Updates from the British press

Statistics

An article that’s been buried at the bottom of my stack of clippings reports that 98% of us think we’re nicer than half the population. And 90% of drivers say they’re above average. And although it doesn’t say this, 98% of bloggers think their blogs are better than 99% of the others.

Irrelevant photo: Virginia creeper getting ready for autumn. This photo’s in the top 0.1% of all online photos as measured by the Hawley Randomness Quotient.

Technology

Are you worried about autonomous weapons fighting a war that never ends? Well, Wikipedia turns out to be a battleground where software bots are fighting each other, sometimes until one of them is taken offline and the other’s sent to bed without its virtual supper.

Please note: Humans are still able to perform both of those actions. We don’t know how long that will be true.

The bots were designed to edit, add links, and correct errors, and they’ve done all of that. Then, when they’re done and they get bored, they start undoing each other’s changes, and then re-undoing them when their opposite numbers undoes—well, you get the picture. Each one’s convinced its right and the other one is uneducated and unwashed and hopelessly out of date.

Some of the battles stopped in 2013, when Wikipedia changed something I don’t understand about the links. (Sorry to get technical on you, but this is important stuff.) Whatever they did, though, it hasn’t stopped all the battles.

I’m using Gizmodo as a source for this, which isn’t primarily British, but I originally found the story in the British press, so the headline isn’t a complete lie.

In a parallel story, in 2011, two chatbots were turned loose to have a conversation with each other. They started bickering almost immediately and ended up in an argument about god. Neither was armed and humans were able to step in.

I’d love to know what bots have to say about god—it might be more thoughtful than what humans manage—but I couldn’t find out.

I’ve lost the link for that, but do you really care? Google it youself if you do. Try “chatbots, god.” It should be interesting. And bizarre.

Contests to name stuff

Having learned from the Boaty McBoatface disaster, when Cornwall Housing asked the public to help name a new street in Goonhavern, it didn’t let them vote. It just picked three names and gave those to the parish council, which dutifully picked the most boring of the lot.

The boring bit? That’s a guess. I did my best to find out what the name is, and (more to the point) what the losing suggestions were. I even went as far as reading a few months’ worth of parish council minutes, which took so much willpower that my eyes fizzed for three days. And I didn’t learn a damn thing from them.

That may say more about me than about the council minutes.

I can’t give you a link here. The post’s been taken down. I could link you to the council minutes, but I’m not that evil.

The House of Lords

Some (nope—not sure how many; sorry) of Britain’s wealthiest individuals are (a) members of the House of Lords and (b) claiming up to £40,000 in expenses (that should be per year, but I don’t think the article was specific) without voting, asking questions, serving on committees, or doing anything else identifiably useful.

Lords don’t get a salary but can claim an allowance of up to £300 a day, plus travel costs. To collect, they have to clock in. One is reported to have kept a cab waiting while he clocked in and then turned around and left.

In a small but annoying addition, the restaurants used by MPs and Lords are subsidized. The Lords resisted a suggestion that they buy their champagne jointly with the Commons because they felt what the Commons drank was of an, ahem, lower standard.

And this in a time of austerity, which is good for people who don’t have power. Or money. Or–oh, hell, don’t get me started. I won’t be in the least bit funny about it. Excuse me while I go bite something inanimate.

Making Britain great again

Anyone counting on Brexit to make Britain great again needs to do something about erosion., because, friends, the island’s being nibbled away, centimeter by centimeter.

Once upon a time that would’ve been inch by inch, but those dastardly Europeans imposed their humorless metric system on the grand insanity of British measures and these days we can only lose our coastline by the centimeter.

It’s sad, isn’t it? What the British system lacked in good sense it more than made up for in creativity. Want a link to a post about British measures? This’ll do as an introduction, although the full scale of craziness would take more pixels than I could find the week I wrote it.

But back to the coastline. For thousands of years, the Sussex coast (one place I was able to find some actual figures for) lost between 2 and 6 centimeters a year. For the past 150 years, though, that’s increased to between 22 and 23 a year.

