Thursday, 15 December 2011

Networking (Social or other)

After a self imposed moratorium from the now ubiquitous facebook I have had pause to think about the phenomenon that gets termed social networking. I glanced at a link on google+ from +Robert Llewellyn, who I found from his @bobbyllew twitter account, about the perceived political motivations behind facebook. I need to read it more deeply but as I scanned the site, one of the throwaway comments that resonated with my view was "people's need to collect friends and be popular, in the sense of an American high-school teenager. "  I'm not sure why it needs to be an "American" teenager, perhaps they are better at it than the rest of the world.

This does appear to be borne out on all the sites I have seen, there are awards or rewards for becoming a super-user.   On the sites I am familiar with, they publicly display your number of contacts/followers/friends as some badge of honour.  We seem to actively feed that teenage need to be superficially popular. For many of us it doesn't matter if we have 500+ contacts of people who have very little real connection to us, the system is merely an address book that is maintained by your contact for you. Like Plaxo was before it became a virus.  I realise that calling it an address book is a massive over simplification of a more complex modern phenomenon.   As a society in the current era, we tend to be very distant from each other, not just physically but figuratively and online networking is probably feeding a need to feel part of a community, to feel connected to the lives of family and people with a shared interest.  Still for many people a badge like 500+ does seem to be a status symbol to be displayed.  Even in Google+ there are networks of people that seem to be collecting followers like trophies and are celebrating each others' apparent success in collecting vast numbers.  I'm not sure what value it has, I have found that my twitter feed and my facebook wall have become so clogged with casual comments from people I have "collected" that I am missing messages that are more important to me.  In theory G+ might provide an elegant way to handle this phenomenon with circles but I fear it may descend into the stream of chatter that I have found Facebook and Twitter have become. 

So is it really networking?  Networking itself is a fairly recent phrase, I remember being told I was a good networker and not having a clue what it meant. Obviously that may be more to do with my own knowledge but I do think it's a modern context for an older word.  Making friends, making acquaintances, being generally sociable are all traits that have served people well for generations.  These are skills we want our children to adopt as usually people fair better as a collectively supportive society (see comments on enlightened self interest).  So why do we fear them collecting online connections in what sometimes appears to be an automated and systematic process? It could be that we are simply technophobic and I do believe that many are, especially those who read mainstream media reports that are designed to provoke emotion not debate. But many are not, like myself, in fact I have experimented with quite a few of the so called networking sites, but I still have some concerns over the "collectors".  I think we need to teach new users the difference between a casual acquaintance who may be a useful contact in the future and who maintains their own contact details from a person who you merely wish to follow their views as they are expressed, to the vitally different "friend"; be that a close personal friend or a casual friend.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


Recently I have started building a family tree on .  It's turning out to be a lot of fun.  One view is called your pedigree, like a prize bull or a Crufts winner.  What is fascinating to me is that I am naturally predisposed to having an affinity with the name McDermott, my father's name, his father's name etc. My great grandparents, the earliest was born around 1880 and the most recent died in 1978 (I met at least two of them), like most peoples' great grandparents they had 8 different birth names.  Each of these names is as influential on me as McDermott, so for posterity here they are:

McDermott  "a famous royal and noble Irish surname"  :-P
Gladden  "the Old English C.7th word "gloed", probably means 'the people of the merry, joyful one'"
Sherman  "this famous surname is English, it was originally an occupational surname for a cloth-finisher" 
Chambers  "is of French origin, and is an occupational name for an officer charged with the management of his lord's private living quarters"
East  "is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is derived from the Olde English pre C.7th "east", east, and is topographical for someone who lived in the east"
Chawner  "of early medieval English origin, and is an occupational surname for a maker or seller of blankets"
Bowyer "an English occupational name for one who made or sold bows"
Atkinson "This famous surname is regarded as being of Anglo-Scottish origins, although with Norman antecedents - Son of Adam"

So purely on the origins of my great grand parents' surnames I am, 12.5% Irish, 62.5% English/Anglo Saxon and 25.0% Norman/French. 

