflecting on some of the technologies I’ve worked with over the years, and how relevant they are to the work I do today. In particular, I was thinking about my time at Abbey National, using a programming method known as JSP. No, that’s nothing to do with Java, you youngsters; it stands for Jackson Structured Programming. Invented by Michael Jackson (no, not that one!) it was the first real method I ever encountered. Well, other than the fag-packet-spec and the let’s-try-this-and-see-if-it-works-this-time methods so sadly familiar to programmers everywhere.

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Ninety Seven Percent

lady and the tramp beaver

Once again, Cook et al 2013 seems to be generating quite a bit of discussion.  According to the abstract, 97% of a selection of scientific papers related to Global Warming “support the consensus” that “humans are causing global warming”, vis:

We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors’ self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.

So far, so good, I don’t have any problem with that. And it’s clear that if 97% of papers agree with something then, by definition, that is a consensus.  However, this statement is being interpreted as saying something a bit more: that 97% of those papers support the idea that humans are responsible for more than 50% of the warming seen in the 20th Century.  This claim is not supported by the paper’s own data.

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Voice Recognition in COBOL, 1980s style.

Around 35 years ago I began my first proper IT job as a programmer at Brannan Thermometers, a thermometer manufacturing company based in Cleator Moor in Cumbria. I was working with a couple of “mad geniuses”, Alastair and Tony (no, they weren’t hairdressers) programming mostly business applications in COBOL on an ageing Burroughs B3900 mainframe. These guys were good: even though nobody had ever taught them anything about computers beyond them reading a single book on assembler and (much later) having access to a COBOL manual, between them they had built a system which covered just about everything any manufacturing industry would require – and then some. It would put many of the large systems I’ve worked on since in the shade, and I sometimes wonder why they didn’t sell it on – I guess they didn’t realise just how good it was. But it was lean, fast, and did exactly what the users wanted – and in those rare cases where it didn’t it was so well organised that making changes to the code was a dream; user requirements could be coded in hours or days where on modern systems the changes might take weeks or months. I learned a lot in the couple of years I was there.

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Short Story: Wind


Image courtesy of twitter user @intrepidwanders

Dad took me to look at the turbines again today. I didn’t want to go. We’ve been every day this week, and he just gets angry and upset. I suppose I can understand it; I’m not altogether happy about it either, but I’ve got used to it. And it’s only been three weeks, the wind is bound to start blowing again soon.

I suggested to Mum that she go along instead, but she gave me “that look” and I realised that wasn’t going to happen. I even offered to do the washing while she was out – we’ve had to start washing our clothes in an old bath in the yard. It’s a nasty job and I hate doing it – not that we have all that much washing at the moment; we tend to wear most of our clothes to keep warm. Anyway, with no hot water we don’t tend to bathe all that often. Nobody does. I don’t even notice the smell any more. It’s not all that practical at this time of year anyway, the clothes just freeze on the line and don’t dry at all. But despite my offer she said she’d rather stay at home and look after Parton.

Parton is our dog. He’s a cross between a German Shepherd and, well, quite a lot of other types of dog probably, but at least one of them must have been St Bernard because he has a very woolly coat and he’s very cuddly. I think that’s the real reason Mum wanted to stay at home; Parton is a good way to keep warm.

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I Believe

(This piece was originally written some time ago, but it seems relevant again when the US President is accusing those who are sceptical of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) of believing the moon is made of green cheese.)

I believe that in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon and Michael Collins remained in Lunar Orbit. These three men were my childhood heroes, along with the Russian Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.

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