Monday, 15 September 2014

Dumbing Down

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In the beginning... 

Most of us who have a "smartphone" have experienced the panic then frustration when the battery is close to dying before finally packing in for the day. For me this is usually around 1500/1600. I have finally reached the end of my tether with this.

As a great ancient anonymous technology-philosopher once said: 

"How smart is a smartphone when it doesn't have any charge."

My current set-up... 

Currently I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It is a really good phone (when it has power). Good specs, running a stock version of Google Android (no manufacturer bloat-ware). I have a bizillion minutes, texts and unlimited data. I rarely turn on my WiFi or Bluetooth and I am pretty sparing with daily use. I also had to buy a portable external battery as I was fed up of it running out of juice before the working day was done. 

When things go wrong... 

I know that when some features of the phone are used the battery gets obliterated. The activities which substantially hurt battery life are: being on a call, Google Maps, and instant messaging on Skype, and taking a picture with the camera. I do not have Facebook installed on my phone and neither do I have Twitter. This is due to A) the outrageous permission requests required for both apps, B) social apps use background data, which in turn uses the ariel, running down the battery even when not actively using those apps. 

My absolute minimum requirements... 

Any phone that I have must be able to do:
- Phone calls
- Text messages,
- Emails (I hate emails, mainly just use my mobile to view email and respond if totally urgent otherwise they wait until I am back at my computer)
- Contacts
- Calendar 
- Sync email/contact/calendar with more that one account (Gmail, MS Exchange etc)
- Light web browsing
- VoIP/Internet calling on the SIP protocol
- Call blocking 
- Tethering to laptop to act as portable modem.
- Battery should last at least one full day (0700 - 2200) between charges 

Nice to haves...

There are a few applications that I really utilise on my phone:
- Maps
- Google Hangouts
- Weather (normal and coastal/marine weather)
- News
- Train times
- Mobile Banking

An experiment 

The question: How big an impact will NOT having a smartphone have on my daily productivity. 

The hypothesis: Getting rid of my smartphone will improve my daily productivity. 

Finding a suitable replacement

Most smartphones suffer from the battery life issue. I was looking around for a cheap hard-button QWERTY phone to replace my "smart-brick". Sadly, there are not too many of these on the market today. So instead I found myself looking at "feature phones" (could be referred to as "old-school" or "retro"). After a quick search I found a phone that promises good battery life and meets all of my absolute requirements and some of my nice-to-haves too. 

Meet my Nokia 207. 

Impressively, this little gal can do everything I need it to do and a bit more. The punchline is that it cost just under £30 including VAT and delivery... So that would be just about a tenth (1/10) of what I paid for my "smartphone" but still meeting my core needs... Allegedly, the battery will last up to a month - we shall see about that. There was a version with a camera for an eye-watering £35 but I rarely take pictures, and I am not that bother about taking a picture with a 1.3MP camera anyway.

The full specs can be found here but the headlines:

Display size: 2.4 ''

No camera 

Power management
Maximum standby time: 20 days
Maximum talk time (2G): 12 h
Maximum talk time (3G): 4.5 h
Maximum music playback time: 29 h

Potential Cost Savings

Currently I am paying £25/month for a sim-only 30 day contract for effectively unlimited everything, including data. Even if I wanted to surpass the fair-usage allowance my phone would not let me as it would run out of battery, and ultimately I would spend more time charging it than using the bundled mins/texts/data per month.

Having looked at my mins/texts/data usage I could easily move on to a much cheaper package (£7 - £10/month). This would save me in the region of £180 a year, with the cost of buying the new "dumb-phone" covered in just under 2 months. 

I will run with this experiment for a couple of months before writing an update on the outcome. 

Have you looked at whether you actually need a smartphone? How much could you save?

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Sunday, 7 September 2014


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Well the debate is nearing its end here in Scotland over the upcoming referendum on independence. It is not just politco's that are engaged with the debate, almost everybody is talking about it. At the dinner table, in the shops, down the pub. We Scots are fired up, and a lot of us are divided. I have really resisted the temptation to get too involved with the debate, especially on social media. In my opinion the conversation that is on-going has really represented the worst of our politics, even if it has got the whole nation engaged.

