Category Archives: Random Warblings

Parenting and Platforming 1

Forgive me while I work some things out. I appreciate that people who think about things more than I do have already reached their position on this, and they’re happy with that.

I still haven’t.

Recently, for reasons too tiresome to go into, I have discovered a fair bit about the “No Platforming” struggle, which seems to consist largely of students demonstrating against speakers they regard as objectionable, and journalists etc. throwing their hands in the air and despairing of this new snowflake generation.

And, you know, how can one possibly argue against Free Speech? It’s one of the fundamentals of our freedom from tyranny, right? If we compromise it, we’ll end up in 1984, being watched by the television and robbed of words like “fantastic” and “ecstasy” (which will become, by order of government, “double-plus good”).

I might be naive but I’m not totally uninformed. I might have spent the last ten years in baby-twilight, but I do know what happened in the totalitarian regimes of the early 20th Century. I have degrees. Some of them entitle me to put letters in front of my name as well as after it. I have spent time freezing my fundament off in archives in Moscow, Ul’yanovsk (now Simbirsk) and Ivanov just so that I can have opinions on stuff.

Opinions like these:

  • Students complaining about things are only complaining. They’re not in charge of the government, they’re not silencing people literally — they are making their own voices heard and protesting. Sometimes, the speaker in question changes their mind about coming to speak. This is not censorship, it is protest — another of our fundamental rights blah blah.
  • Students protesting are very different from totalitarian governments. Perhaps that’s obvious. It really should be.

Break for a moment for me to draw on the last ten years or whatever and mumble about parenting.

If you want a quiet house and you have multiple children of different ages/ strengths, one thing you can do is leave them alone together. In these circumstances, often, there is not much conflict because what the big kids want is what happens. This is especially effective if you put them somewhere you can’t hear them.

Being powerful means you get to do what you like.¬† It’s true for kids, maybe it’s true elsewhere? Hold that thought.


(And, in case you feel the urge to comment and discover it doesn’t show up, please be reassured that I am not censoring you. It’s just that the comments are so crazy with spam that I just block them all.)


Won’t somebody think of the numbers…?

(Note: I don’t have an official position on the referendum but ageism and dodgy counting annoy me)

There’s just been a bit of a Twitter fuss about a poll produced by Lord Ashcroft, which suggested that support for “Yes” in the Scottish independence referendum was highest among 16-17 year olds (at 71%), and lowest among people over 60 (at 27%).

The table released on Twitter

Cue a lot of bile directed at older people who have apparently snatched independence away from the adventurous young with their aged conservatism. How dare they vote! You’d almost think people over 60 were human,¬†or something.

So many angry tweets.

And when Lord Ashcroft released the data it turned out this bile and fury was based on the responses of 14 (I’ll write that out so it’s more obvious: FOURTEEN) 16-17 year olds. Ten of them voted “Yes” and four of them voted “No”.

I’m not sure what his selection methods were, but even if they were as pure and perfect as it’s possible to be, you can’t draw conclusions on a polled sample of fourteen people.

Calculating things hurts my brain, but this is important and so let’s do counting:

You have margins of error. One way of calculating margin of error is:

The margin of error in a sample = 1 divided by the square root of the number of people in the sample

The square root of 14 is 3.74, so 1 divided by 3.74 is 0.267, or 26.7%.

So, what we can say with something approaching something like confidence is that (probably) between 98% and 44% of 16-17 voted “Yes”. Maybe.

I could probably have told you that anyway.

To be fair to Lord Ashcroft, he hasn’t made any claims based on this figure, he just released the table.

So, Twitter, stop fussing.

Content versus Structure

I like that title. Sounds nice and pretentious. Like I’m going to say something intelligent.

Let’s not hold our breath(s).

So… I’ve done lots in the last few months. I went to World Fantasy Con in Brighton where I got more rained on than I have ever been in my entire life (and I live in Scotland), met the fabulous Holly Black and astounding Sarah Rees Brennan, saw Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman and other writer rockstars and was baffled and disappointed by some of the weirdness on panels, and excited by some of the sense on others (generally those which included Holly Black and Garth Nix, not that I’m obsessed). I got two books signed by Susan Cooper — who, disappointingly, didn’t look at me, which was a little soul-destroying for someone I’ve worshiped since I was 10, but then I was speechless with awe when I met her, the longest of a very long line of people getting things signed and she must have been exhausted. So.

It was a lot. I am still processing. Did I mention how amazing Garth Nix was? How stunning Holly Black was? I went to a reading by Joe Abercrombie, too. He had a cold, he was feeling grim, and still he read so powerfully I forgot where I was (and that crying in public is a Bad Thing).

Also, I’ve been working, testing a system that’s been developed to guide people around and tell them interesting things about the places they pass. Something occurs to me about the way programmers approach these things compared to the way humans do (not saying programmers aren’t human, not really). Our evaluators — the people who are testing the system — get really disappointed when the system tells them pointless or stupid things (a current classic is, “The Bank of Scotland is a Scottish bank”). The people who have developed the system — who are all utterly brilliant — get excited that it knows when to give the right information, irrespective of what that information is. They’re interested in structure, not content¬† (see what I did there!?).