Informatics Independence Referendum Debate

School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh
Independence Referendum Debate
4.00--5.30pm Monday 25 August
Appleton Tower Lecture Room 2

For the NAYs: Prof. Alan Bundy
For the AYEs: Prof. Philip Wadler
Moderator: Prof. Mike Fourman

All members of the School of Informatics
and the wider university community welcome

(This is a debate among colleagues and not a formal University event.
All views expressed are those of the individuals who express them,
and not the University of Edinburgh.)


Research funding in an independent Scotland

A useful summary, written by a colleague.
In Summary:
  •  the difference between the Scottish tax contribution and RCUK spending in Scotland is small compared to savings that will be made in other areas such as defence
  • Funding levels per institution are actually similar in Scotland to those in the rest of the UK, it’s just that there are more institutions here
  • Because of its relative importance any independent Scottish government would prioritise research
  • If rUK rejects a common research area it would lose the benefits of its previous investments, and the Scottish research capacity, which is supported by the Scottish government and the excellence of our universities
  • There are significant disadvantages with a No vote, resulting from UK immigration policy and the possibility of exiting the EU

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Scotland can't save England

Salmond concluded his debate with Darling by observing that for half his lifetime Scotland had been ruled by governments that Scotland had not elected. Many take this the other way, and fret that if Scotland leaves the UK, then Labour would never win an election. Wings Over Scotland reviews the figures. While Scotland has an effect on the size of the majority, elections would yield the same ruling party with or without Scotland in 65 of the last 67 years. To a first approximation, Scotland's impact over the rest of the UK is nil, while the rest of the UK overwhelms Scotland's choice half the time.

1945 Labour govt (Attlee)

Labour majority: 146
Labour majority without any Scottish MPs in Parliament: 143

1950 Labour govt (Attlee)

Labour majority: 5
Without Scottish MPs: 2

1951 Conservative govt (Churchill/Eden)

Conservative majority: 17
Without Scottish MPs: 16

1955 Conservative govt (Eden/Macmillan)

Conservative majority: 60
Without Scottish MPs: 61

1959 Conservative govt (Macmillan/Douglas-Home)

Conservative majority: 100
Without Scottish MPs: 109

1964 Labour govt (Wilson)

Labour majority: 4
Without Scottish MPs: -11

1966 Labour govt (Wilson)

Labour majority: 98
Without Scottish MPs: 77

1970 Conservative govt (Heath)

Conservative majority: 30
Without Scottish MPs: 55

1974 Minority Labour govt (Wilson)

Labour majority: -33
Without Scottish MPs: -42

1974b Labour govt (Wilson/Callaghan)

Labour majority: 3
Without Scottish MPs: -8

1979 Conservative govt (Thatcher)

Conservative majority: 43
Without Scottish MPs: 70

1983 Conservative govt (Thatcher)

Conservative majority: 144
Without Scottish MPs: 174

1987 Conservative govt (Thatcher/Major)

Conservative majority: 102
Without Scottish MPs: 154

1992 Conservative govt (Major)

Conservative majority: 21
Without Scottish MPs: 71

1997 Labour govt (Blair)

Labour majority: 179
Without Scottish MPs: 139

2001 Labour govt (Blair)

Labour majority: 167
Without Scottish MPs: 129

2005 Labour govt (Blair/Brown)

Labour majority: 66
Without Scottish MPs:  43

2010 Coalition govt (Cameron)

Conservative majority: -38
Without Scottish MPs: 19

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How Scotland will be robbed

Thanks to the Barnett Formula, the UK government provides more funding per head in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Better Together touts this as an extra £1400 in each person's pocket that will be lost if Scotland votes 'Aye' (famously illustrated with Lego). Put to one side the argument as to whether the extra £1400 is a fair reflection of the extra Scotland contributes to the UK economy, through oil and other means. The Barnett Formula is up for renegotiation. Will it be maintained if Scotland votes 'Nay'?

Wings over Scotland lays out the argument that if Scotland opts to stick with Westminster then Westminster will stick it to Scotland.
The Barnett Formula is the system used to decide the size of the “block grant” sent every year from London to the Scottish Government to run devolved services. ...
Until now, however, it’s been politically impossible to abolish the Formula, as such a manifestly unfair move would lead to an upsurge in support for independence. In the wake of a No vote in the referendum, that obstacle would be removed – Scots will have nothing left with which to threaten Westminster.
It would still be an unwise move for the UK governing party to be seen to simply obviously “punish” Scotland after a No vote. But the pledge of all three Unionist parties to give Holyrood “more powers” provides the smokescreen under which the abolition of Barnett can be executed and the English electorate placated.
The block grant is a distribution of tax revenue. The “increased devolution” plans of the UK parties will instead make the Scottish Government responsible for collecting its own income taxes. The Office of Budget Responsibility has explained in detail how the block grant from the UK government to Scotland will then be reduced to reflect the fiscal impact of the devolution of these tax-raising powers.” (page 4).But if Holyrood sets Scottish income tax at the same level as the UK, that’ll mean the per-person receipts are also the same, which means that there won’t be the money to pay for the “extra” £1400 of spending currently returned as part-compensation for Scottish oil revenues, because the oil revenues will be staying at Westminster. ...
We’ve explained the political motivations behind the move at length before. The above is simply the mechanical explanation of how it will happen if Scotland votes No. The“if” is not in question – all the UK parties are united behind the plan.
A gigantic act of theft will be disguised as a gift. The victories of devolution will be lost, because there’ll no longer be the money to pay for them. Tuition fees and prescription charges will return. Labour’s “One Nation” will manifest itself, with the ideologically troublesome differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK eliminated.
And what’s more, it’ll all have been done fairly and above-board, because the Unionist parties have all laid out their intentions in black and white. They’ll be able to say, with justification, “Look, you can’t complain, this is exactly what we TOLD you we’d do”.
This analysis looks persuasive to me, and I've not seen it put so clearly elsewhere. Please comment below if you know sources for similar arguments.