As far as I can make out there are currently four camps. 
  • Camp 1: the "no" voters, 
  • Camp 2: the "yes" voters, 
  • Camp 3 the "I'm-going-to-say-I'm-undecided-but-deep-down-I-know" voters, and 
  • Camp 4 the real "undecided voters", very shortly there will be a fifth camp of "I-have-already-voted-with-a-postal-vote-so-please-stop-talking-to-me-about-it" voters. 

There is no doubt that there is a bit of "referendum-fatigue" kicking-in. Many people are fed up with the spraf that is coming out of both sides, and don't get me started on some of the Facebook and Twitter posts. Sadly, the debate that is presented in the main media has turned into a political circus. No clear answers, and some really pathetic pandering on both sides. 

Former US president Bill Clinton voiced concerns at the start of the debate urging both sides not to "tear the place apart" (, unfortunately, this has not been the case, though there is still time in this last stage to turn it around.

For me there are a few fundamental questions that remain unclear, and these are not really about the detail, a lot of which I still feel is missing, or is so unclear it is difficult to decipher what is fact from fiction. So here is the high-level questions that can be answered.

Question 1: What does independence actually mean?

Although it seems like an obvious and rather dumb question, it is, in my opinion, the starting point for any debate on this independence referendum. I have been asking this question for a while, and my anecdotal evidence (I know, the weakest form of evidence) is that independence actually means different things to different people. So instead of trying to give answers, I am going to challenge you by asking yourself "what does independence actually mean for Scotland", maybe you will extend the question to ask what it means for "me" but try to keep your answers separate. 

Question 2: What does independence look like?

The follow-on question I have been asking people is: "What does independence look like". This question as you can imagine generates a wide array of answers, most of which are even less comprehensible than Question 1., usually the response is a scatter-gun of topical issues like the NHS, and being £500 better off. So ask yourself - "What does independence actually look like?".

For many the issue of being "able to raise what we spend" is a core part of their answer. Currently, Scotland can generate income from certain taxes. For example, the Scottish government has the power to vary the UK rate of income tax up or down by 3p in the pound. It was part of the Scotland Act 1998, which established the Scottish Parliament, but has never been used.

The other side of this argument is "we can choose how much we spend and on what". For me this is the absolute core of being independent. A country that can spend how much it wants, on whatever it wants, without restriction, is a true independent country. 

The difficult thing about this version of true independence is that political and currency unions get in the way. An example of a political union restricting another nation is the limitations the European Union (EU) puts on fisherman for its member countries, or how the United Kingdom (UK) imposes restrictions on how fast motorists can travel on public highways. An example of currency unions putting limitations on countries would be where the central bank of the currency limits how much public spending & borrowing a member country can do in order to keep the interest rates under control, which is the current case in the UK, with its member countries (Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England).

Ultimately, true independence is actually quite difficult to achieve - especially if you want to be part of other unions. Such as the UK and the EU. "If you want to join the club, you have to agree to the rules".

This has lead me to believe that to be really independent, Scotland must be brave and at least have it's own currency. It is difficult for people to accept this, but ultimately how independent is a country when it has another country telling it how much it can borrow, which affects how much it can spend? In my eyes that is not very independent. We should then be very, very cautious about which unions we look to join. 

Question 3: What is the current club membership costing us?

Politicians are full of bullshit, sorry I mean "facts". So many facts, that in fact many are not really facts at all. For me I had to start by looking at what it is currently costing me to be part of our current club - the UK. Here is the breakdown for public spending of the UK club in 2013 (source: Her Majesties Revenue and Customs - HMRC), for the average yearly income of a Scot (£20,862). 