Friday, 4 November 2011


I'm guessing that most people won't have a clue what I mean.  Not just in general but specifically to the title of this blog.  My initial thoughts before writing this blog are to meander through the power of the mind, the placebo effect and then neatly on to having a pop and my board gaming buddies. At least one of my buddies is one of the few people likely to read my blog.  Funny, this statement put me in mind of Bilbo Baginses speech at his n'hundred'n'nt'elevntieth birthday:

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

The picture is of tangential relevance only to the blog but over on my gaming blog, in order to find an illustrative picture to add "flavour" to the text, I tend to search google with the theme of the blog and use the preface "fine art".  So this is an image of "fine art statistics".  Nice.

Meta- can be used as a prefix to mean "beyond" or in some sense relating to the subject it prefixes.  Metadata is an integral part of my working life and it appears metagaming is equally entwined within my social life and this got me thinking about how displaying results in an intuitive visual way, allowing us to truly see the trends, actually encourages us to want to influence them.  For example, I currently weigh just over 13st (I use *st* as any US readers will need to get their calculators out and then remember whether its 16 or 14 for the multiplier and will probably give up - as I do when someone says 180lbs - doh) the mere fact of recording my weight makes me want to change it, thankfully I tend to forget and then about once per week I have a disappointing few hours whilst my brain endeavours to erase what I just saw when I stood on the scales. 

[note to self, its long enough after the theft of your beloved Commencal Meta 5.5.3 to buy a new bike - quick before you burst].  

I know that if I put up a chart and routinely measured my weight I would be motivated to make the trend move in the right direction.  

Back to games.  

A few weeks ago I programmed a spreadsheet to use an adapted chess ranking formula to rank the performance of my gaming buddies and me - more detail here - the existing method was not really capturing the performance overall.  The method allowed me to enter the results for the previous few months and to display a performance ranking graph.  What is interesting is that this does bring out the metagamer.  One player has consistently won, or more accurately, consistently won when it mattered, and maintained his #1 Seed ranking since the very beginning.  Now I must add that there are many inadequacies with the scoring system, for example if we play only games that one person does well at then they will rise to the top, this wouldn't happen in chess as it's the same game for each calculation of rank.  It is like saying the top seeded tennis player will be determined only on the speed of his first serve - this would favour fast first servers.  In the long run, as long as the games we choose aren't selected any differently due to the result, this should average out (regress to the mean) and there will not be a systematic bias towards a particular game type.  But here in lies the problem, we are only human, one guy is winning so we should all try to beat him and choose games he is no good at!  I'm not advocating this stance or accusing anyone of saying it,.... er .... ok I guess I am accusing anonymous of saying it but the point stands.  We are only human, we see rankings and we start to want to improve them.  We automatically want to play the metagame.  

The placebo effect is real.  Whilst it may not be a real treatment or any treatment at all the effect does exist.  In many cases it can be put down to the added attention of the staff running a clinical trial but not always.  It can be confounding factor in so called complementary medicine reported success.  However, the fact remains that we have the power within our minds to affect our health.  As a scientist, in a medical related discipline, I believe it is important to qualify that I am not advocating complementary medicine, just noting that we can appear to influence our own health/bodies.  I found it tragic just recently to read that the fabulously intelligent and inspirationally creative Steve Jobs probably accelerated his early death by trusting in "magic" medicine.  

We should all start collecting statistics about our health and recording them on a personal dash board.  Then we wouldn't be able to help ourselves, we'd have to win - or go to the health professionals when we were clearly loosing.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Elemental my dear Watson


What is it that makes us want to study and learn?  Recently I have been driving my nearest and dearest mad as I have decided to memorise the periodic table - I'm up to Phosphorus 15 currently, so a long way to go! 

Why do some people have this desire to absorb knowledge more than others and also at different times in their lives? I remember going back to a reunion at my old school not long after completing an MSc in a maths related subject and my old maths teacher made some comment like "shame you didn't try harder at school".  My defensive response would have been, "shame there was no one to inspire me", thankfully I didn't say this.  I think I just wasn't as interested in learning as a teenager as I am now.  Over the last few years I have been revisiting the basics, partly due to my kids going through the part of school where my brain was on autopilot but partly due the availability of information across all sorts of media.  The chain of events that led to this current fad is one such modern parable.  

A friend posted on Google+ that he had won a new iPad (not 2!), a "circlee" in his G+ circles posted a link to a blog where someone else had listed their favourite iPad apps, many readers of that blog had reviewed and commented on his suggested "best" apps, I liked the look of the elements one and so followed the shortcut to iTunes and downloaded it to my iMac. Within in a few minutes I was enjoying interactive, entertaining education on a topic that was my chosen area of study. 