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An Open Letter to Alex Salmond

Dear Alex,

It's not working.

There may be reasons to stick to the story that all will be smooth sailing in the event that Scotland becomes independent, but everyone knows it is not true.

Last night's debate makes it clear that refusal to discuss Plan B for currency hurts more than it helps. The same could be said for how negotiations will proceed over Trident, the EU, Nato, pensions, education, and the economy.

You took too long pressing Darling to admit that Scotland could succeed as an independent country, which you did to show that he too has issues with the truth. Last night's audience failed to get a straight answer from either side, and that led to their verdict: the debate was a disappointment.

It's time for an about face. Tell the truth. Independence will be stormy.  The transition will not be easy. We cannot be certain of the outcome, save that it will put Scotland in a position to make its own decisions.

The future is indefinite, whether we opt for independence or no. The probable outcome if Scotland remains in the UK is growing social injustice, austerity for the poor and more for the 1%, bedroom tax, referenda on whether to stay in the EU. You made these points last night, but they were overshadowed by your inability to admit that independence has risks too.

Truth will be refreshing. It will knock all loose and reinvigorate the debate. It may restore part of Scottish people's faith in the political process, something we sorely need regardless of which side wins in September.

If you stick to your current strategy, polls make it clear that No will win. It's time for Plan B.

Yours aye, -- P

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Pictures taken at the right moment

33 pictures taken at the right moment.
36 more perfectly timed photos.
33 perfectly timed photos.




How do we satisfy our need to keep informed about results that might influence our work ? We (still) read papers and go to conferences. And how does the ACM help ? Well not very well.

  • Aggregating the deluge of information: anyone will tell you that the amount of research material to track and read has grown exponentially. But we still, to this day, have nothing like PUBMED/MEDLINE as a central clearinghouse for publications in CS-disciplines. The ACM DL is one step towards this, but it's a very poor imitation of what a 21st century repository of information should look like. It's not comprehensive, its bibliographic data is more erroneous than one expects, and the search mechanisms are just plain depressing (it's much easier to use Google).
  • Dealing with the changing nature of peer review and publication: Sadly, ACM, rather than acting like a society with its members' interests at heart, has been acting as a for-profit publisher with a some window dressing to make it look less execrable. Many people have documented this far more effectively than I ever could. 
  • Conference services: One of the services a national organization supposedly provides are the conference services that help keep communities running. But what exactly does the ACM do ? It sits back and nitpicks conference budgets, but provides little in the way of real institutional support. There's no infrastructure to help with conference review processes, no support for at-conference-time services like social networking, fostering online discussion and communities, and even modern web support. I only bring this up because all of these services exist, but piecemeal, and outside the ACM umbrella.
Underneath all of this is a slow but clear change in the overall CS research experience. The CRA has been doing yeoman service here: taking the temperature of the community every year with the Taulbee surveys, putting out a best practices document for postdocs after extensive community discussion, and even forming action groups to help gain more support for CS research from the government. Does the ACM do any of this ?

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Meditations on Using Haskell

Bitemyapp - Meditations on Using Haskell explains why and how those in the trenches use Haskell, by quoting from conversations on an IRC channel.


So when i found haskell i slingshotted off through dependent and substructural types. Assuming that if a little was good a lot was better. Made it half way through TaPL and found pure type systems, coq, etc.
I think the power to weight ratio isn’t there. I find that Haskell gives amazingly expressive types that have amazingpower for the amount of code you tie up in them and that are very resistant to refactoring.
If i write agda and refactor I scrap and rewrite everything. If i write haskell, and get my tricky logic bits right?
I can refactor it, split things up into classes, play all the squishy software engineering games to get a nice API I want. And in the end if it still compiles I can trust I didn’t screw up the refactoring with a very high degree of assurance.


Admittedly I’m not playing at the level E is, but this was my experience. I can make sweeping changes to my API, get all the bugs caught by the type system, and still have minimal code impact.


That is what I was getting at with the tweet about not using dynamically typed langs because I need to be able to prototype quickly and get rapid feedback.
I think a lot of my friends thought i was just being trollish. Even just being able to see what would have to change if you changed your design slightly and being able to back it out quickly…

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Propositions as Types, updated

Propositions as Types has been updated. Thanks to all the readers and reviewers who helped me improve the paper.