Gross Income: 20,862.00
Income Tax: 2,170.60
National Insurance: 1,548.72
Net Income: 17,142.68
Total cost to be part of the UK club (2,170.60 + 1,548.72) = 3,719.32

This means my average rate of tax is 18% (every £1.00 I earn, I pay £0.18 in total income/NI taxes). Here is how the club sent our membership fees in 2013 (with specific breakdowns where data was available). Note: the % spent does not change regardless of income: 

Welfare & Benefits - 37.6% - £1398.46 (of my £3,719.32)

- State pension and other retirement support - £616.72
- Sickness and disability - £255.92
- Family and Children - £146.84
- Social exclusion - £165.02
- Housing - £146.84
- Unemployment - £32.16

Health - 18.5% -  £688.07 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown but includes: medical products and equipment, inpatient services, outpatient services, dental services, R&D, public health services and associate administration and support services.

Education  -  13.0% -  £483.51 (of my £3,719.32)

- Preprimary & primary schools - £169.71
- Secondary education - £202.11
- Tertiary (mainly universities) - £75.09

National debt interest  - 7.1% -  £264.07 (of my £3,719.32)

Debt payments comprise central and local government payments to the private sector and overseas.

Defence - 5.4% - £200.84 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown but includes spending on: military services, civil defence activities, foreign military aid, R&D, and associated administrative and support services. 

Criminal justice - 4.7% - £174.81 (of my £3,719.32)

- Police - £98.24
- Courts - £33.21
- Prisons - £23.95

Transport - 2.8% - £104.14 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown but includes public spending on: national roads, local roads, local public transport, railways, and other forms of transport and transport infrastructure (i.e. airports and harbours).

Business and Industry - 2.5% -  £92.68 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown. Includes all public spending on supporting agriculture, forestry, fishing, fuel and energy supply, mining, manufacturing, communications, labour affairs, tourism and other parts of UK economy.

Government Administration - 2.1% - £78.11 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown but includes: running local authorities, central government departments, and the largest area of spend is on cost of tax and rates collection (HMRC).

Sports, museums and Libraries - 1.8% - £66.95 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown. Includes spending on providing sporting and recreational services (e.g. parks), cultural services (libraries, museums, art galleries), broadcasting and publishing services, support to community based organisations and religious groups and associated administrative and support costs

Environment  -  1.6% - £59.51 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown. Includes public spending on: collecting, treating and disposing of waste, sewage operation, water waste treatment, dealing with pollution, R&D, and associated administrative and support services.

Housing and Utilities - 1.5% - £55.79 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown. Includes public spending on developing social and affordable housing, providing public utilities and community services, and associate administrative costs. 

Overseas Aid - 0.9% - £33.47 (of my £3,719.32)

No breakdown. Includes public spending on: economic aid, to developing countries and countries in transition, and economic aid routed through international organisations. Does not include peacekeeping aid. 

UK overall contribution to EU budget  - 0.6% - £22.32 (of my £3,719.32)

This is net EU receipts. This does not include contributions that go directly to the EU, such as custom duties which are not included as part of UK government spending.


When I looked at the breakdown of the direct cost to me for membership of the UK club, I was quite surprised. I feel that it is generally getting the proportions right, in some cases I was really surprised at how low the figure actually was. For example, I would maybe like to see £100/year of my tax go to Overseas Aid, rather than just £33.47/year. The Sports Museums and Libraries is an absolute bargain at £66.95/year. Actually, I feel that my contribution of £78.11/year to take care of an entire county's government administration is value for money. Just over £20/year to be able to travel and work anywhere in Europe without much hassle? Pretty good. 

Bringing this back to independence. What does independence bring me that I can't already get through the current democratic process? Is independence actually solving a problem, or does the problem lie else where? In an independent Scotland, which bits are going to be reduced that would make me £500/year better off?

Question 4: Have we tried all other available alternatives to fix our problems?

To really answer this question we need to ask ourselves: "what are Scotland's problems?". Anecdotally, health, and poverty are two major issues. On the poverty issue, it is generational poverty  / unemployment that is really, really bad for us. For every generation that is in poverty or unemployed the social issues around this multiply exponentially. Sadly, this problem is astonishingly difficult to solve.  