So is my desire to learn, a positively selective evolutionary trait, a mid life re-evaluation of what is important to me, a preoccupation with gadgets or perhaps a little of all of these.  I'm not sure it really matters but I am certainly enjoying quenching this thirst for knowledge after walking in the desert for most of my early teens. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

England, My England

No, not the poem by William Ernest Henley, but a poem that surfaced around 2009 according to my scant research (JFGI).  I received this just recently, considering my views expressed on this blog previously, it's no surprise I felt I needed to comment, so here goes:

English? Does it mean:

1. English the ethnic group?
2. England the Sociopolitical construct?
3. England the Geographic region?

1.  The ethnic group is descended originally from Iron age Britons a celtic people who ultimately inhabited Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria following complete domination by the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes.  The Angles a Germanic Peoples from Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany, the Saxons from a broad region in Central Northern Germany and the Jutes a Germanic people from Southern Schleswig or Jutland Denmark, one of the 3 great Germanic tribes according to Bede ("The father of English History").   This was the origin of the ethnonym but later invasions by Danes (Viking expansion in the c.9th) and Normans (Norse Vikings from Normandy a fiefdom in the Kingdom of France who invaded in c.11th) also added many genetically similar peoples to the gene pool.  English = Northern German / Viking.

2.  The Kingdom of England existed from 927 to 1707, it was formed by Athelstan the Glorious, Grandson of Alfred the Great.  It existed as a Sovereign State until the Acts of Union politically unified The Kingdom's of Scotland and England to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. Then in 1801 The Kingdom of Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland through another act of union to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  In 1922 the Irish Free State was established and an Act of Parliament in 1927 formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Wales had been a Principality since 1284 until 1536 having been conquered by Edward I and then finally annexed in 1536 by the Laws in Wales Acts (1536-1542).  England=Dominant Political Power in Britain

3.  Geographically England is the larger part of Great Britain and is only 21 miles away from mainland Europe (Dover to Cap Gris Nez).  If you look at google maps, London to Milan is a 765 mile drive and Milan to Messina in Southern Italy is 1252 miles.  Geographically we are part of the same land mass that has only recently (in geological time) been separated by Sea.  England = Parts of the archipelago on the west of the European landmass

The Flag:
The Union Flag (like the ensign the Union Jack) is made from the Cross of St. George representing England and Wales, the Saltire of St Andrew representing Scotland and the Cross of St Patrick representing Ireland.  It couldn't be a better symbol of unity.

The Battles it mentions:
Agincourt was characterised by the strength and bravery of the English and Welsh Longbow-men.
Hastings was the death of an Anglo Saxon England and the Birth of Anglo-Norman England.
At Mons English, Welsh, Scots and Irish all fought and died under the Union Flag
At Arnhem English, Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh all fought and died under the Union Flag defending Europe from the tyranny of a fascist dictator from the heartland of our ancestors.

My Thoughts:
I do think though at the heart of this poem is a message that needs to come out.  The inequity created by only Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales having devolved governments and the greater part of the nation not having any strong regional representation must be addressed by Westminster.  Unfortunately the message can get buried in the mire of jingoism for a state that ceased to exists in 1707 and worse still, hostility and fear that fuels xenophobia, the very same notion that mobilised the Axis and triggered a staunch defence by the Allies in WWII.

I am a Briton and believe our nation is stronger with a strong Union.  Devolved power to regional governments should create a fairer society allowing people to live in a subregion that has social and political harmony with their own views.  I also believe that the only way that UK (of GB & NI) can continue to play a role on the world stage is by uniting with Europe in a stronger way than we do already.  With the rise of Eastern superpowers our culture and society will be consumed by a world dominated by Eastern cultures if we do not.  This is not a bad thing, its just a thing, but I would like the children of Britain to play a role in shaping European culture and in turn for European culture to continue to play a strong role in shaping the world culture of the future.

