Category: Society

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Parent Fail 1 and 2 of the New Year (by )

1st parent failure of the year - turns out Mary had a theatre day on the first day back at school with a performance at the end of the day. Also she needed packed lunch which we obviously hadn't sent her with and though I knew she had a thing in January I had failed to notice it was on the first day back and a reminder txt only got to Alaric Blagrave Snell-Pym at 2:15 for a 2:30 performance :'(

Still not sure why I'm not getting the txts Al says he's emailed the school about it several times now and I used to get them but have fallen off of the system before - maybe it is one of those weird things like my my voice mail activating itself when I never set it up and have had the same phone for ages :/

We are really upset about this - poor Mary is just not getting the same attendance to her school performances as Jeany and not for want of trying but we are both finding the school letters dense and waffly without the info set out in an accessible way - but no one else seems to be having issue with it so we have to conclude it is us - to be honest finding time to read it on screen now its not paper is hard - ironically we had wanted an electronic version but more a searchable data base thing rather than just an electronic version of the news letter but then we have also failed to keep track of the schools tech upgrades including the homework set ups :/ And that is with us being a tech family - Jean is also struggling because our tech is all "out of date".

Not a good start to the year. Wall planner is now up and being filled in - sadly not in time for Mary's performance. Also what's happening to inset days why are they all suddenly NOT and activity days?

Us parents seem far more upset about this than Mary who was quiet happy because she got to eat a muffin for her lunch and muffins or MUFFFFAINS! are her current favourite food.

Sharing is Caring, but Resharing is Poison (by )

I've noticed a trend that has led me to develop a theory.

It's widely said that social networks start off fun and then decline; I've usually hard this attributed to some combination of (a) all your colleagues, family, and former schoolmates joining or (b) it "becoming mainstream" and a rabble of ignorant masses pouring in.

This implies an inevitability - such environments are fun when they're occupied by an exclusive bunch of early adopters, but if they're fun they'll become more popular, and before long, they'll be full of Ordinary People who Ruin It. Good social networks are, therefore, destined to either to be ruined by going mainstream, or die out because they never take off.

I disagree. The elitism inherent in that viewpoint is a warning sign that it's a convenient and reassuring fiction, for a start; and I have an alternative theory. As you may have guessed from this post's title, I think that the provision of a facility to reshare (retweet, repost) other's content with a simple action is a major contributing factor to making a social network descend into a cesspit of fake news and hate.

Back in the early days of Twitter, most of the tweets were things that people had typed out themselves. Many of them were links to other things, but doing that required manually copying the URL and pasting it into a tweet, and most people added a word or two of commentary when they did so.

But Twitter these days is dominated by retweets. In a quick survey of the current tops of my various Twitter timelines, I saw 7 retweets and 5 original tweets. I see less of what my follows are doing, and more of what my follows are liking about what others are doing.

As these centralised social networks are advertising companies, this is a desirable state of affairs for them, for at least two reasons:

  1. Single-click resharing means that content can spread virally across the platform, getting seen by millions of people in a very short timeframe. This is attractive to advertisers, so the network can make money selling tools to help them encourage this, to track the spread of content, and to generally spread the idea that their network is a place where things spread quickly and influence culture.
  2. A big part of their business model is to better profile their users, so they can sell targeted advertising. It's harder for a computer to analyse your prose to learn about you (bearing in mind you might use complicated linguistic tricks such as irony) than to just see if you click a button in response to something or not. The algorithm might not be entirely clear on the meaning of the content you've just reshared, but it now knows that you have something in common with the four million other people who also reshared it; and cross-referencing that with other information it holds about you and them is a powerful predictive tool.

But that same ability for things to rapidly spread is the driving force behind:

  1. The rapid spread of fake news; tools designed to help advertisers are easily adopted with people wanting to control our minds for reasons even worse than mere financial gain.
  2. Hate storms, when something gets widely shared between a community of people who hate the behaviour implied by the original content; who then all respond angrily to it within the social network and often, due to the amplified feeling of communal hate and the wide reach bringing it to the attention of unhinged and morally dubious people, leading to crimes being committed against the target as "revenge".
  3. A decreased sense of community, due to seeing more and more content from outside your group. Interacting with the social networks becomes more like watching TV than sitting chatting with your friends.

I think the elitist complaint that social networks go wrong when they "go mainstream" and "the normals come and ruin it" is really just a misguided attempt to put the lingering feeling embodied in that last point into words.