Part of the problem comes from attempts to manage the coastline and part from gravel extraction, which was done enthusiastically and no controls. And now rising sea levels and increased storm severity have come along and multiplied the problem.

As a result, I regularly see pictures—and we’ve left Sussex now and are talking about coastal areas all around Britain—of houses perched at the edges of cliffs or collapsed onto the rocks at the bottom. You can find a few here.

The National Trust, which owns 775 miles of coastline, some of it sporting historically (and let’s face it, commercially) important buildings, is wrestling with its soul and its account books over where to fight and where to retreat. Mullion Harbor—a nineteenth-century Cornish harbor—was costing them £1,500 per week to maintain and they’ve made the decision to give up. In other places, buildings may (emphasis on may) be hauled back from the cliff edge and settled someplace safer but less picturesque.

Erosion closer to home

Even with those stories out of the way, the stack of newspaper clippings on my computer desk is deep enough to horrify any normal person, but a small corner of imitation wood grain has emerged and I feel—.

Okay, I’m not sure what I feel. It’s all pointless in the great scheme of things. You dust your house and it gets dusty again. You shovel off a bit of desk space and the universe provides enough absurdity to fill it up again. Before you know what’s happened, it’s twice as deep. But be of good cheer, folks. It’s Friday. And when the weekend ends, the universe will send another one if you can only wait for it.

34 thoughts on “Updates from the British press

  1. I look forward to your Funny McFunny articles and wish they appeared more often than 14.25% of the week.
    On chatbots, I believe Facebook had to pull the plug recently on two of their AI systems that had started to develop a language that only they used between them, none of their apparently intelligent geek masters could understand what they were talking about.
    A bit like me listening to either my two teenagers chatting or to a Donald Trump speech.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You actually read “parish council minutes” for us? Wow! I’m impressed that you would torture yourself that way. I’ve been to town and school board meetings here (I assume similar) and I was soon looking for an ice pick to stick in my temple. The nitpicking was furious.

    Erosion is entropy on a grand scale. Still, your bits of sand and gravel will eventually be deposited somewhere else (perhaps still underwater) so, all is not lost. Well, I guess it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not lost, I guess; it just turns into something else. Which–depending how attached you were to were to what it used to be–might be the same as lost.

      The only nice thing about parish council minutes is that a lot of the nitpicking drops away because the secretary generally knows better than to write all that shit down. Although I admit, it’s not something I did lightly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m probably NOT nicer than half the population, but I’m for damn sure more self-controlled. I like a lot of blogs better than my own. Driving is madness, a risk every time I leave the driveway. I don’t know when it will occur to everyone else that there are people in the other vehicles, but I hope it’s soon.
    I always wondered why on earth they taught us inches, but then also centimeters in school. I had long assumed it was because of the two sides to the ruler, but now I know it was to measure erosion of the UK shoreline.
    As always, you’ve entertained me. Thank you, happy weekend and all that :)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps I’m getting a bit jaded, or maybe just tired, so the chuckles were a bit subdued until your response to joey’s comment (about other people in cars!) Thanks for the wakeup guffaw! (I love that word.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad to see that the tumult of the 20th century did not erode some of Britain’s traditions. Such as the aristocrats thinking that the commoners can’t possibly have decent taste in champagne. (I think the US leadership is more of a beer and pretzels crowd.)
    My blog isn’t better; it’s just stranger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stranger than 97% of them? Absolutely.

      I never thought to question whether the Commons’ champagne really isn’t up to the Lords’ standards. I wonder if they could identify which is which in a blind taste test. Give me pretzels any day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So disappointed in the anal intelligence of the Council Naming Street Council. Boaty McBoatface name was available, no? I mean the boat didn’t get named Boaty McBoatface, right? So? It was ripe for the picking, right, again right? Why am I asking you all these questions when you already know all the answers…..Boaty McBoatface St. N. Awesome!
    [I would move again just to live on that street…Boaty McBoatface St. N. Got a dollar?]

    Liked by 1 person

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