Friday, 16 September 2011

麻將 - Mahjong

With my recent interest in traditional word-games it dawned on me that, as a family, we are more numerically inclined.  Having said this there has been a pocket of interest amongst the younger members of the household in Scrabble but still numbers are our "thing".  Anne and I started a discussion the other day about Mahjong and how as students we used to play with another couple we knew.  This is traditional Mahjong, not the version that is often created on computer games which is some pair matching exercise.  So after a brief search on 'tinternet, checking the veracity and authenticity of the vendor, we purchased a set.  It has yet to arrive but as I was in the mood for kick starting the economy, I invested in one of Mr Jobs' Apps for the iPad.  I nice little example of the game with a full explanation of the scoring, something I was struggling to remember.  So I dived into my first game.  It came back pretty quickly but the AIs were thrashing me relentlessly.  After a few hands I was over 3500 points down.  Pretty impressive, overshadowed only by the next achievement, a 7500 point win in a single game.  I think I'll quit whilst I'm ahead.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Recently I was introduced by Dave to Scrabble on my iPhone.  I am really enjoying it.  So much so that I have hooked in (or been hooked) by 2 other pals.  Scrabble is a great little game and is usually played around a board with a dictionary at hand to help resolve any disputed words.  The iPhone app, works like sending a text message, you take your move and then in effect your opponent has 10 days to take theirs.

I know there are serious scrabble players out there but its fun to jumble the words and look for a high scoring opportunity and just play casually. Playing on the iPhone, or on the computer via Facebook and Words with Friends does provide a little dilemma however.  I hadn't realised how many aids (for that read 'cheats') there are for helping solve your particular puzzle.  There are some fascinating little apps, Scrabulizer being one such site that one of my pals pointed me to.  All interesting sites but totally defeating the objective of playing the game. So other than occasionally browsing the "Q without U" words list and acceptable 2 letter words list I avoid these sites when taking my move.

What they have provided after taking my move is knowledge that there are many strategic options within Scrabble that I hadn't really considered.  Access to the triple word square and leaving vowels next to a triple letter square (vulnerable to high scoring J's Q's and Z's) is far more important than getting a big word for example.  I must admit though I have occasionally played a word to see if it was real, the app helpfully points out if you are mistaken - is that cheating?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Online Shopping

This is a salutary record of how we can all fall foul of what are apparently Internet sharks.  Recently I decided to upgrade my ageing camcorder with a newer HD version.  I had planned to use it for interviewing people professionally for a new web project and so decided to splash out on a semi-pro camera.  The first problem you encounter when buying video equipment is the NTSC/PAL issue.  For some reason, probably market protectionism, the different formats still persist.  The first few vendors who had fantastic prices and were presenting the devices as UK, when further questioning was levelled at them, admitted that they were selling NTSC products.  It was not trivial to avoid this trap.  Not wishing to have to research this phenomenon further I decided it would be safer to buy a listed PAL product from the UK and pay a premium.

With an upcoming holiday looming I looked for a supplier who had a product in stock for a reasonable price.  I researched a little about the websites that I found but eventually, evidently without sufficient research, I made the plunge.  

Please see the following email exchange:

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2011 3:26 PM
Subject: Order MM09HE20000442

I ordered a camcorder from you 7 days ago (order number: MM09HE20000442).  Is there anyway I can track the order.  What is its eta.  I am going away at the weekend and expected to have the device for then.

with kind regards

On 26 Jul 2011, at 11:05, Pro Visual World wrote:
Hello Jim

Delivery is Tuesday next week
Pro Visual World


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 11:20 AM
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442


That is really disappointing, I'm sure the item was listed as "in stock" as this was one of my criteria for choosing your firm.  Would someone be able to call me to discuss.  I shall be out of the country from Saturday 30th July for 2 weeks.  I would like to discuss

1.  Paying for accelerated delivery
2.  Collecting the device
3.  Delivery to a location in France.

kind regards


Mobile deleted

On 27 Jul 2011, at 10:16, Pro Visual World wrote:
Hi Jim

We can arrange for delivery to immediately upon your return
Pro Visual World

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 12:41 PM
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442

Dear Pro Visual World

Thank you for the response.

I am not sure I understand your business model, or why it takes 24 hours to get each response by email.  I'm sure there is a sensible explanation.  On the website it said the product was in stock but there was no mention of how long it would take for the delivery.  In my view there is no reason why an item in stock cannot be dispatched immediately.  I feel very let down by your service as we are about to go on an important holiday and I bought the camera specifically to record it.  Thankfully I can use my old camera that isn't HD but your failure to provide clear information has significantly disadvantaged me.