Looking back at the original decentralised social networks such as email, Usenet and IRC, they all lacked a single-click "reshare" facility - but some of the criticisms of email and usenet (excess crossposting, forwarded chain emails) both come down to it still being a bit too easy to share things across community boundaries. IRC escaped this.

I think there's no reason a social network can't scale to cover the planet without becoming a cesspit - but I suspect that making forwarding content on too easy is a great way to drag it down the pan.

September Events 2018 (by )

Weds 5th - 1-2 pm Women Pioneers in Computer Science at the Museum of Gloucester by Alaric part of our Ada Lovelace Day celebrations - Cuddly Science Histories

Weds 5th - 7 pm Space Album Launch Party at the Guild Hall part of the Gloucester History Festival free but ticketed - Sarah and Jean are part of the album which celebrates local historical places and people

Sat 8th - Pride Day in Gloucester Park - stall selling art work and offering free colouring in - in the Community Tent - Gloucester

Wed 12th - 7:30 pm Book Club Talks - Ada, Ada and Ada - part of our Ada Lovelace Day 10 year special series - Cuddly Science Histories - Cheltenham Bottle of Sauce

Thurs 13th - 6-8 pm - Back To the Future Gloucester PechaKucha - part of our Ada Lovelace Day 10 yr celebrations - Cuddly Science Histories - Eastgate Viewing Camber (the ruins in the ground near Boots) - Gloucester History Festival - Gloucester

Sat 15th - 11:30 am - 3 pm Mighty Girls of the Past - Gloucester Library - kids fun day as part of the Gloucester History Festival including puppets, activities and colouring in. Ada, Aethelflead and Mary Anning are amongst some of the Mighty Girls of the past coming to join us - includes the ever popular sandpit dig (yes inside the library!) - Free and open to all ages and abilities - Cuddly Science

Later in the month there should be some poetry events but just waiting for confirmation 🙂

Rome-Christanity and the Ending of Worlds (by )

When confronted with a graph on facebook showing the "dark ages" and the ensuing arguments over weather Christianity was the savour/cause of it... I write this:

The two events were entwined - the fall of the Empire was also plagued by natural and human fed disaster which led to desperation which fuelled the new religion which in some cases caused its own disasters but also monotheism in general was on the rise - if we'd have ended up with an Abrahamic religion which ever way we turned - the world was ending and they are doomsday/death cults on the most basic of levels. The loss of information and learning oscillated between the Christians and the Vikings with both also picking up the slack at moving education forward at various points of history as well as being the book burning racists at others ie one good period in England for education was due to Christian Missionaries from Africa (before the Norman conquest). History is a many threaded rug.


This maybe why people get grumpy with me on Facebook. Obviously this is a very very simplified statement and that in general is the issue with history - everyone wants and was taught simple narratives which not only do not paint the full picture but are often twisted to agendas and that's before you look at how biased the original sources were anyway - remember history was written by the battle winners and as writing was often the preserve of priests of one variety or another they are tinged with that element plus of cause the story telling needs and until relatively recently history was seen as something that was given to you by divine inspiration - a little factoid is missing or inconvenient? Pray and get a juicer more interesting thing to put in your script. Many of the older religions ie Judaism have mechanisms to try and prevent these copying errors/mutations but even then you are looking at scripts that spent many generations as oral transitions before they were ever confirmed in script on a page.

So yeah the Roman Empire's falling - but you know it was gradual - it became too big for it's communication network - it tried having multiple leaders which started well until Constantine decided to murder the other Empire and his son - the kid was his nephew - he let his sister live. And yes he was the first Christian Emperor due to a miracle he saw on route to battle (probably a meteor breaking up before it impacted the ground - if there was anything at all - but equally it could have been something else - maybe even the divine). But it was a political move also, a lot of the wealthy in the Empire where playing with the new religion - it was hip and trendy - it had eeking out past it's oppression (just) - it was the religion of the town - pagan comes from the latin for country side as the pantheon of gods got pushed out of the cities and was considered to only be for the unenlightened.

I think it was his mother that was obsessed with the new religion and traveled to the holy lands to find the roads that Jesus trod - she in many respects is the first archaeologists we have on record and her somewhat mythical landscape is still imprinted on the area with many pilgrims still following all that she found and was told - though this was hundreds of years after Christ had actually walked those roads.

