On Tradition

To defy the laws of tradition is a crusade only of the brave – Primus

 

I dislike tradition. I think that they fundamentally need to be challenged and replaced with something better if it is available. Inevitably someone pops along and says well what about Christmas and birthday parties. And while there is a bit about that I am going to offer the following counter argument.

  1. A birthday party is about sharing time with the people that you care about. There is nothing prescribed about how you celebrate a birthday. You aren’t required to give/accept gifts. You aren’t required to do it on your birthday. You aren’t required to do it at all. It is a voluntary activity that is so personal that it really can’t be considered a tradition.
  2. Christmas isn’t what it was. It has evolved into a mostly secular capitalist spend fest. The Christmas tree itself is forbidden in the Bible. The original gift giving happens on the Epiphany on Jan 6 (when the wise men arrived). The date was even changed during the shift from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar (the original date was on Solstice to coincide with Pagan holidays) to the actual tradition of Christmas, being the Christ Mass is already dead.
  3. It is traditional to pay women $0.77 for every $1 that a man earns.
  4. It is traditional to subvert the civil liberties of the non-rich white upper class.
  5. It is traditional for women to be subservient to men.

 

Fundamentally to me, these all derive from the tyranny of dead people. Someone, sometime in the past decided that this is the way that it should be. It may or may not have been the best choice at the time, but as time moves on the rules for society necessarily must change to deal with the problems that currently face living people. The dead do not need to worry about the problems of the living. The living should not care about the opinion of the dead.

This isn’t to say that all ideas from the past are bad, obviously, but to blindly follow the traditions of old is to rob yourself from finding a better way forward.

Would you prefer to spend Dec 25 at Mass or doing your own thing?

Would you prefer that the institutional inequalities be perpetuated or challenged?

You may find that some traditional activities agree with your life, and other not. But be active in choosing what is and what isn’t for you. Don’t let others make that choice for you.

Dan says “Shit”: a storybook for grown-ups.

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The wonderful and the woes of the Professor Adjunct

First, let me say that I love teaching. I love talking to my students about my specialist topics and getting into discussions about the future of technology and getting them set for a career in academia. It is one of the best feelings in the world.

In some small way, I help to contribute to the future production of all my students and that gives my life a real impact on the world. I have helped people learn to program that have then gone on to work on new robots for CERN (to upgrade the Large Hadron Collider), I have helped researchers from a variety of fields such as library science, music, history, civil planning, and more. I even had a member of the Royal Society in one of my classes that had an entire Journal issue dedicated to him.

Unfortunately, I can’t survive on a part-time teacher’s salary. Since I withdrew from my research degree I am no longer eligible for a tenure track position (a fact that has been lamented by the Chair of my new dept). Fortunately for me, I have strong technical skills that are highly adaptable to many problem domains so I have a well paid day job that allows me the freedom to spend my spare time as a Professor Adjunct.

I am one of the few, though to be fair this is fairly common in my department.

So that is the great part, I get to teach as a hobby. Now for the problems.

I don’t know semester to semester what my schedule will be like, I am at the whims of the class scheduling staff and I am in competition with the other Professors and as the junior member, I am last in line. Normally since I have a day job this wouldn’t be too bad, but the benefits that I get as a 2 class teacher are better and much cheaper than the benefits options I have at my job. But I don’t know if I can rely on them.

When I was teaching at the IT dept at Oxford it was fairly well established that to set up a new class it would take 9 hours of prep time to 1 hour of lecture time. In my current job, I am paid for 8 hours work a week per class and 3-4 hours of that is just dedicated to giving the lectures. That leaves 4 hours a week for lecture generation, review, admin work, correspondence with my students, office hours, and marking papers/exams. There is no physical way that I can pack all of that into 4 hours of work. I donate a lot of time and energy to helping my students succeed, but if I was trying to do this as a living I would be in a very bad position trying to get this all sorted out while maintaining anything resembling a life or having time with my kids.

My pay is also less than half of what I earn at my day job.

This is the reality of the Professor Adjunct, I love my job but I am not given enough hours to do it properly.

The transition from failed research student to successful Professor and Industry Computer Scientist.

One of the things that always plagued me at Oxford was my imposter syndrome. I constantly felt like my skills meant nothing and that all my previous accomplishments meant nothing. It was like that quick transition in Men in Black where J lists off all his qualifications and that K had recruited him and K just responds with “none of that matters now”.

