Fri, 27 Dec 2013
Of all the things that the increasing move to digital allows one of the most pervasive is counting. Websites count how many people visit, they count which articles are popular, how many people like things, how many people buy things. They also count how long people spend on the website, how often they come back in a month, how long they spend on individual pages. They count everything they can.
Once they’ve counted they can use those numbers to work out what’s popular, what sort of headlines result in more people reading an article, or at least clicking through to it or linking to it. That information is then used to tailor the content of the site, to decide what to focus on and how to present it in order to increase the numbers. The sophisticated sites present the same content slightly differently to different people and compare the numbers. If it’s an online shop you can count people at each step in the process of buying something to see where those that don’t buy stop, and then use that to try and move people further through the process. It’s all terribly useful for improving your site.
And it provokes a sense of unease in me.
Unease at the way things are reduced to the countable, at the use of numbers to justify doing things, unease at how it makes things into a puzzle to solve.
All this analysis is useful and you can learn a great deal about how people use your site but I worry about what feels to me like the increasing primacy of numbers in making decisions. I worry that not only are we relying on numbers too much, we’re trying to count things that can’t be and making judgements based on those numbers. Mostly I worry that all this counting only answers the small questions but encourages to concentrate on them because they can be answered.
posted at: 16:49 #
Sun, 08 Sep 2013
Sardinia reminds me of a sketch on a Radio 4 comedy which went along the lines of “Welcome to Radio 3. Quiet, isn’t it?” For late August and early September there are remarkably few people about. This is, on the whole, a good thing but does lend everywhere a slight post apocalypse edge. The hard core commitment to siesta that seems to come with Italian island living only adds to the mood. Even the slightly upmarket tourist resort that, through lack of diligent enough research, we are in for the second week is eerily quiet.
While it lacks many people what the resort does have is wild pigs. Not, in as much as I am a judge of pigs, very large ones or great herds of them but enough that you quickly learn to identify the sound when they wake you snuffling about outside the window in the middle of the night. On the whole they seem watchfully curious, rather cute and add a certain amount of character to the manufactured nature of the place. There are days when we probably see as many pigs as people.
Apparently the draw for the few people here are the beaches which seems a great shame as much of the interior is stunning; “great craggles” is an apt summary. There’s also some flat plains and some lumpy, but non craggly, bits but it’s the many and various ways that rocks sticks out the ground that provide the best of the scenery. With great craggles comes great twistyness but as a holiday feels incomplete without some time spent slaloming through mountain roads this is firmly in the plus column. Your mileage may, in a very literal way, vary.
Sadly is seems that this great interior does not foster the best of Italian cuisine and the beach based tourism certainly doesn’t foster the best of Italian architecture. There is also not the same rich vein of towns where afternoons can be swallowed up in idle wandering as in other parts of Italy and the local specialities are at the rustic end. Crowds and getting a table are never an issue though.
Also not an issue is Bronze Age towers for there are thousands of them in various states of repair. A few have guides and information but mostly they are scattered casually about the island with only a small brown sign to draw the attention. More impressive is the willingness of the guide at the one we visit to admit that most of what he is telling you is guesswork. There are towers; they were built between 1600 BC and 800 BC; they were abandoned. Probably is as good as the whys seem to get and quite a few are “no idea, here is some speculation on the matter”. It’s nothing whatsoever to do with the Carthaginians though, that much is very definite.
The other defining characteristic of Sardinia is the grossly over-engineered road junctions. The idea of two roads simply meeting is something of an anathema to the road planners so each junction comes with little dividing islands, directions arrows and give ways signs at a minimum. If you are unlucky then you come across what can only be the work of a frustrated knot theorist.
Not really being the beach going type I can’t say much about the beaches.
posted at: 21:06 #
Wed, 07 Aug 2013
This isn’t really about wheel sizes but about a thing that’s been bugging me for a while about bike reviews and all the fuss about 650b has brought it into focus.
I read quite a bit about press camps for bike journalists and one thing they all have in common, from what I can tell, is a structure that goes “tell them what we’ve done and then let them ride the bikes”. This seems problematic to me in that the journalist riding the new bike is then prepped with what they should be looking for. If you’re told a bike is supposed to me more X then you can’t help thinking about the Xness of he bike. You’re experience of the bike has been framed.