I have offered 3 reasonable solutions that all involve additional cost to me that I was willing to bear to get the device on time and you haven't even done me the courtesy of responding to them.  Instead you respond with a single sentence that can be misinterpreted.

Do you mean:

1) On my written return you will dispatch the camera to me immediately
2) On my actual return from France you will dispatch the device

If you mean (1) then I apologise sincerely and look forward to receiving the device tomorrow.  If, as I suspect, you meant (2) then I shall be returning on Saturday 13 August.  We have family staying at the house during the 2 weeks but they will be out touring during most days so it would be more convenient if it arrived on or after the 14th.



On 28 Jul 2011, at 09:37, Pro Visual World <> wrote:

Hello James

We will arrange for the order to arrive with you on Monday 15th August
Pro Visual World


On 17 Aug 2011, at 12:42, James McDermott wrote:

The product has not been delivered by 12:30 on the 17August. Is there a problem?  Please supply the UPS tracking number

Sent from my iPad

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, August 18, 2011 6:38 PM
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442

No response within 24 hours as promised and no product delivered.  The cash has been taken off my Visa card.

I have called

KamKorda Ltd
1 The Limes,
DE15 0NW

Tel : 01283 516630

but get the message to email this address.

Please respond as requested.


On 19 Aug 2011, at 06:33, Pro Visual World wrote:

Your order is with PVW at Wakefield James
KK are our Logistics company
We will check your order James and email back today

Pro Visual World


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, August 20, 2011 3:03 PM
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442

Look.  What is going on?  You have had significant funds deposited to your bank account for a product that was listed as *In stock*  this was over a month ago.  If you are unable to complete this order as advertised please indicate.

This link is to confirm to you that I understand my rights and that I am eligible for a full refund if the product hasn't been delivered within 30 days, as no delivery date was given.  I should also warn you that if I seen no progress on a delivery.  Minimum - Company name, delivery reference and confirmed date.  Then I will be making an official complaint.

Mr J McDermott


On 21 Aug 2011, at 07:59, Pro Visual World wrote:
Hi James

Your order will be despatched to you this coming week.  The only reason for any delay has been the scarcity of this line currently
Pro Visual World


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Sunday, August 21, 2011 12:30 PM
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442

Dear Pro Visual World,

I will take your offer at face value for now.  I earnestly request that you send details to me immediately of the delivery firm but critically, the dispatch number or reference number.

I would point out that under my own interpretation of the Trades Description legislation and the The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code of practice, your websites are currently breaking the law.

If I do not receive the product or the details I have requested by Monday 22 August 2011, I shall be forced to take further action.  This email will be forwarded to my solicitor and to the Advertising Standards Agency in preparation for that action.  Should you comply with my request I shall withdraw the action.

Yours sincerely

Mr McDermott


On 22 Aug 2011, at 09:28, Pro Visual World <> wrote:


Your order will arrive with you on Friday.
We will provide tracking on Thursday

Pro Visual World


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, August 22, 2011 11:33 AM
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442

Dear Pro Visual World

You have failed to provide evidence that the product will be delivered or the reasonable information I have requested.  I find this suspicious given that it is now 6 weeks since you banked my money.  Having said this, I am prepared to wait until Thursday this week to see if you are good to your word and that you will provide me with details of the delivery firm and the dispatch notification.  I will postpone my notification to the Advertising Standards Authority.  I would note that you still state on your website that you use UPS as a delivery firm.  It is vital that you understand that our premises are difficult to find, only the larger firms that visit regularly know how to find us.  Please confirm that you have provided the mobile phone contact number to them.

Please inform me if you anticipate any changes to your delivery schedule.  I must warn you that should this go to court, I have saved screen shots of your website during my order process and I have stored all communications and the results of my investigations in to your organisation at companies house amongst other sources. I will state quite clearly now that if you are unable to fulfil the order as advertised please refund my money now and save us all the effort of legal action.  If however you are able to provide a Canon XA10 AVCHD HD PAL with a 12 month Canon UK warranty as advertised then please continue.

Yours sincerely

Mr J McDermott

Sent from my iPad


Begin forwarded message:

From: Pro Visual World
Date: 23 August 2011 08:36:05 GMT+01:00
To: James McDermott
Subject: Re: Order MM09HE20000442

Your order is despatching to you this week and we will supply you with tracking later this week
Pro Visual World


Anyone like to give me odds that I'll have the camcorder by Friday?