Personally, I am not convinced we have tried all available alternatives that could solve these problems and improve lives of Scottish people, despite already having the powers to do so.

For example, some Local Authorities have some serious questions to answer about the the efficiency and quality of delivery of a number of core services. It is Local Authorities politics ( and delivery) that most normal people come into contact with first. Have we considered a radical shake up of Local Authorities in Scotland. Do we need 32 of them? Do they all need to have their own Education departments? Do they even deserve to have the privilege to run some of the most important services for the community? With recent consolidations in the Police in Scotland, could some parts of Local Authorities follow? If not, why not?

What about using our income tax powers to raise some more money that can only be spent in Scotland to help tackle the health and poverty issues we have.

Question 5: What are your motivations?

Finally, we all need to understand and respect that we all have our own motivations for voting in a particular way. Guess what? That is perfectly okay, although more recently in the debate people are beginning to forget this. For some it is about identity and national pride, for others it is about business and economic security. 

For me? Well one of my motivations for choosing which way to vote is entrepreneurial support. Ultimately, we need people to take risk and generate jobs and wealth for our country. I have been absolutely blown away by the huge level of support I have received from both UK and Scottish business support organisations and individuals over the last 8 years I have been running my own business. What has not been explained clearly to me is how this will be even better if we were independent. The reason for which is pretty clear. Scottish-only businesses would potentially lose the support of the hundreds business support organisations that are available to businesses that are within the UK. 

Final thoughts...

Which ever way Scotland votes on September 18th we all are just going to have to accept it, get on with it and look to the future. We are all going to have to live with one another after, so pointless name-calling and other nasty tactics are really unnecessary and really quite damaging. 

Hopefully the questions above are able to help you make up your own mind about which way to vote if you are one of the real undecided voters. Which ever way that is then that is absolutely fine with me, just as long as you are clear about these questions and your motivations, and respect others for their viewpoint too.

Got your answers to these questions, put them in the comments below. I am not keen on comment warfare so play nice. 

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Recommender System Series: Part 1

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Having recently completed my MSc thesis on recommender systems I thought I would share some experiences of the 12 week journey. During this time I researched, designed and developed a recommender system and evaluation framework from the ground up. Overall, the project had over 10,000 lines of code and a 79 page thesis as a write up. In this series I want to summarise some of the key points I picked up along the way and hope this can help all who are interested in this area.

Part 1. Recommender systems overview

What is a recommender system? What do they do? Why are they worth thinking about? These are typically the first questions that are asked when you introduce the concept of a recommender system to someone for the first time.

What is a recommender system?
Simply put, a recommender system is a piece of software that tries to predict items that a user might like, given their personal preferences. This sounds quite straight forward, however, there are a number of issues which make this a pretty complex problem to solve.

What do they do?
Recommender systems come in all shapes and sizes, and appear in a number of different settings. The most common systems that someone would recognise are that of If you have seen Amazon's "Users who bought this item also bought these..." or "Users who viewed this item also viewed these...", then you have seen a recommender system in action. Another common application of recommender system is to recommend news stories i.e "Other articles you might like...". However, recommender systems are pretty much used in all corners of the web, from music to movie recommenders, job searching to online dating and of course social networking (recommending friends and connections). 

The real difference between a mediocre recommender system and a great recommender system lies in the items it ends up showing to the end user as a recommendation. 

For example, if a user visits a bicycle website and puts a new set of tyres into their basket, a mediocre recommender system might recommend the user to by a pump or some inner tubes. These items may seem like a good recommendation because they are closely related to bicycle tyres, however, the question is: without the recommender system could the user have found these items anyway? The answer in this example is of course, in fact, inner tubes would probably be next on that users list to add to the basket. 

A real recommendation list from shopping basket when containing a bicycle tyre only.
Are these good recommendations?