Propositions as Types
Philip Wadler
Draft, 26 June 2014

The principle of Propositions as Types links logic to computation. At first sight it appears to be a simple coincidence---almost a pun---but it turns out to be remarkably robust, inspiring the design of theorem provers and programming languages, and continuing to influence the forefronts of computing. Propositions as Types has many names and many origins, and is a notion with depth, breadth, and mystery.
Comments still solicited!

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The Implicit Calculus: A New Foundation for Generic Programming

The Implicit Calculus: A New Foundation for Generic Programming

Bruno C. D. S. Oliveira, Tom Schrijvers, Wontae Choi, Wonchan Lee, Kwangkeun Yi, Philip Wadler. Draft paper, 2014.

Generic programming (GP) is an increasingly important trend in programming languages. Well-known GP mechanisms, such as type classes and the C++0x concepts proposal, usually combine two features: 1) a special type of interfaces; and 2) implicit instantiation of implementations of those interfaces.

Scala implicits are a GP language mechanism, inspired by type classes, that break with the tradition of coupling implicit instantiation with a special type of interface. Instead, implicits provide only implicit instantiation, which is generalized to work for any types. Scala implicits turn out to be quite powerful and useful to address many limitations that show up in other GP mechanisms.

This paper synthesizes the key ideas of implicits formally in a minimal and general core calculus called the implicit calculus (\lambda_?), and it shows how to build source languages supporting implicit instantiation on top of it. A novelty of the calculus is its support for partial resolution and higher-order rules (a feature that has been proposed before, but was never formalized or implemented). Ultimately, the implicit calculus provides a formal model of implicits, which can be used by language designers to study and inform implementations of similar mechanisms in their own languages.
 Share and enjoy!

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Research Funding in an Independent Scotland with Michael Russel, MSP and Cabinet Secretary

MICHAEL RUSSELL MSP, CABINET SECRETARY FOR EDUCATION AND LIFE LONG LEARNING is coming 7-9pm Wednesday 25 June to the University of Edinburgh to speak on the issue of Research Funding in an Independent Scotland.

Much scaremongering has gone on around this subject and with this event we are hoping to meet the discussion head on to dispel fears and myths.

Also speaking will be Dr Stephen J Watson of the University of Glasgow and Chair of Academics For Yes who had an open letter on the subject printed in the Herald.
Anyone interested in the subject, Yes, Better Together, or Don't Know, is very welcome to attend. Questions from the audience on all topics related to the referendum will be invited in the Q&A. Please pass this on to anyone you think may be interested! This is a one-off opportunity from the Cabinet Secretary that we will not have again in the campaign.

7-9pm Wednesday 25 June 2014
University of Edinburgh, JCMB Lecture Theatre B, Kings Campus
Mayfield Road
Edinburgh EH9 3JN
Google map and directions

Dr Stephen J Watson · scienceforscotland@gmail.com · 07874233137

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Congratulations to Shayan Najd on his 2014 Google PhD Fellowship!

I'm pleased to be working with Shayan on ABCD. List of recipients, Google's announcement.

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Mairi McFadyen's Open Letter to J. K. Rowling

Mairi McFadyen wrote a heartfelt response to J. K. Rowling, at National Collective.
To be asked, ‘what kind of country do you want to live in?’ is the most wonderful gift. Many people have taken this opportunity to empower themselves with knowledge. They are actively engaged in the world, not passively accepting of the status quo. They could have chosen to remain, in your own words, ‘comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how things might be improved.’ They could remain switched off. Now we frequently overhear the #indyref discussed passionately at the taxi rank at 3 o’clock in the morning on a Friday night; in the chippy queue; at the hairdressers. It is being discussed by high school leavers: full of hope, full of promise for life and all the joy and wonders and pain it brings. ... 
I do not believe that independence will be easy or will somehow magically cure society’s problems. What this historical moment provides us with is an unmatched opportunity to participate in the writing of our own future. We have a chance to liberate ourselves from the stranglehold of austere Westminster politics and lead by example. We must ask ourselves, what really matters? ...
We need a new story to live by. In your own words: “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

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Scottish independence: Prof Patrick Dunleavy says Treasury claims 'ludicrous'

You couldn't make it up. The Treasury announces the cost of setting up an independent Scotland will be £2.7 billion, citing a study by Prof Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE. Dunleavy denounces the claim at 'ludicrous' and estimates the cost at £150—200 million. The Treasury then issues a new figure of £1.5 billion, citing work of Prof Robert Young of Western University in Canada. Young remarks the government has cherry-picked the largest figure, with other estimates in the paper at one half or one third as much, going on to say "It is worth pointing out that there is a lot of politics in most of these estimates and the way they are deployed. ... these costs are just money — there are other possible costs and benefits from independence that may be less easily measured ... like a secure position in the European Union or the capacity to redistribute being able to achieve higher growth rates." Full story on the BBC.