As a research student, I always felt I was falling short and the institutional support wasn’t really there. If you do something good you are just given more work, if you mess up you get to hear about it for months. You are not recognized for being an intelligent, highly skilled person and are instead a trainee. Even if you finish your Ph.D/D.Phil you still aren’t accomplished as shown by the fact that you have to spend more years as a Post Doc before you are a trusted researcher. You may be a world expert on your subject but that doesn’t mean much, and you are expected to pull long hours for menial pay in order to move up the chain.

So due to personal circumstances, I withdrew from my research studies. The reward wasn’t worth the effort, and the reward would just lead to further menial positions even as a world expert. I relocated to San Jose, CA (near where I grew up in Palo Alto) and proceeded to get snapped up as an Adjunct at San Jose State University. From submitting my resume, to my meeting with the Chair of the Computer Science Department, to being hired as a Professor Adjunct took less than 5 hours.

Getting my resume sorted out for an industrial job took a little longer but when I had hit the right keywords I had to start beating recruiters off with a stick in order to make my phone stop ringing (a great problem to have, I’m still turning down companies like Google, eBay, and Cisco). I had several multinational corporations vying for my skills and even had NASA contractors contacting me to work on extra-terrestrial biology research or the search for extra-solar planets in our galaxy.

I accepted a job working on file synchronization and concurrency which are hugely interesting problems to work on. My pay rate is over 8x my stipend as a research student. It is 4x the pay rate of a Post Doc in the Uk. Finally, it is about 2.5x the rate of pay for a new Professor in the UK. Not only that but my skills and experience as a professional are highly regarded. The VP of a billion dollar/yr company stops by my desk to make sure I am happy and things are going well. I have an infinitely better work/life balance than I did in academia.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my time at Oxford, I did. I learned a great many things and I met some wonderful people. But, the difference in appreciation for my talents between academia and the real world is night and day.

Maybe failing my doctorate was the best thing that could have happened.

Best of all, I still get to teach. I’ll do a post about that soon, but I love teaching.

An armed society is a dangerous society

First, we must understand why we are a nation and not a British colony any more: The complete text of the Declaration of Independence can be found here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html It is an exceptional read and has several points that are valid in our discussion.

Secondly, we move to the constitution itself. Again, there are a number of points that we need to address before we can properly understand the context of my argument. Full text here: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

I am going to lean rather heavily on the introductory text of the two documents because in those introductory paragraphs we lay down the purpose and function of the government, to which the rest of the document and amendments must be in support of.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

So straight of the bat, the most important statement in the creation of the US government is to protect and enable – unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -.

It is to enable everyone to have these rights that we have a government to begin with and the sole purpose of the government is to protect these rights. When the government or other organisation infringes on these rights it is for the people and the government to adjust the laws and norms of society to protect these rights – Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. –

From this I take that the government itself has an obligation to change if the citizens’ life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, or safety are threatened.

Moving onto the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Again this gives us context for what our government should and should not be doing. Here we will be focusing on justice, domestic tranquillity, common defence, general welfare, and the blessing of liberty.

Finally, we will look at the 2nd amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Now that we have collected the necessary text we can start to analyse the different bits. Back in the Declaration there is a very important grievance against the King of Britain that help puts the 2nd into context:

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

It was felt among the colonials that a standing army was the tool of a dictator and that the US wouldn’t maintain a standing force of fighters. Instead they had citizen first responders called the militia. Now when the 2nd speaks of the militia it talks specifically about the security of the free state and a well regulated militia. This is vital to the early security of the states without a standing army to protect the states from exterior threats and to handle civil disturbance. However, the situation has changed, we have 5 branches of a standing army now (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard) as well as the new national militia, the National Guard. These organisations have superseded the need for the militia as the standing armies protect the freedom of the state and the national guard and police forces handle the needs of civil disturbance. The requirement for the professional peace keeping forces to have access to arms is not in dispute and I think that is what the 2nd is about, protecting the state. But in contrast me must also look at the role of civilians in peace keeping. The civilian is in general supposed to stay out of peace keeping. If you track criminals the way a police officer would you become a vigilante. If a group does it, you become a mob. The role of the civilian in peacekeeping is to keep themselves out of the way and keep themselves safe. Even security guards are only there to observe and report in dangerous situations and wait for the professional law keepers to show up and tell them what happened.

Given the modern world, I feel the 2nd has no meaning for the general public, the general public is not supposed to be involved in the maintenance of domestic tranquillity in an armed role. Further, when an armed civilian gets involved in preventing a criminal situation through the use of fire power the result is not “Just”. The punishment for robbing a liquor store is not summary execution. Even the punishment for shooting another person is not summary execution, we no longer live under the law of an eye for an eye.