Consider this, what if instead of recommending very similar items such as inner tubes, the recommender system was able to contextualise the intention to buy new bicycle tyres with someone who does a lot of cycling. In this case maybe the recommender could recommend a book of great cycle routes in that user's country. Or maybe the user frequently commutes to work on a bike, in which case maybe recommend some bicycle baggage or a new gadget to help commuters become more visible to other road users. What if the recommender system was able to explain why it was making the recommendation as well? Well, explanations can help to build user trust in the system, and trust is important, especially when the user is parting with their cash.

In this second example the recommender systems shows items that the user might like but might not have discovered before. This is what separates a mediocre recommender system from a great one.

So what do recommender systems do? Good ones try to predict items that a user might like but might not have discovered on their own, then they suggest them to the user. Great recommender systems then also try to explain why they are recommending those items.  

Why are they worth thinking about? 
Think about the last example in the section above. If you run an online business and a recommender system is successful in selling items to users that they might not have discovered but actually really like then you will increase your revenue by increasing the popularity of your "long tail" items (see image below). This is really good news.

An diagram showing the meaning of "long tail" items. 

Apart from making more money, if you can make good recommendation then your customers/users will come back and enjoy their experience on your website. Again, this is really good news. 

So why are recommender systems worth thinking about: Well they can make you more money, and increase the user engagement and satisfaction on your website, thats why. 

Final thoughts
Recommender systems have become part of everyday life for most people (whether they know it or not) and for businesses. However, getting recommender systems right is really difficult (more about that later in this series). They have the power to delight users, but they also have the power to destroy trust and frustrate users. This has been a very brief overview of recommender systems and there has been a huge amount of detail left out. As this series progresses I will dive into greater detail so stay tuned.

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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.

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According to the astronaut Chris Hadfield:

"[in space] There is no problem so bad that you can't make it worse". 

I was watching to his inspiring TED Talk and thinking about this saying. His overarching message in his video is that in a crisis, or where there is (perceived) danger, the best thing to do is: 
1. remain calm
2. assess your options
3. communicate efficiently, and then 
4. take considered action.

Based on the above I want to introduce my leadership acronym: When in danger think COCC. (Calm, Options, Communication, Considered-actions)... Okay no more leadership acronyms. 

In typical astronaut style his example was when he went blind whilst out on a spacewalk on the International Space Station... However, I wan't to use a more "down-to-earth" example... (see what I did there? Okay no more puns.)

Really the saying "[in space] There is no problem so bad that you can't make it worse" is just as applicable to us earthlings. Furthermore, since most of us don't go through years of astronaut training, we are very good at making things much worse, quite quickly. 

In my normal work day the steps I know that I am guilty of missing time-to-time are the combination of: the assessment of my options, and communication - both of which are needed. On reflection my typically thought process when faced with a difficult situation tends to be: 
1. Remain calm (I'm quite good at this). 
2. Assess options 
3. Take some action. 

It is strange that I have been guilty of missing these key steps since my training with the RNLI has made me an effective helmsman whilst at sea, I have just failed to realise that this process is just as applicable in business as it is whilst at sea. 

I know recently that missing out the communication part has led to seemingly small problems much bigger than they ever needed to be. All because I didn't think COCC. 

Here is the talk: 

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Monday, 27 January 2014

A "Hot or Not" App for Medical Research?

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The "Hot or Not" concept is quite controversial and is close to bullying. For those not familiar the user is shown pictures of two people and asked to click on which person they find more attractive. Later versions of this then allow users to comment, as you can imagine these comments can generally be pretty mean.

So how can an application like this be applied to benefit medical research? 

Well I have recently been involved with a project called the James Lind Alliance Neuro-oncology Group. This 12 month project aims to gather questions that people - from patients to carers to medical professionals - have about brain cancer or spine cancer. 

The goal is to gather these questions and then sort them into questions that have been answered and those questions that have not yet been answered - uncertainties. 

Why ask patients and carers, why not leave it to the researchers? Well turn that question on it's head. Why should researchers who have special or vested interests get to drive the research agenda? Why not focus research on what matters most to patients, carers and other non-research folk. 