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The the impotence of proofreading

My daughter introduced me to slam poet Taylor Mali.




Reset the Net

Today is the day we Reset the Net. Here is Edward Snowden's announcement:

"One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives — no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be.

Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. This is the beginning of a moment where we the people begin to protect our universal human rights with the laws of nature rather than the laws of nations.

We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.

Join us on June 5th, and don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back.”

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Will an independent Scotland support science? Just look at my office

In the debate over Scottish Independence, one topic of particular interest to me and my colleagues is how funding for science and research will fare (see my previous post). It was in the news again today, with some academics voicing "grave concerns that the country does not sleepwalk into a situation that jeopardises its present success in the highly-competitive arena of biomedical research". Not that the current situation is rosy. Other academics in the same article observe
"The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has noted 'the cumulative erosion' of the science budget of 'over £1.1billion' and CaSE director, Dr Sarah Main, has commented that 'the last four years of a flat cash science budget is biting scientists and engineers and squeezing universities'.
One question one might ask is which government shows stronger appreciation of the value of science?  The coalition planned to slash science funding as part of its austerity programme, with a reprieve at the last moment leading to only a mild cut. The UK as a whole tends to elect governments that cut education and maintain science funding only when pressed.

In contrast, time and again, the Scottish people elect governments that understand the value of education and science. Why else is Scotland home to more top universities per head than anywhere else in the world?

As one concrete example, consider my office. The award-winning Informatics Forum (pictured above) would not exist without direct support from the Scottish Government. Read this press release from 2005:
Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian has secured an additional £14 million from the Scottish Executive towards the £42 million construction costs of the University of Edinburgh's Informatics Forum. ...

A further £5 million has been awarded by Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian towards a strategy which will maximise engagement with local and international industry, ensuring Scotland reaps the economic benefits the Forum will generate. ...

Tim O’Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, says: ‘Scotland is already a world-leader in a number of areas of Informatics and with the vision and support of the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian it will become even stronger.’

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The Funding Gap

One ongoing debate regards the 'funding gap' that might be faced by Scottish science in event of independence. I've been trying to track down numbers. Not surprisingly, it depends on what assumptions you make.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh sponsored a series of discussions, now available in print and online, Enlightening the Constitutional Debate.  The following appears on page 182:
To maintain the international quality of our research base, Professor Paterson added, we must maintain our access to international funding and maintain our international standards. To do so, it has been calculated that an independent Scotland would need to find an extra £300 million in funds per annum – double the amount currently distributed by the Scottish Funding Council.
Lindsay Paterson is my colleague at the University of Edinburgh, so I wrote to him asking the source of his figures. He referred me to his detailed notes, where he explains (footnote 35) that
Public expenditure on research in Scotland is about 0.95% of GDP, whereas the average in the comparison developed countries noted in that footnote is 0.7%. The difference, 0.25%, is £325 million in a GDP of £130 billion.
So the RSEs summary above is inaccurate: £300 million is not the difference between what Scotland spends now and what it would need to spend to fund science at the same level as currently, it is the difference between what Scotland spends now and what it would spend if it spent the same amount as a typical developed country.

So what is the actual 'funding gap'? Michael Danson at Heritot-Watt University has written a note that explains the numbers. Scotland wins 10-11% of the funding from UK Research Council, but pays only around 9% of taxes. In addition, there is funding from the remainder of the UK government and from UK charities. Adding it all up, he puts the shortfall between £97 and £143 million, where the latter figure makes the assumption that no UK charity will contribute a pence to Scotland. On more reasonable assumptions, a figure of around £100 million seems more likely. As he notes, that's less than the rise in science funding the Scottish Government has already approved over the last decade.

That's two estimates. What figures have you seen for the funding gap?

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Enemy of the People

George Monbiot's column captures my feelings exactly. I wasn't previously familiar with Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People, which Monbiot summarises and relates to attitudes about climate change.
Thomas Stockmann is a doctor in a small Norwegian town, and medical officer at the public baths whose construction has been overseen by his brother, the mayor. The baths, the mayor boasts, "will become the focus of our municipal life! … Houses and landed property are rising in value every day."
But Stockmann discovers that the pipes have been built in the wrong place, and the water feeding the baths is contaminated. "The source is poisoned … We are making our living by retailing filth and corruption! The whole of our flourishing municipal life derives its sustenance from a lie!" People bathing in the water to improve their health are instead falling ill.
Stockmann expects to be treated as a hero for exposing this deadly threat. After the mayor discovers that re-laying the pipes would cost a fortune and probably sink the whole project, he decides that his brother's report "has not convinced me that the condition of the water at the baths is as bad as you represent it to be".
The mayor proposes to ignore the problem, make some cosmetic adjustments and carry on as before. After all, "the matter in hand is not simply a scientific one. It is a complicated matter, and has its economic as well as its technical side." The local paper, the baths committee and the business people side with the mayor against the doctor's "unreliable and exaggerated accounts".
Astonished and enraged, Stockmann lashes out madly at everyone. He attacks the town as a nest of imbeciles, and finds himself, in turn, denounced as an enemy of the people. His windows are broken, his clothes are torn, he's evicted and ruined.
Today's editorial in the Daily Telegraph, which was by no means the worst of the recent commentary on this issue, follows the first three acts of the play. Marking the new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Telegraph sides with the mayor. First it suggests that the panel cannot be trusted, partly because its accounts are unreliable and exaggerated and partly because it uses "model-driven assumptions" to forecast future trends. (What would the Telegraph prefer? Tea leaves? Entrails?). Then it suggests that trying to stop manmade climate change would be too expensive. Then it proposes making some cosmetic adjustments and carrying on as before. ("Perhaps instead of continued doom-mongering, however, greater thought needs to be given to how mankind might adapt to the climatic realities.")
(Image above shows Marilyn Monroe reading her husband, Arthur Miller's, translation of Ibsen's play.)