I’d be much happier with bike tests done in ignorance of the supposed benefits of the bike.
posted at: 20:44 #
Mon, 02 Apr 2012
As with a great many activities there is an element of cycling culture that is a bit hostile to newcomers. There’s always going to be a learning curve in taking up a hobby and there’s not much to be done about that but there’s a few aspects within cycling which seem to be actively unhelpful.
Possibly the best distillation of this is in Velominati’s The Rules which, I hope, is partly satire but contains a fair helping of truth. There is some good advice in there but a lot of it falls into two categories: worship of suffering and style policing.
The former of these is a constant within the road cycling fraternity; every road cyclist wants to be Belgian and regarded as a hard man. And yes, there is something heroic in the ability of the professional cyclist to suffer but I can’t help but think that the better living through suffering ethic isn’t all that welcoming.
The style policing which is prevalent in mountain biking as well, albeit in a different form from that captured in The Rules, I find the more objectionable of the two. If someone is on a bike they should be encouraged, not told that they have the wrong colour or type of shorts.
There is an argument to be had that I am taking this too seriously but time spent on cycling forums tells me I am not. On almost any topic you care to mention there will people who are serious in their derision of people for breaching some arbitrary convention who then go on to defend it by appealing to circumstances entirely irrelevant to all but the most serious of cyclist.
The core issue I have with this is the underlying notion that the vast majority of people who cycle are, in some way, not proper cyclists when in fact we should be pleased every time we see anyone on a bike. I know for some people the increase in cycling commuters is an irritation but for me one of the cheering things about visiting London in recent years is the stream of cyclists at either end of the day. It makes me happy every time I see it.
Every one of those commuters, regardless of how slow, wobbly or poor their gear selection is someone on a bike and the more of them there are the better it is for everyone else on a bike. Years ago the bags of Edinburgh Bicycle carried a quote from H.G. Wells that forms the tl;dr for all of the above: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
posted at: 21:26 #
Thu, 01 Mar 2012
Among the unsung joys of bicycle ownership is how easy they are to fix; a bit of knowledge and a few allen keys goes a long way with a bike. Not only does this make them cheap to run, or at least potentially cheap, there’s also an extra pride in owning something that you maintain.
Most of the maintenance is actually more accurately termed cleaning for which some rags and a toothbrush will suffice. However, even common maintenance like replacing brake pads, tweaking gears and replacing the chain only requires the addition of a chain splitter to the allen keys. A few more tools and you can replace the entire drivetrain when it wears out, one or two more and you can remove and replace the forks and then you can start thinking about building your own wheels.
And with that you’ve build your own bike which comes with yet another boost to the pride in ownership. If you’re really keen you can go on a framebuilding course and come out the other end with a frame you made yourself.
I am not that keen.
posted at: 23:21 #
Mon, 10 Oct 2011
Every sport has it’s own history and tradition; cycling’s is longer than most and the Giro di Lombardia is one of the oldest events. It’s usually been the last big race on the calendar, coming as it does as autumn properly sets in, hence the Race of the Falling Leaves nickname.
And now the UCI have moved the date to September and the week after the World Championships. There’s all sorts of reasons to do with rider motivation and ability to peak for both the Worlds and Lombardy that this might be a good thing for the quality of the field but it makes me sad.
I’m sad that the end of the season is now likely to be the Tour of Beijing, an event created by the UCI for possibly good reasons but an event lacking in any character. It might improve but going on it’s inaugural edition it’s going to be more of a fading out of the season than a last hurrah.
I’m also sad as it’s inevitably going to change the character of the race, if in no other way than greatly decreasing the likely hood of the grim weather that’s accompanied some of the great editions in the past. Part of the appeal of the race is that it is, as with many of the classics, a hard man’s race. The list of previous winners is enough to confirm that. I fear that moving it forward a month will reduce that part of it’s mythology, somehow make the race seem less of a spectacle.
