Month: June 2021


Shamelessness

Once upon a time this scam would have resulted in ministerial resignations/sackings:

Eight years ago the government had a plan so good it couldn’t tell you about it. It wanted to scrape everyone in England’s entire GP records and put them on one central database, where they would be anonymised – well, sort of! – then made available for research purposes to third parties, including private corporations. And called it Care.data[…] [Description of the Care.data fiasco/climbdown follows.]

And hey, the government learned its lesson. Which is to say that eight years on – literally right now – it’s doing the same thing, only in less time, without a public awareness campaign, with a trickier opt-out, and in the middle of a global pandemic. […]

The opt-out process described here is longer and fiddlier than you might hope for, but that’s mostly because the government has designed it to be complicated. That can’t really be helped, given that we’re dealing with this government who are utterly shameless about this stuff.

For the avoidance of doubt: data being shared to help medical research is, in principle, a good thing. Data being quietly handed over to commercial entities who can and almost certainly will hide behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ to obscure the efforts they’ve made to ‘unlock the pseudonymisation codes’ is not.

If you’re in England this potentially affects you. Go here for a step-by-step guide on how to opt out of this data giveaway. Also, go and read Marina Hyde’s article if you want to relish quality snark like…

Post its collapse, the Care.data plan was described by one statistics professor as “disastrously incompetent – both ethically and technically”. Which sounds like the sort of review Mary Berry would give on Bake Off to a roulade made entirely of human ears, but which arguably has even wider implications.

… in context.

Chernobyl

Upon reflection, deciding to start my day before it was time for work by finishing my watch of HBO/Sky TV’s Chernobyl might have been a mistake.

There’s lots to praise about the miniseries itself – a very well acted piece which didn’t skimp on showing just how drastic the consequences of the accident were for so many humans (and domestic pets1) anywhere near that corner of the then-Soviet Union at the time and long afterwards – but the material in the programme was definitely not destined to lift the mood.2

Spending my work day at home, wrangling data from spreadsheets and databases and emailing those numbers to folks, inside and outside my organisation, who in practical terms didn’t have access to the information buried in those data sources for themselves kept me busy and kept my mind off the bleak picture Chernobyl painted of how the world works, but heightened the sense that I’m as much of a "bio-robot" as the guys the series showed spending time on the ruined rooftop chucking radioactive debris off the roof. I provide a bit of functionality that my employers could in theory computerise given sufficient time and money,3 but (so far) haven’t found it reasonable to spend time and money implementing.

Anyway, really good TV. Very well worth a look.


  1. See episode 4 in particular, as the relevant Fanfare thread revealed plenty of viewers who almost noped out when we followed a trio of soldiers whose job was now to shoot all the adandoned pets in the area around the plant, both to save the animals from a lingering death and stop them from spreading the contamination further to surrounding towns and cities. 
  2. Interesting to contemplate how the United States or the UK would have coped with a Chernobyl-scale crisis. Probably not as differently as we might hope, I think. Different jargon justifying the actions you take, for sure, but when you’re tinkering with nuclear energy generation the scale and scope of the consequences of something going wrong are such that throwing fragile human bodies at the problem might end up being all you can do. 
  3. I fully acknowledge that I’m lucky to have been able to carry on doing this work from home rather than being furloughed for the last year and a bit, but if my employers wanted the work I do to keep on being done month after month – which they definitely did – there wasn’t any other way to make that happen in the short term, particularly given the speed with which we had to transition to working from home. Time will tell whether in the medium term my employers decide to make it a priority to spend the money to automate my team’s job out of existence. (In the long term they almost certainly will automate our jobs out of existence.) 
, 4 June 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

In an emergency

Rosecrans Baldwin, remembering his experience of volunteering at the drive-through COVID testing centre at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles:

To live in Los Angeles is to exist in a selfish place full of self-helping people: the cliché persists partly because it’s true. But the Southland is also so vast, so diverse, it repels single stories. I asked one staff member, a woman who’d risen to become one of the managers, what she did prior to working at Dodgers. “I lunched,” she said flatly. “I’m a lady who lunches. I mean, I used to be.” My reasons to volunteer were selfish and self-serving: I needed to get out of the house, I enjoyed making new friends. It’s weird. For several years, I’d been crisscrossing L.A. for a book, interviewing dozens of people from the county’s many communities to grasp at some idea of its soul. The Armenian nation state of Glendale. The Vietnamese community in Garden Grove. Suddenly, Saturday mornings, everyone was coming to see me.

[Via kottke.org Quick Links]

, 2 June 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .
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