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The Greens, UKIP, and D'Hondt: Update

Immediately after my preceding post, I spotted the above which makes the same point far more graphically. Via @Gary Dunion and Conor McBride/@pigworker.

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The Greens, UKIP, and D'Hondt

EU elections use the D'Hondt system, which means that if, say, your goal is to keep UKIP from electing a MEP from Scotland, your vote is, in a sense, three times more effective if you vote for Green then if you vote for the SNP or Labour—watch the video or follow the links (Wikipedia, European Parliament) to understand why.

If you wish to vote tactically, you need to know how the parties stand in the polls. Below is data for Scotland from two polls on 13--15 May, spotted via UK Polling Report. I'm voting my heart, with the Greens, but it's nice to know that it is also a tactically wise vote in opposition to UKIP.

YouGov ComRes
Labour 31 16
SNP 30 40
Green 12 7
Conservative 10 21
UKIP 9 8
Lib Dem 7 5
Other 0 1

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Elm's time-travelling debugger

The Elm language now supports interactive debugging and hot swapping.
So what does a debugger look like for a high-level language like Elm? What is possible when you have purity, FRP, and hot-swapping? At Elm Workshop 2013, Laszlo Pandy presented the Elm Debugger. Inspired by talks like Bret Victor’s Inventing on Principle, Laszlo implemented a debugger that lets you travel backwards and forwards in time. It lets you change history. On a deeper level, it lets you visualize and interact with a program’s meaning. It lets you see how a program changes over time.
Evan Czaplicki, Elm's inventor, explains why the features of Elm make this surprisingly easy.
It is possible to change a program so much that it is no longer compatible with previous versions. If we try to hot-swap with incompatible code, it will lead to runtime errors. The programmer will be left wondering if their new code introduced a bug or if it was just a case of bad hot-swapping. Perhaps they start hunting for a bug that does not exist. Perhaps they ignore a bug that does exist. This is not Interactive Programming, this is a buggy IDE.
To make hot-swapping reliable, we must know when programs are incompatible. The more precise we can be, the more reliable hot-swapping can be. There are two major categories of incompatibilies:
  • The API has changed. If the types of the arguments to a function change, it is no longer compatible with the rest of the program.
  • It is not possible to copy the old state into the new program. Perhaps there are now many more values and it is unclear how they relate to our new program. Perhaps functions are tightly coupled with state, making it hard to change either independently.
The ability to diagnose and respond to these issues depends on the language you are working with. We will now see how both cases can be addressed with features like static types, immutability and purity, and predictable structure.
 Previously: Bret Victor's Inventing on Principle.

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A student's case

A student's letter in The Saint makes the case for Independence concisely and eloquently. Thank you, Ashley Husband Powton.
Regardless of which party is elected in 2015, Labour and Tories alike are thirled to a destructive neo-liberal agenda and committed to a merciless programme of greater austerity which punishes the poor and most vulnerable in society.

For supporters of independence, a yes-vote is about rejecting the indefensible and reprehensible status quo and opting for a different future.

It is a rejection of the hostile and increasingly right-wing policies of Westminster governments.

It is about creating a more equal and just society, reversing the trend of an ever increasing gap between the richest and the poorest.

It is demanding an alternative to rule by a rich and privileged elite.

It is about ensuring that Scotland is never again subject to the damaging policies of governments it did not vote for.

It is about planning our own positive and constructive role on the European and international stages, free from xenophobia and military aggression.

The real independence debate can be summed up by asking the following: ‘What sort of society do we want in Scotland, and who is more likely to deliver it, Westminster or an independent Holyrood?’.
The letter was one of two in The Saint, published in response to an article by an academic on the 'No' side. If you want a case for No, the other letter makes it concisely (and far better than the original article).

