Brexit implies Techxit?

In the wake of the EU referendum, there appears to be considerable information about its consequences that many might wish to have seen before the vote. Some of this concerns the negative impact of Brexit on technology firms. Among others, the BBC has a summary.
I was particularly struck by one comment in the story, made by start-up mentor Theo Priestley (pictured above),.
And Mr Priestley thinks that in the event of a Scottish independence referendum that leads to reunification with the EU, it's possible some start-ups could move north of the border, perhaps to rekindle "Silicon Glen" - a 1980s attempt to compete in the semiconductor industry.

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A sad day

I don't know what to say. I feel let down, and I feel the UK has let the world down, as well as itself.

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Brexit is a fake revolt – working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite

What dismays me most about the EU debate is that what people say it is about and what it is really about are quite different. Paul Mason in the Guardian analyses the problem clearly.
To people getting ready for the mother of all revolts on Thursday, I want to point out the crucial difference between a real revolt and a fake one. The elite does not usually lead the real ones. In a real revolt, the rich and powerful usually head for the hills, terrified. Nor are the Sun and the Daily Mail usually to be found egging on a real insurrection. ...

I want to have one last go at convincing you that leaving now, under these conditions, would be a disaster. First, let’s recognise the problem. For people in the working classes, wages are at rock bottom. Their employers treat them like dirt. Their high streets are lined with empty shops. Their grownup kids cannot afford to buy a home. Class sizes at school are too high. NHS waiting times are too long. ...

But a Brexit led by Ukip and the Tory right will not make any of these things better: it will make them worse. Take a look at the people leading the Brexit movement. Nigel Farage, Neil Hamilton, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove. They have fought all their lives for one objective: to give more power to employers and less to workers. Many leading Brexiters are on record as wanting to privatise the NHS. They revelled in the destruction of the working-class communities and cultures capable of staging real revolt. Sir James Dyson moved his factory to Malaysia, so much did he love the British workforce. They talk about defying the “elite”. But they are the elite.

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Joy of Coding

Despite a gamy leg, I had a fantastic time in Rotterdam at Joy of Coding. They do a fantastic job taking care of their speakers and their attendees. Highlight was learning from a fellow guest about Ethereum ('We used to have one computer per institution, then one per person, and now one per planet'), and then coming home to a post about it tweeted by Crista Lopes.

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Brexit: The cost to Tech and the cost to Universities

Two articles by computer security researcher Ross Anderson.
A UK that makes up 1% of world population and 3% of world GDP has little influence on IT markets; a post-Brexit Britain would have even less. Most software markets have been global for decades.
The EU has real clout though. From the viewpoint of Silicon Valley, Brussels is the world’s privacy regulator, since Washington doesn’t care and nobody else is big enough to matter.
Brussels also calls the shots on competition policy. The reason you get offered a randomised choice of default browser when switching on a new Windows PC in Europe is that the EU competition authorities insisted on it. This was punishment for Microsoft using its desktop monopoly to trash Netscape – which was an offence in the US too, but the Bush administration couldn’t be bothered to prosecute it.
If you want someone to police the side-effects of network effects and globalisation, the European Commission is just about the only sheriff in town.
But in the long term the biggest problem may not just be money.
Great universities thrive by drawing the best and the brightest from round the world, to be our students, to be our research staff, and to be our academics. Most of our new hires are foreign.
We already have a hard time competing with America for the best people. What will happen if Britain votes to leave Europe following a campaign of xenophobia – which has spilled over into outright racism?
This is not just about money; it's about who we are, and also about what other people perceive us to be.
Even if Remain wins on Thursday, we've all been damaged. If it goes the other way, the world may conclude that Britain is no longer the best place to send your kids, or to build one of your research labs.

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“Dishonesty on an industrial scale”: EU law expert analyses referendum debate