But this was only one time in the break up of the Empire - another saw the reclaiming of the Mediterranean sea as an Imperial lake and a rejuvenation of trade and art... only to be struck down by the first virulent plague out break - the Emperor survived - his wife didn't and he was fatigued and in constant pain afterwards - many blamed his wife for being a hoar (she was a dancer when he met her and fell in love).

Yet another ending saw a sop of an Emperor, who fled the city of Rome leaving his sister as a prisoner of the Goth's - yes this was the sacking of Rome by Alaric in 410 AD - there were fires so fierce that they fused gold coin and limestone pavements - it was off course a misunderstanding - climate change and war had left the Goths with no home and little food and they considered themselves to still be part of the Empire that had still been wringing taxes out of anyone and everyone they could reach. So they fled to the capital as refugees hoping for aid - the Emperor panicked and a lot of the damage was done by the Romans themselves.

This is often seen as The End and the Emperor's sister married Alaric's bother (can't remember if it was a half/step or full brother) and it seemed to be a marriage for love and not politics.

But that wasn't The end as there was Holy Roman Empire's and time periods shift and change slowly on human time scales. And things where up and down and up and down.

The end of Roman Britain is the beginning of Anglo-Saxon/Viking Britain - but it wasn't a distinct cut off it was an overlap - and one that was gradual as the Romans pulled out the tribes come and saw no resistance, warred and then settled. The Romans took their time pulling out and didn't even really all go as many of them where intermarried and actually native born by this point.

Because I have an interest in this stuff anyway and because it is relevant to my novel series I have spent my teens and adult life reading and watching and prodding at ruins (well mostly taking photographs) - not full time - not even really part time - I am not an historian or archaeologist though people keep insisting on calling me that at the moment (last night I was referred to as a "proper" medievalist when I went to speak to someone about their talk on medieval humour and art - they were worried that I would pick holes in their talk! O.o ). I have collected a kind of over view - being a geologist I tend to bring things back to the rocks and the earth systems and this is my take on it:

The plagues did a lot of damage - the plagues were caused by over crowded cities with good travel and trade interconnects - a transport networks for the disease vectors to move along. But the plagues could only get a hold of a population if and when they became malnourished as that weakens the immune system - this is the difference between it being an outbreak and it going full blow PLAGUE. Healthy individuals who are cared for have good chances of surviving even the roughest of illnesses. Weak, hungry, over crowded, tired and overworked people with little scope for cleaning, washing or just having contaminated water to begin with - they... will not recover - they will die and it will spread like wild fire.

Weather calamities muck up food production - hungry people war over resources which causes even worse resource problems as it cuts down trade - you get a sickness, starvation, war cycle - this of course results in DEATH - the four horse men are ridding out. Religion sometimes precipitated the disaster and ones that were avoidable or had the chances for some serious damage limitation where exploded into carnage (I think it was the 13th century European plague out break that saw families abandoning the sick because it was seen as a judgement from god thus increasing the death toll drastically - sick people need to be fed during the recovery period or they will die of starvation if not relapse of the illness). OF course religion at other junctures was the balm that allowed to people to care for they're stricken neighbours and to rebuild afterwards.

When proper pandemics hit with no modern medical care (possibly even with) - you have a crash in population numbers - civilisation relies on an intricate series of feedback loops that all rely on everyone doing their part of the system. If you loose a chunk of your population - you have a problem. Even 10% is going to have a huge impact - that is 1 in 10 of the farmers, the teachers, the army. You can't produce as much food, education and knowledge transfer falters and you are in a weaker position to those around you who may be having similar food issues.

So actually my conclusion in looking at history as a whole is that these turning points - the collapsing civilisations and transition appear to be connected to the weather - to climate. Whether it is an increase in drought, damp, stupid long winters that catch you expected or rising sea levels. Some of these seem to be linked to volcanic events and others to human activity ie deforestation by the meso-ammerican cultures occurred around the right time to be a factor in the mini-iceage which is thought to have been a big factor in the "dark ages" of Europe - these things are global but we often only look at the localised focal most relevant to us.

I have asked historians at talks and so on if they think this is plausible - most just look at me slightly confused so this really is just my thoughts on the subjects. I even think the witch trials and things can basically be boiled down to... something disrupted the system and people panicked. That something I think is nearly always factors beyond our control - what then happens during the disastors is very much humanities own invention... war, famine, plague loop-la-lopping around each other in diminishing loops until things have settled and are stable again. The "dark ages" is probably the last BIG one of these but it is not the only one and I don't even think it was the biggest it is just most people don't seem to realise what a wealth of very very old and advanced history there is outside of Europe.

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