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The EFF, Oracle, Google, and me: A Dangerous Decision

Previously, I wrote of an amicus brief filed by the EFF in a case between Oracle and Google, of which I am a co-signatory. The decision is out, and it is worrying.
When programmers can freely reimplement or reverse engineer an API without the need to negotiate a costly license or risk a lawsuit, they can create compatible software that the interface’s original creator might never have envisioned or had the resources to create. Moreover, compatible APIs enable people to switch platforms and services freely, and to find software that meets their needs regardless of what browser or operating system they use. The freedom to reimplement APIs also helps rescue “orphan” software or data—systems whose creators have either gone out of business or abandoned their product in the marketplace.
Today's decision puts all of that at risk, potentially handing Oracle and others veto power over any developer who wants to create a compatible program. What is worse, if today's decision is taken as a green light to API litigation, large and small software tech companies are going to have to divert more and more resources away from development, and toward litigation. That will be good for the legal profession—but not so good for everyone else.
The case is far from over. Google may seek a hearing from the full court, or appeal to the Supreme Court. Alternatively, Google can focus on asserting its fair use defense, and hope that fair use can once again bear the increasing burden of ensuring that copyright spurs, rather than impedes, innovation.  We're confident that it can, but it shouldn't have to.

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I'll be voting Green in the European elections – and here's why

Alex Andreou writes in The Guardian:
I hear results of straw polls showing that a majority of people in this country feel "uncomfortable" with immigration. ... I am disappointed by both the Conservatives and Labour's stance on immigration. It seems to me they are trying to address multiple audiences; on the one hand they want to comfort the uncomfortable, on the other there seems to be a nudge-nudge, wink-wink message between the lines intended for people like me that says "don't worry". By doing that, they legitimise Ukip's highly dangerous message, because they allow Farage to point to imitators and boost the brand validity of his "original" snake oil.

I don't think I can bring myself to vote for the Liberal Democrats again. Tuition fees, austerity, bedroom tax, welfare cap, Atos, Royal Mail – the list goes on. This left me looking at the Green party, as the default remaining choice. The surprise was that the more I looked at them, the more I liked them. Their policies appear to me eminently sensible and unabashedly progressive, in most areas. They are the only party which has refused to be drawn into the immigrant-bashing competition with the others, and the only which proposes a vote in the general elections for EU citizens based on residency, rather than nationality. Their commitment to minority rights, including LGBT, is second to none. They alone seem to understand that discussion and collaboration, rather than confrontation, is the way to reform the EU. Their candidates seem passionate and compassionate. My scrutiny left me thinking: why wasn't I planning to vote for them in the first place, especially when there is proportional representation?




Reset the Net

If you don't like that GCHQ and the NSA can listen in on all your network activity, here is your chance to Reset the Net.
Today, a coalition of thousands of Internet users, companies and organizations launched a campaign for a day of action to “Reset The Net” on June 5th, 2014, the anniversary of the first NSA surveillance story revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Tens of thousands of internet activists, companies and organizations committed to preserving free speech and basic rights on the Internet by taking steps to shutting off the government’s mass surveillance capabilities.
Watch the campaign video and see a full list of participants here: http://ResetTheNet.org
More than 20 organizations and companies support the launch of the campaign including Fight For The Future (who initiated the campaign) along with reddit, CREDO Mobile, Imgur, Greenpeace, Libertarian Party, FireDogLake, Thunderclap, DuckDuckGo, Disconnect.Me, Demand Progress,  Access, Free Press, Restore the Fourth, AIDS Policy Project, PolitiHacks, OpenMedia, Free Software Foundation, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Code Pink, Popular Resistance, Participatory Politics Foundation, BoingBoing, Public Knowledge, Amicus, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Student Net Alliance, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Internet users are invited to join in on the day of Reset The Net to install privacy and encryption tools and secure their personal digital footprint against intrusive surveillance.
Technical information here and press release here.

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Net Neutrality, R.I.P.

Brian McFadden nails it in The Nib. If you want to do something about it, look to Fight for the Future.

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Scottish Independence, by the numbers

Slides from my lab lunch are here.
To encourage discussion in preparation for 18 September, this talk will cover some of the relevant figures and list useful sources of information. I won't make a secret of my own view on the issue, but the goal is to cover relevant information, not to argue for one side or the other.

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I Shall Vote Yes

From Bella Caledonia, a follow up to "I Shall Vote No".

My favourite line: "I shall vote Yes because that ‘early day of a better nation’ stuff gets to me, actually." Me too. The original line is "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation", from a poem by Dennis Lee, popularised by Alasdair Gray.
The last in the series of referendum poems by A.R. Frith. Read his sonnet for the Undecided here and his I Shall Vote No here.

I Shall Vote Yes

I shall vote Yes because
I just think that, in a divided world, we shouldn’t be building barriers
against immigrants and asylum seekers.

I shall vote Yes because
Labour say they believe in One Nation,
and that’s how fascism starts.

I shall vote Yes because I am fed up
with silly articles illustrated by stills from Braveheart, in newspapers that should know better.

I shall vote Yes, because the thought of having a written constitution
thrills me inexpressibly.

I shall vote Yes because until Independence we're stuck with Alex Salmond.

I shall vote Yes, because it is seven hundred years since the Battle of Bannockburn,
and yet some condescending gits imagine it is an issue for us now.

I shall vote Yes
to spare the blushes of foreign diplomats who have told their governments I will.

I shall vote Yes,
but No to Nato, if anyone asks me (though nobody ever has, come to think of it).