Authoritative sources in the EU debate are thin on the ground, so I was pleased when a colleague pointed me to a video by University of Liverpool Law School’s Professor Michael Dougan, a leading expert in EU law. It runs 25 minutes and is well worth the time. I've transcribed a couple of segments below.
I've just watched with increasing dismay as this referendum debate has unfolded, and though I have to say the Remain side has not covered themselves in glory at points with their use of dodgy statistics, I think the Leave campaign has degenerated into dishonesty, really, on an industrial scale --- there's really no other way to put it ...  For someone who works in the field like I do, it's probably the equivalent of an evolutionary biologist listening to a bunch of creationists tell the public that creation theory is right and evolution is completely wrong. It really is that bad ... and yet it's working.
The second idea I think which has become pervasive is that somehow this is a debate about us and them. The EU is somebody else, and we are somehow the pathetic victims of Brussels as if this country was incapable of looking after itself.  To an EU lawyer, indeed to anyone who works in the field, this is just absolutely bizarre.  ... In the field we refer to The Big Three, the UK, France, and Germany, because between them the UK, France, and Germany provide the EU with its political, its economic, its diplomatic leadership. And indeed, virtually nothing happens in the EU without the big three being in control of it. The UK, to put it simply, has enormous influence within the EU.  It sets agendas, it negotiates alliances, it builds and brokers compromises.  ... Remember, the EU is not run by the unelected eurocrats of the commission as we hear all the time, it's actually run by the 28 governments of the council working together with the European Parliament.  Despite the fact that majority voting is the normal rule within the council, in practice about 90% of EU decisions are still taken by consensus.  In other words, the member states negotiate until everyone feels basically happy with the decision. And it couldn't be otherwise.  The EU is the creation of its member states, it has to serve their basic national interests, and it does so through a process of compromise and negotiation. So the EU isn't someone else, it's not something that happens to us, we are major players, leading players, within the European Union.
Here's to an informed debate!

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CAPS: Cycling Action Plan for Scotland

In 2010, the Scottish Government set out a 'vision' that 10% of all trips should be made by cycle and foot by 2020. In the recent Scottish parliamentary elections, the SNP maintained it is 'determined' to achieve this vision, but funding remains low, at 2% of the transport budget. But the government established CAPS, the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, and its most recent report includes a heartening call to action.
CAPS 2016 Pre-requisites for Success: A successful modal shift to cycling requires the following six pre-requisites for success being met:
  • A shared national vision for a 10% modal share of everyday journeys should remain, with a related clear aspiration for reduction in car use, especially for short journeys, by both national and local government.
  • A long term increase in sustained funding is required, with year-on-year increases over time towards a 10% allocation of national and council transport budgets as Edinburgh is achieving. The long term commitment to 2030 to dual carriageways between seven Scottish cities should be matched by an equally long term commitment to cycling if modal shift ambitions are to be met and sustained.
  • The national 10% modal share vision should be supported by local cycling strategies and delivery plans at council and regional levels. Local modal share objectives should be coordinated with the national vision to create a feasible route to 10%.
  • Cities will be the driver of significant modal shift and the national vision should be directly coordinated with a specific focus on reaching at least 10% modal share in the cities and the largest urban areas, implementing best practice.
  • The primary investment focus should be on enabling cycling through changing the physical environment for short journeys to enable anyone to cycle.
  • Government at all levels needs to build and maintain staff capacity to manage cycle infrastructure and the local road network in the present financial climate. 

Build and maintain dedicated cycling infrastructure, enabling people aged 8-80 to cycle on coherent cycle networks in cities and towns. This entails cohesive, comprehensive and seamless networks of on-road segregated paths in cities and, where appropriate, alongside trunk roads and busier local roads in rural areas. In the urban setting such networks will link into and incorporate existing off-road networks where they deliver direct and high quality routes. ‘Success’ should not only be measured in terms of additional kilometres of network but have a qualitative aspect, including following good practice design standards, numbers of segregated cycle lanes, and integration with public transport. Perceptions of safety and protection of non-motorised users - both of which must be tackled - will be enhanced by the introduction of measures such as 20 mph speed limits in urban settings. 
Develop a long term communication plan that represents cycling as something that anyone can do, not simply a minority and is a transport mode that brings many benefits to Scotland: a healthier, less polluting nation, enjoying better public space, improved air quality and less congested streets. A continuous and consistent campaign would aim to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of the public about the benefits of cycling. Rather than about behaviour, or indeed about the environment, the main message for this campaign should be about improved quality of life for people. The economic benefits for rural and suburban areas should not be overlooked. Cycling for leisure, recreation and sport can be essential gateway activities to enable more people to try and enjoy everyday utility cycling and the economic benefits of leisure and tourism-related cycling, especially in remote areas, should not be overlooked. Programmes should reinforce different forms of cycling to maximise inclusiveness while never losing sight of the over-riding need for modal shift. 

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Roseburn to Leith Walk

I want the UK to stay in the EU, and I want Scotland to be an independent country. But it is hard for one person to have an impact on such major issues. I've decided on a more modest focus: improving cycling in Edinburgh and Scotland, and specifically building more segregated cycle paths.

Thanks to the work of many, including Spokes and Walk Cycle Vote, there is already progress. In 2012 Edinburgh City Council has agreed to commit 5% of its transport budget to cycling, increasing by 1% a year until it reaches 10% next year. One of the first major outcomes is the proposed Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycle route.