The Problem

The issue arises in the number of responses that JLA studies generate. There can easily be 1000 + questions asked - in free text form. AKA a bloody nightmare in terms of searching, sorting and filtering. How many variations can you ask a medical questions on a tumor? The number is > 1 the upper limit is unknown, but high. 

The issue is you need an expert to identify whether or not questions are similar. These are medical questions after all. However, two medical professionals could disagree about whether or not a question is the same, and so you need a specialist medical professional to review, and then a peer to review to make sure that there is not vested interests. Then you have to construct a question that covers all the variation so there needs to be collaboration. 

In other words doing this for 1000 + questions is a royal pain in the ass (and very, very time consuming). What's more this is doctors time, which is very expensive.

The Opportunity.

Guess how this process is currently done. Yep you are right, via email and day long face-to-face meetings, which are expensive and annoyingly inefficient. So there is a brilliant opportunity to build something that could help doctors save time and do a better job or categorising and collaboration on these important questions. 

Step in Hot or Not (a variation). 

The Idea

What is needed is a place where the doctors involved in the project can log in to a web-based system and see two questions (rather than people) side by side and say whether they are hot (similar) or not. 

The doctor could then tag each question allowing questions to be group into specialities, i.e. a question relating to brain cancer in paediatrics. Then specialists could view the tagged questions that are relevant for their area. 

Another part of the application would be a straightforward commenting system allowing the doctors to converse and collaborate on various questions.  

Finally, the doctors need to be able to assign a question to a "final version question". 

Some basic metrics and gamification could make this process more enjoyable. I.e. a leaderboard to see which doctor in the group has sifted through the most number of questions or seeing a progress bar to see real time progress. 

The Savings

The number of doctors / health professionals involved in a project is about 10-15, and are usually well dispersed around in the United Kingdom. This makes a day meeting very very expensive, especially since most of the doctors are either surgeons or consultants. 
Cost per doctor (approximately)
Transport - £150
Accommodation - £ 80
Breakfast - £10
Lunch - £20
Venue - £10 
Opportunity Cost (for the day) = £275 (based on a salary of £100,000)

Overall estimated cost for a one day meeting per doctor is £545 or £5450  - £8,175 overall. 

Multiply this by the number of JLA projects per year and it starts to really add up. This cost also excludes the time spent outside of the meeting following up on actions and sorting questions. I would say in total a single JLA project probably costs in the region of £30,000 - £50,000. 

What if this software could make the process of filtering x2 as time/cost efficient as the manual way? Well we could help save £15,000 - £25,000 per project, which is pretty neat. 

The next steps...

- Spec the software 
- Set up GitHub / Project page / Open Source terms. 
- Gather team. 
- Code like mad. 
- Release to test within 1 JLA project. 

If you want to get involved or know someone who might, or want to suggest a cool feature etc then just leave comments below.  

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

(Probably) The best come back, ever.

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Aided by a terrible "study" from Princeton last week, Facebook had the opportunity to deliver the best (data science) comeback ever... and they did.

Princeton's study for those who have not read it goes along the lines of this.... Google searches for "Facebook" are falling... therefore, Facebook is losing users... and at the current trend Facebook could lose 80% its users by 2015 - 2017. This is idiotic by any measure - giving Mike Develin, Lada Adamic, and Sean Taylor the perfect opportunity to parody the article. Needless to say I doubt the Princeton article will get published in a peer-review journal any time soon.

The original article from Facebook is below with the original post found here. All credit to: Mike Develin, Lada Adamic, and Sean Taylor & Facebook Inc.


Debunking Princeton23 January 2014 at 21:57

Like many of you, we were intrigued by a recent article by Princeton researchers predicting the imminent demise of Facebook. Of particular interest was the innovative use of Google search data to predict engagement trends, instead of studying the actual engagement trends. Using the same robust methodology featured in the paper, we attempted to find out more about this "Princeton University" - and you won't believe what we found!