I shall vote Yes because Nicola Sturgeon is fantastic.


I shall vote Yes because I have no wish whatever
to be loved by Eddie Izzard.

I shall vote Yes, because I am striving to be Green.

I shall vote Yes because I have always liked Sean Connery,
even in Marnie and The Longest Day.

I shall vote Yes because it will kill the Nats stone dead.

I shall vote Yes, so that Scotland may take its rightful place
in the Eurovision Song Contest.

I shall vote Yes because to me as a Quaker it seems the right thing to do.

I shall vote Yes because
that ‘early day of a better nation’ stuff gets to me, actually.

I shall vote Yes because the Proclaimers will vote Yes.

I shall vote Yes because my MSP is a Unitarian
and it will boost his morale if someone agrees with him about something.

I shall vote Yes because, although ‘no-brainer’ is an unpleasing word,
I can’t think what else to call it.

I shall vote Yes, in the fervent hope that certain people will indeed up sticks and leave
(though I shan’t be holding my breath).

I shall vote Yes because James Kelman will vote Yes,
and he won the Booker Prize for using the f-word four thousand times in a novel.

I shall vote Yes, because I am persuaded
that the precedent of how Norwegian independence affected Sweden
shows that England will benefit almost as much as we will.

I shall vote Yes, because the experience of the Czech Republic and Slovakia
was that both countries were more prosperous after their velvet divorce.

I shall vote Yes, just to spite George Osborne.

I shall vote Yes out of curiosity
as to which unionist politician will be the first one to claim Independence
was what they really wanted all along, and is plainly a Good Thing.

I shall vote Yes because, despite what some people say,
I am, and always will be, British, thank God,
and so it is my duty.

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Silicon Valley could force NSA reform, tomorrow. What's taking so long?

CEOs from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft to Zynga met at the White House, but are they just playing for the cameras? Photograph: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Trevor Timm asks a key question in The Guardian:
The CEOs of the major tech companies came out of the gate swinging 10 months ago, complaining loudly about how NSA surveillance has been destroying privacy and ruining their business. They still are. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called the US a "threat" to the Internet, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, called some of the NSA tactics "outrageous" and potentially "illegal". They and their fellow Silicon Valley powerhouses – from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft to Apple and more – formed a coalition calling for surveillance reform and had conversations with the White House.
But for all their talk, the public has come away empty handed. The USA Freedom Act, the only major new bill promising real reform, has been stalled in the Judiciary Committee. The House Intelligence bill may be worse than the status quo. Politico reported on Thursday that companies like Facebook and are now "holding fire" on the hill when it comes to pushing for legislative reform.
We know it's worked before. Three years ago, when thousands of websites participated in an unprecedented response to internet censorship legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa), the public stopped a once-invincible bill in its tracks. If they really, truly wanted to do something about it, the online giants of Silicon Valley and beyond could design their systems so that even the companies themselves could not access their users' messages by making their texting and instant messaging clients end-to-end encrypted.
But the major internet outfits were noticeably absent from this year's similar grassroots protest – dubbed The Day We Fight Back – and refused to alter their websites à la Sopa. If they really believed the NSA was the threat so many of them have claimed, they'd have blacked out their websites in protest already.

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I Shall Vote No

Spotted on Bella Caledonia.
[After Christopher Logue, I Shall Vote Labour (1966)]
By A.R. Frith
I shall vote No because, without Westminster, We’d never have got rid of the Poll Tax
I shall vote No because eight hundred thousand Scots live in England, and there are no jobs here to match their talents and meet their aspirations
I shall vote No, because my grandmother was a MacDougall
I shall vote No in case Shell and BP leave and take their oil with them
I shall vote No because otherwise we would have to give back the pandas
I shall vote No because I am feart
I shall vote No because the people who promised us a better deal if we voted No in 79, and warned us of the dire consequences of devolution in 97, tell us we should
I shall vote No so as not to let down my fellow socialists in Billericay and Basildon
I shall vote No, because if we got rid of Trident and stopped taking part in illegal wars we would be a target for terrorism
I shall vote No because if I lived under a government that listened to me and had policies I agreed with, I wouldn’t feel British
I shall vote No because the RAF will bomb our airports if we are a separate country
I shall vote No because to vote Yes dishonours the Dead of the Great War, who laid down their lives for the rights of small nations
I shall vote No, lest being cut off from England turns Red Leicester cheese and Lincolnshire sausages into unobtainable foreign delicacies, like croissants, or bananas
I shall vote No, because, as a progressive, I have more in common with Billy Bragg or Tariq Ali, who aren’t Scottish, than some toff like Lord Forsyth, who is.
I shall vote No, because the certainty of billions of pounds worth of spending cuts to come is preferable to the uncertainty of wealth
I shall vote No, because it is blindingly obvious that Scotlands voice at the UN, and other international bodies, will be much diminished if we are a member-state
I shall vote No because having a parliament with no real power, and another which is run by people we didnt vote for, is the best of both worlds
I shall vote No because I trust and admire Nick Clegg, who is promising us Federalism when the Liberals return to office
I shall vote No, because Emma Thompson would vote No, and her Dad did The Magic Roundabout
I shall vote No, because A.C. Grayling would vote No,and his Mum was born on Burns Night
I shall vote No because David Bowie asked Kate Moss to tell us to, and he lives in New York and used to be famous
I shall vote No, because nobody ever asks me what I think
I shall vote No, because a triple-A credit rating is vital in the modern world
I shall vote No because things are just fine as they are
I shall vote No because the English say they love us,
and that if we vote Yes, they will wreck our economy.