Mostly I’m sad as it’s another example of the romance of the sport being slowly eaten away. History matters in sport; it gives events personality and fosters emotional attachment, for both participants and fans.
posted at: 20:13 #
Fri, 08 Apr 2011
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posted at: 07:50 #
Sat, 05 Mar 2011
At some point I will learn that listening to Any Questions only makes me grumpy but today is not that day. On this occasion it was listening to Lord Falconer asserting that the quality of health care in Scotland had decreased under the SNP government.
What irked me wasn’t the claim but the way he substantiated it: health spending in Scotland has only increased by 4% a year versus 6% in England. The accuracy or otherwise of the statistics is less relevant than the choice of statistics and the underlying implication that spending more means better health care. This either points to naivety on the part of Lord Falconer or disingenuousness. Disappointingly no one on the panel actually questioned this.
posted at: 20:02 #
Wed, 18 Aug 2010
If there’s one thing that separates the casual cyclist from those of us who view it as more than mere transportation it’s pedalling speed; they pedal too damn slow. I realise that gliding past with one’s feet performing stately arcs around the bottom bracket looks more elegant but it’s just less efficient. Change down a gear or two and increase the number of revolutions per second and it will be easier.
posted at: 21:53 #
Mon, 12 Jul 2010
Apropos of the recent NHS White paper (CMS geeks check the URL) I was thinking about choice. Mostly I wonder about how much people actually want choice in their healthcare and if it does any good.
So I did something I’ve never done before and read the white paper. It’s fairly clear, not too long and reasonably free of jargon which was a pleasant surprise. It also answered some of my questions in that it says in footnote 22 that
The 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey shows that over 95% of people think that there should be at least some choice over which hospital a patient attends and what kind of treatment they receive
Sadly the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey appears not to be online and I can’t find the same question in the 2008 edition. That may just be me not being able to navigate the rather old school website.
It also pointed at a few papers that show positive results for patient outcomes when the patient is involved in choosing their care. Impressively in section 2.3 we have one footnoted study which says in the abstract that “Patient-centeredness was associated with better outcomes and higher cost” followed shortly afterwards by the claim that involving patients in their care “can also bring significant reductions in cost, as highlighted in the Wanless Report”. I point this out more as evidence that anything involving healthcare is complex and likely to involve conflicting evidence. There’s clearly some evidence for the notion that choice can be a good thing though. I’m not even close to being well versed enough in such matters to know how to reach a conclusion if there’s more evidence for or against though. Probably I should read the Wanless report but one government document a day is my limit.
Still, it seems there is some indication that people want choice and that is might be a good thing. It’s certainly reasonably hard to argue against the notion that providing people with information about their care and getting them involved is a bad thing.
Of course the issue with choice is that it’s pretty useless unless you understand the choice you are making. In order to get round this there’s a reasonably chunk of the paper which talks about providing more information to people so they can make an informed choice - see section 2.10. The problem I see here is that with these kind of statistics it’s all going to be about the context and educating people about what they mean and how to use them. Outcomes from medical treatments are dependant on a huge range of factors not all of which are going to be under the control of those administering the treatment and unless these are factored out or minimised in the statistics it’s likely to be hard for the lay person to make meaningful comparisons.
Of course as one of the main changes in the white paper is that GPs will be doing the commissioning it’s likely to be the GPs that are explaining the choices and hence the stats so that should help. I do wonder about the burden this places on the GPs to research and understand all of this. I can see that for routine treatments this works well but given the increasing specialisation of modern medicine it seems less tenable for more complex conditions. It makes me wonder how well choice will work in these cases.
Two things are a bit unclear to me about this though. The first is how this helps in areas with only one feasible provider. A core notion in the white paper is that choice will mean that the good/efficient providers will be picked and hence will get paid and the rest will be forced into improving in order to win business. If there is only one provider in an area how does this work? ( Also, to improve you need to invest so where does money for that investment come from? )
The second aspect that’s unclear is how this effects scheduling and resourcing. Surely the more popular providers will become over-subscribed?
It’s the notion of setting up hospitals and doctors in competition with each other for business that disturbs me most about this. Surely you want them to work together to improve care everywhere?
posted at: 23:23 #