In keeping with the scientific principle "correlation equals causation," our research unequivocally demonstrated that Princeton may be in danger of disappearing entirely. Looking at page likes on Facebook, we find the following alarming trend:

Now, Facebook isn't the only repository of human knowledge out there. A search of Google Scholar revealing a plethora of scholarly articles of great scholarliness turned up the following results, showing the percentage of articles matching the query "Princeton" by year:

The trend is similarly alarming: since 2009, the percentage of "Princeton" papers in journals has dropped dramatically.

Of course, Princeton University is primarily an institution of higher learning - so as long as it has students, it'll be fine. Unfortunately, in investigating this, we found a strong correlation between the undergraduate enrollment of an institution and its Google Trends index:

Sadly, this spells bad news for this Princeton entity, whose Google Trends search scores have been declining for the last several years:

This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all, agreeing with the previous graph of scholarly scholarliness. Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth.

While we are concerned for Princeton University, we are even more concerned about the fate of the planet — Google Trends for "air" have also been declining steadily, and our projections show that by the year 2060 there will be no air left:

As previous researchers [J. Sparks, 2008] have expressed in the past, this will have grievous consequences for the fate of all humanity, not just our academic colleagues in New Jersey.

Although this research has not yet been peer-reviewed, every Like for this post counts as a peer review. Start reviewing!

P.S. We don’t really think Princeton or the world’s air supply is going anywhere soon. We love Princeton (and air). As data scientists, we wanted to give a fun reminder that not all research is created equal – and some methods of analysis lead to pretty crazy conclusions.

Research by Mike Develin, Lada Adamic, and Sean Taylor.
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Friday, 24 January 2014

Gov Hackers

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The word "hacker" is basically being used for anything nowadays... "I did a supermarket shop this week in less time than it usually would take and I got a couple of really good deals" thus I am a Food Hacker.... "I managed to make it to work 5 mins early today and I saved a child's life, ended poverty, and helped birth a lamb on the way in"... I am a Commuter Hacker... 
Well you get the idea... 

I was reading this article by Clare Sheppard recently which is a call to action for young people to get more involved in politics. It's a pretty good article and I commented on it to add that maybe we should take an aim at the political system with technology, since we as: brilliant, gifted and ... modest ... young people get this (technology) shit. Init. 

I made a passing remark about being "Gov Hackers" and I guess it was maybe my own boredom but I actually got thinking about what a "Gov Hacker" would look like and what would they do? Although, I guess I think that about most people who postfix the word Hacker to their job-title.  

I guess to get the ball rolling I would define a Gov Hacker as someone who has a firm handle on technology and uses this to influence politicians and or political movements. I suppose at this point I probably have the NSA and GCHQ alarms going off with the words Gov and Hacker, so for the benefit of these guys and any other politician reading this then please see here for what is meant. 

Product Idea

Maybe there is room in the market for a Software-as-a-Service app which allows you to "track" and communicate with your local MP / MSP / Senator / Congressman etc... It would involve pulling in all feeds (Twitter, Blogs, Google Alerts) that the politician would have and allow easy communication to that ..... elected representative. 

There should obviously be a function whereby the user of the application could see the expenses that the politician has submitted - but may this is a "premium" feature. Also, the user should be able to see how the politician has voted (if they have bothered to show up) and link back through to petitions from sites such as In fact has a nice little REST API  for developers so this could be done without much hassle. 

Getting general traction would be done through signup / sign in with Twitter or Facebook account. OAuth helps us here. Share to followers / FB wall. Job done. 

Sharing is important here. If something impresses you or more likely annoys you about what your politician is doing then you need to share this. Maybe attach Twitter accounts of the local rags to each politician and if they are high profile then tweet to @bbcnickrobinson. Maybe journalists would actually use the tool in the first instance to keep on top of these folks. 

Should we limit the number of politicians a user can stalk? The last thing we want is users being overwhelmed with information and we don't want to scare off the politicians either. User engagement == political engagement which is the aim of this game. 

Might add to this later but I think that is enough for now... 

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