tisdag 25 april 2017

In praise of Aspergers

We should take a moment now and again to acknowledge the fact that civilisation as we know it would never have arisen if it were not for the people, mostly males, with Asperger's Syndrome.

Both Newton and Einstein have been retrospectively diagnosed with the condition. Most of our technology could not have been brought to a workable condition without individuals having Asperger's Syndrome. Think about this next time you travel in a train, confident that you will arrive safely: what "normal" person would have the patience, persistence and attention to detail to design the railway signalling system on which your life depends?

Without the men with Asperger's Syndrome who developed the technology you are using to read this, we would probably not even have developed to the point of writing things down by making marks in wet clay.

A disgraceful prison sentence

A twenty-year old man, Adam Mudd, has been sentenced to two years in prison for creating, when he was 16, a program, which carried out more than 1.7m attacks on websites including Minecraft, Xbox Live and Microsoft and TeamSpeak, a chat tool for gamers. He earned the equivalent of more than £386,000 in US dollars and bitcoins from selling the program to cyber criminals.

Mudd was said to be a high-functioning Asperger case. Clearly he was not entirely responsible for his actions. The suspended sentence requested by the defence would have been reasonable in the circumstances. It was refused.

The approach seems entirely wrong. Those who have been affected should be suing the suppliers of the software and computer services, since they are responsible for creating the situation in the first place by releasing insecure software.

People who are able to crack computer security systems should be employed to make sure the systems offered to the public, commerce and government are as secure as possible; an Asperger's diagnosis is probably an essential qualification for the job. They should not be locked away in prison.

torsdag 6 april 2017

Brtain's poor productivity - again

"Britain’s poor productivity performance before, during and after the financial crisis of a decade ago has left a gap of 16% with the other six members of the G7 group of industrial nations. International comparisons published by the Office for National Statistics show that output per hour worked continued to lag well behind the US, Germany and France in 2015 – the last year for which data is available"

Article in Guardian.

Oh dear. The entire concept of "productivity" is dubious. If it applicable anywhere, then it is within manufacturing industry where sub-optimal productivity can be due to factors such as wastage, defective work which has to be rectified, poor design, poor organisation of the workflow, time kept waiting for components or raw materials to arrive, or obsolescent equipment. These are management issues, and there is certainly still tendency in British industry for the managers not to talk to the lower orders - the people who are working in the front line; handing down orders from on high, they stay in their offices and fail to grasp the nature of the tasks they are managing.

There are many occupations, however, where there is little or no scope for increases in productivity. Assuming that their work timetable does not result in a waste of staff time, how could a bus driver or a train driver or a nurse or a surgeon become more productive?

Statistics can aggregate that which should not be aggregated, to the point that they may be meaningless. There may be, and probably is, a problem with UK productivity, but raw figures like these are best taken with a pinch of salt.

We should also not forget that an item at the factory gate in the UK is worth less than the same item at the factory gate in Germany, simply because the German factory has around 400 million potential customers to whom it can be delivered in a door-to-door run, whereas in the UK, there are 60 million customers, but the other 400 million are on the other side of a strip of water which has to be crossed.

tisdag 28 mars 2017

Guardian Takkiya

In a fine example of takkiya, Guardian journalist David Shariatmadari writes "Should we blame Islam for terrorism?"

Shariatmadari writes "Let’s assume for a moment, then, that Islam is especially predisposed towards violence. If that’s your view, then you’ll need to show why the history of jihadi terrorism is so very short: this is emphatically a late 20th and early 21st century phenomenon, yet Islam has been around since the seventh century."

He conveniently forgets to mention the recorded actions of the Prophet himself. The article is not open for comments.

fredag 24 mars 2017

London atrocity

It now turns out that the man responsible for the London incident was a native-born Brit. This goes to show that whilst immigrants may bring their systems ethics and attitudes with them, control of immigration cannot keep those ethics out. We also need to remember that some immigrants want to get away from societies dominated by those ethics and attitudes, and that other immigrants are importing ethics and attitudes which our society needs to reclaim if it is to flourish. That points to the need for a nuanced approach to immigration, so that those who would be an asset are not excluded. It also points to the need to keep a close check on the kind of material which is in circulation, which is not an easy task when most of it is propagated on the internet.

torsdag 23 mars 2017

Lead kindly light

We all make important decisions in the course of our lives. Big ones we make not more than half a dozen or so in a lifetime. Some, such as the choice of career, are unavoidable. Others, involving some kind of change of life, a driven by an internal sense of compulsion. We feel that things cannot go on as they are.

People - family and friends - speculate about why we make these choices. Why did he chose to be a ...? Why did she marry so-and-so - such an improbable choice? Why did they get divorced or leave x for y? Why did they emigrate to…? Why did they change careers after twenty years? Why did they become a …? Or why did they stop being a …? Why did the priest lose his faith? Why did the atheist become a Christian?

I once knew a Catholic priest who became a Jew. Reflecting many years later on the conversations we had - it was in the 1950s, it was obvious that he had never believed what Catholic priests would be expected to believe. One wonders why he went through with the training and offered himself for ordination, and why those in charge ordained him?

One reason could be that one is inclined to doubt one’s own doubts and think there must be something wrong with oneself. It is the opposite of intellectual arrogance, but in its way just as damaging. So the non-believing student priest persisted with his training.

Often, decisions which seem to have been made suddenly, following a particular event, are in reality the outcome of many years of niggling pressure. Or because thoughts and concerns that were previously incoherent suddenly come into clear focus. The dam finally breaks. At other times, an alternative course of action opens up unexpectedly or is newly recognised as a possibility.

Not only do we need to pay attention to these pressures inside us; we also need to refrain from drawing conclusions about why other people have made their decisions. What appears on the surface might have been the precipitating event, but it is unlikely to be their motivation, which will be something that has been building up for a long time.

Why do I mention the subject now? I know a few people who could be on the verge of making significant and surprising decisions. I feel I might be approaching that point myself. The important thing is to take one's time, try to establish the real reasons for making the decision, and if you believe in it, pray for guidance.

A model to follow is John Henry Newman, later Cardinal Newman, who wrote the hymn "Lead kindly light" when he was ill in Sicily in 1833 and unable to leave Palermo for three weeks.

Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
lead thou me on;
the night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
will lead me on,
o'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
the night is gone,
and with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
 In a similar vein there is the famous prayer of St Birgitta of Sweden
"Herre, visa mig din väg och gör mig villig att vandra den." 
 (Lord, show me your way and make me willing to follow it)

onsdag 22 mars 2017


I have given the blog a redesign, partly because the font Vollkorn is now available - it is good for printing on paper, too, and partly to spare people's mobile batteries. A white background runs down the battery faster. Vollkorn is legible in sizes down to 9 point and because it does not have hairlines, is good for photocopying.

In praise of Aspergers

We should take a moment now and again to acknowledge the fact that civilisation as we know it would never have arisen if it were not for the...