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Team Scotland

What happens after Yes? It's not the SNP, it's the people. A great post on Bella Caledonia.
The UK chattering classes have been wondering what a real, mass grass-roots campaign might look like in modern, professionalised politics. Impotent is their usual conclusion. Well come on up and we’ll show you. The old feudal dance where councilor doths cap to MP, MP to Minister, Minister to Prime Minister and Prime Minister to corporate CEO may well continue apace even here in Scotland. But it’s not winning Scotland.

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Help ORG restart the debate about internet filters

The Open Rights Group is starting a campaign opposed to the default filtering now imposed by all providers in the UK---de facto censorship. You can fund it via IndieGogo.

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A new SQL injection attack?

Against speed cameras?

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FAQ: The snake fight portion of your thesis defense

FAQ: The snake fight portion of your thesis defense.

Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to “defeat” the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.
Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.

Spotted by Garrett Morris.




Happy April Fools, courtesy of Better Together

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10 things that put people off cycling

Sad to say, the photos above and below are not an April Fool. From yesterday's Guardian, 10 things that put people off cycling.



Cycling: Past, Present and Possible Futures

Spokes Spring meeting last week hosted Prof Colin Pooley, of Lancaster University, speaking about a detailed study of why people do and don't cycle. The standout lesson, from interviews and surveys, was that people don't cycle because they don't feel cycling is safe. His report concluded with a list of recommendations:
  • Fully separated cycle and pedestrian routes on all arterial roads.
  • Restrictions on traffic speeds, parking, access etc on all residential roads
  • Adopt ‘strict liability’ on roads to protect the most vulnerable road users
  • Changes to structure of cities to make accessing services by bike easy, and storing and parking bikes easy
  • Societal and economic changes to give people flexibility to travel more sustainably (flexi hours, school provision etc)
  • Change the image of cycling so that it becomes ‘normal’
The meeting was also attended by Andrew Burns, City of Edinburgh Council Leader (who reported it on his blog). The last question Councillor Burns was asked was whether he could remember the first recommendation on the list, but he could not. Which I think encapsulates the problem neatly.

The first recommendation is for separated cycle routes, as found in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. ("Copenhagenize" is now a verb.) To Edinburgh's credit, it has allocated 7% of its transport budget to cycling. How much of that is going to separated cycling routes, and the other recommendations on the list? Councillor Burns says segregated routes are planned for George Street and Leith Walk. I argued we need a more agressive plan. Listening to Pooley, the problems sound difficult, but all we really need are the money and the will. Let's construct a network of separated cycle routes covering the city. Build it, and they will come!

(Above: Edinburgh Links, one of the few segregated bike routes in the city, and my ride to work each morning. Below: Copenhagen.)

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Currency Reflections: The Legal Issues

Christine Bell has written an article on the currency debate that, for once, sheds more light than heat. She sets out home truths I've not seen stated elsewhere.

People ask the 'Yes' and 'No' camps to set out clearly what will happen, but this is not possible. A vote for 'Yes' is, and can only be, a vote to open negotiations.
It is not really in either side’s interest to tell voters that everything is up for negotiation. It is certainly not in the No campaign’s interests to tell people that Scotland has significant cards in its hand in any further negotiation over currency union. It is not in the Scottish government’s interests to point out how little it can lock down and promise about the economic future – or indeed many issues – in advance.
While both campaigns assert that this is about ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, Scotland becoming an independent country or not, in fact the situation is more complicated in our interdependent world.
An odd legal fiction decrees that if Scotland secedes from the UK, the identity of the former entity will reside with the remainder (abbreviated rUK, and sometime's pronounced "rump UK"). I have heard this applied to assert that Scotland will lose its EU membership, but I had not realised that it plays both ways.
Legally under international law the position is clear: if the remainder UK keeps the name and status of the UK under international law, it keeps its liabilities for the debt. The UK took out the debt, and legally it owes the money. Scotland cannot therefore ‘default’. It can be argued that international law does, however, contemplate that on dividing, the two resulting states share out assets and liabilities equitably. However, it has no hard and fast formula for what constitutes equitable division. Tangible natural assets such as oil go with the territory they are in. But other matters – in particular debt – must be negotiated. What is equitable will depend on the overall result and context of the negotiation.
Bell concludes with an intriguing possibility:
And instead of voting no, the people might simply decide to vote for ‘maybe’. For on most of the issues the people care about, the secret no campaign dare tell is: maybe is what a yes vote could be if that was what the people wanted.

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