Continued: a civilian does not have the authority to remove the “inalienable rights” of life and liberty from another civilian. Only the government must be allowed to interfere with these rights and it must only happen under the rule of law. A major problem in the US right now is the number of shootings that the police get into, but while I disagree with it, I understand it. Every time a police officer pulls over a civilian in a traffic stop there is a high probability that the civilian is armed and the traffic stop is potentially life threatening to the police officer. An armed populace is a threat to the job of ensuring domestic tranquillity. If I were a cop, I would be worried about getting shot for doing my job and giving someone a traffic ticket, this would escalate the situation from safe to unsafe and I understand why cops pulls guns quickly. Police forces outside the US don’t have to worry about getting shot at random times. Since other countries don’t have an armed and aggressive citizenry to worry about they don’t have to opt to violence in the way that American police do. In the UK the cops don’t even carry guns because it is safe enough for them not to.

This all leads me to the conclusion that a highly armed citizenry isn’t in the best interest of the citizenry’s life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, or safety. Therefore something needs to be changed. However, I accept that some people have legitimate reasons to have access to fire arms. We should not be restricting people that actually have a need from having access to weapons.

In regards to the argument that if we disarm the citizenry that then only the criminals will have access to guns. This is correct in the very short term. The free availability of weapons in the US has lead to the free availability of weapons in the hands of criminals in the US. No weapon leaves the factory intended to be used in a crime. It isn’t like Smith and Wesson has a secret factory pumping out guns to be sold directly to criminals. It is instead our lax gun laws that allow criminals easy access to weapons. In Australia in order to get an AR-15, you need to have black market contacts, for those black market contacts to trust you enough to sell to you, and the AR-15 costs over $34,000. In the US, you can just get your non-criminal buddy to walk into Wal-Mart with $1000 and then “lose” the gun or report it stolen depending on what state you are in. This also leads to the conclusion that if you are paying $34,000 for your gun you aren’t going to risk that gun by using it to mug someone for the $40 they have in their wallet. It is not an economical use of resources.

As time goes on and the price of black and grey market weapons increases do to the scarcity of weapons, criminals will have less access in the long term to these weapons and they will be less likely to use those weapons in petty crimes or in low value crimes. Not to mention that the cops will be able to target gun dealers more effectively to get illegal guns off the streets.

This brings us to Open Carry. Open Carry is a scary situation where you do not know if the person that is carrying the weapon is just a douche bag that wants to show off how small his dick is, or if it is someone that is actually about to commit a crime. There is no way to tell until the moment of danger itself. Then there is also the problem of the racially biased enforcement of Open Carry. If a bunch of white people are open carrying then the cops won’t do anything. If a non-white person is open carrying then the police will respond in force. This flies directly in the face of “all men created equal”.

Finally, there is the idea that the free ownership of weapons is to ensure that the government doesn’t become a dictatorship. This was never the intent of the 2nd and that is pure revisionist history. The Constitution itself protects against the formation of tyranny through the use of checks and balances. Additionally, the world has changed and you will be brining your semi-automatic rifle to a drone fight.

All together as my conclusion: we no longer use militias they have been replaced by professional forces to ensure the protection of the free state and domestic tranquillity. No citizen should be removing life or liberty from another citizen, criminals won’t have free access to weapons once we close down the legal to illegal pipelines, everyone will be safer after we disarm the population. People that have a legitimate reason for having a firearm will still be able to access them.

It works great in the rest of the developed world and there is no reason that it won’t work in the US. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. It will be worth it.

Dear Senator Sanders, my daughter is in the ER and I am not worried

Dear Senator Sanders,

I am sitting in the ER with my daughter who is having to be hospitalised with a severe asthma attack. I am a student with no private insurance and I am not worried about the cost, because I am in the UK. In my opinion the NHS is one of the greatest institutions that man has ever invented because it allows for people to chase their dreams and not have to worry about seeing a doctor. The NHS has allowed me to chase my dream of getting a quality education without endangering my children’s health due to a lack of insurance. I am graduating later this year and one of the things that I fear about returning to the USA is the health insurance system. Though it is better since the ACA it is not up to the standards that the rest of the developed world enjoys. Please continue your crusade to bring a single payer healthcare system to the US so that our countrymen can also chase their dreams without having to worry if their children will need to see a doctor.

Thank you,
Thaddeus Aid
Department of Statistics
University of Oxford

On Zombies

So I have been thinking about zombies recently and I think they are the next obvious evolutionary step in our progress as a race.

1) 100% peaceful to each other, no more war. They even share food.
2) No bigotry or prejudice, zombies don’t care if you are male/female, black/yellow/red/white, zombies don’t care about religion/non-religion.
3) They want to share the blessings of zombieism with everyone. No one should be left behind in the transition to zombiehood.
4) They live in peace with nature. No zombie destroys nature just to make a quick buck.
5) They are the ultimate practitioners of a Zen like state, no cares about the future or the past.

6) They don’t care if you are rich or poor, or what you are wearing or what you look like.

The life of a zombie is a peaceful one.

The results for I’m a Scientist

I made it to the final round where it was Thomas Clements and myself battling it out for the top spot.

Both Thomas and I got many questions from the students, but in the end Thomas won with his knowledge of fossils. I am the runner-up. I am quite please about lasting to the end and Thomas said he is going to use the prize money to build a portable fossil lab to take to schools and teach kids. How can I be upset about that?

All in all, this has been one of the best experiences of my life and I want to thank the students, my fellow scientists, and the #IASUK team for bringing so much joy into my life.

Science Questions from 10 year olds part 5 #IASUK

Question: whats the weirdest animal you have ever worked with

Unfortunately, I only work with humans. But some humans can be pretty weird.

Question: If you had to, would you go through with hurting an animal just to find out how the body works, or would you just leave it until it eventually falls to its death?

I would never hurt an animal if I could avoid it, thankfully my work only requires a blood test from my human volunteers. But there is more to this question than just that. The study of animals has helped us to understand ourselves and helped us to produce medicines. This is important and needs to continue. However, I think that all animals that are being studied must be treated very well, they must not suffer, and they must have the ability to run around and play. I certainly don’t think animals should be used by businesses to test their products (like make-up or hairspray) but I know that many humans would die if we stopped researching animals.

Fortunately, technology is advancing so that animal tests are becoming less and less necessary, instead of doing early “trials” in animals we can test new medicines against lab grown cells or simulate tests in a computer. This allows us to save many animals that in the past would have died to keep us healthy. I think that we need to continue to improve our technology so that we can absolutely minimise the number of animals that need to be studied and so that animals can lead the lives that they deserve, to be happy and free.

Question: how long will it take for all the resources in the world, such as coal to run out

Within your lifetime we will run out of energy. The question is what to do about it, now, while we still have a chance? We need to be really pushing towards renewable energy sources. If we stop using coal, gas, and oil (all the remnants of ancient life forms by the way) and replace it with energy generation from wind, wave, and solar we can power our civilization forever. The sun provides us with more energy than we can ever use and if we solidly invest in renewable energy now we won’t have a problem when we run out of oil, coal, and gas.

Question: how old were you when you started science

I started learning science in school, but I really liked airplanes and space rockets. So I build model rockets and launched them high into the sky to watch how force and flight work. I even made a shuttle like rocket which attached a rocket engine to an airplane like glider model! That was super fun, but if you are going to do it make sure there is an adult in the area, I burned myself on one of the rocket engines and I still have a scar.

As far as becoming a scientist, I did my first research project in 2010 which taught me that I love figuring out new knowledge and introduced me to the thrill of discovery!

Question: what got you into doing science?

I love computers, I have been using computers since I was about 6-7. At first I loved playing video games (I still do!), then I loved programming them, then building them, then making them talk to each other.

I worked as an IT administrator for many years (with a couple of years as a Video Game Tester) before returning to University to get my degree in Computer Science, I wanted to become a Games Programmer and Designer. But something interesting happened while I was at University, I learned that I love doing research. I got involved in a project that was helping people recover after brain damage and the act of creating new knowledge was so much fun that I figured that it would be a more fun job than making video games (it is, I have done both). When I graduated from University I started looking for a PhD (to become a scientist and researcher) and I looked at a number of different places. Oxford was at the top of my list because they were offering a program that allowed me to mix my love of computers, with my love of research, with my love of evolution (evolution is awesome). I could not believe my luck!

Now I spend my time using my computer to create new knowledge about evolution, best job in the world!

Question: what is the best thing you have discovered?

What I do is I look for mutations in humans that are beneficial to the human that has it. I have discovered a number of beneficial mutations (we are still trying to figure out what they do) but the best thing is that the method I have developed may turn out to be the most powerful method for detecting beneficial mutations yet built.

Question: What is the worst thing that has happened in your experiments?

Because I work with computers my stories aren’t as interesting as everyone elses. When my experiments go wrong I have to figure out why they went wrong and fix the program so it won’t make the same mistake.

The worst time was when I discovered a mistake after 3 months and had to redo it all :(

Question: do you harm any animals at you work

I don’t study animals, I study humans, and I do it with a computer. So no animals are harmed in my work.

The people that provided the DNA that I work on did have to collect blood from 1092 people around the world however, so some humans had to have a needle put into their arms to extract the blood, but that doesn’t hurt very much and only a little blood is needed :(

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