The proposal includes a detailed economic case, which is worth a look from anyone interested in promotion of segregated cycling. It predicts that the estimated £6.3M cost will lead to an 88% increase in folk cycling in the affected regions, leading to a £13.1M savings from improvements to health, £5.3M improvement to the GCP (Gross Cycling Product, e.g., increases in tourism and is sales of cycles), and £1.0M of benefits from reduced car usage (such as fewer accidents).
Benefits: Gross Cycling ProductResearch suggests that cycling benefits the local economy and a national study carried out by the London School of Economics (LSE) in 20108 concluded that each cyclist contributes a Gross Cycling Product (GCP) of £230 per year to the economy. This research was supported by a European wide study which found that cycling delivers wider economic benefits in terms of supporting jobs and driving tourism – with cycling having a greater employment intensity than any other transport sub-sector. Applying the findings of the LSE study to the forecast increase in cycling, the scheme will generate a GCP benefit of £5,753,218 over the 10 year scheme life.

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Naomi Klein: The Best is Yet to Come

Amidst all the bad news, Naomi Klein shines a ray of light.
Taken together, the evidence is clear: The left just won. Forget the nomination—I mean the argument. Clinton, and the 40-year ideological campaign she represents, has lost the battle of ideas. The spell of neoliberalism has been broken, crushed under the weight of lived experience and a mountain of data.

What for decades was unsayable is now being said out loud—free college tuition, double the minimum wage, 100 percent renewable energy. And the crowds are cheering. With so much encouragement, who knows what’s next? Reparations for slavery and colonialism? A guaranteed annual income? Democratic worker co-ops as the centerpiece of a green jobs program? Why not? The intellectual fencing that has constrained the left’s imagination for so long is lying twisted on the ground. ...

Looking beyond this election cycle, this is actually good news. If Sanders could come this far, imagine what a left candidate who was unburdened by his weaknesses could do. A political coalition that started from the premise that economic inequality and climate destabilization are inextricable from systems of racial and gender hierarchy could well build a significantly larger tent than the Sanders campaign managed to erect.

And if that movement has a bold plan for humanizing and democratizing new technology networks and global systems of trade, then it will feel less like a blast from the past, and more like a path to an exciting, never-before-attempted future. Whether coming after one term of Hillary Clinton in 2020, or one term of Donald Trump, that combination—deeply diverse and insistently forward-looking—could well prove unbeatable.

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Scientists for EU

Scientists for EU wrote a cogent letter explaining how the EU advances UK science, and how UK science advantages the UK. You can sign it here.
Please read this letter, add your name and share this link with other scientists.
Scientific advance and innovation are critically dependent on collaboration. To remain a world-leading science nation, we must be team players.
The EU leads the world in science output, is beating the US in science growth – and is rapidly increasing investment in research. The EU is a science superpower. Our place in this team has boosted our science networking, access to talent, shared infrastructure and UK science policy impact. The economy of scale streamlines bureaucracy and brings huge added value for all. International collaborations have 40% more impact than domestic-only research.
Strong science is key for our economy and quality of life. It creates a virtuous cycle, leveraging investment from industry, raising productivity and creating high-value jobs for our future. In fact, 20% of UK jobs currently rely on some science knowledge. Science brings better medicines, cleaner energy, public health protections, a safer environment, new technologies and solutions to global challenges.
If we leave the EU, the UK will lose its driving seat in this world-leading team. Free-flow of talent and easy collaboration would likely be replaced by uncertainty, capital flight, market barriers and costly domestic red-tape. This would stifle our science, innovation and jobs.
It is no surprise that a recent survey showed 93% of research scientists and engineers saying the EU is a “major benefit” to UK research. The surprise is that many voters are still unaware that UK science and its benefits would be demoted by a vote to leave.
We, the undersigned, urge you to seriously consider the implications for UK science when you vote in the referendum on UK membership of the EU.

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A week of cycling ideas from Copenhagen

People for Bikes is visiting Copenhagen to learn about its famous cycling infrastructure. A week of stories is archived here, including The Great Copenhagen Loading Zone Compromise and How bikes make Copenhagen's neighbourhood business districts thrive.




David Turner Festschrift

Your chance to submit to a Festschrift for David Turner.

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A busy summer

I'll be speaking at the following events.
Hope to see you at one of these!

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Papers We Love: John Reynolds, Definitional Interpreters for Higher-Order Programming Languages

I've added online links to the relevant papers (not behind paywalls), copied here.

Papers we love: John Reynolds, Definitional Interpreters for Higher-Order Programming Languages

7 June 2016, Skills Matter, London.
Certain papers change your life. McCarthy's 'Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and their Computation by Machine (Part I)' (1960) changed mine, and so did Landin's 'The Next 700 Programming Languages' (1966). And I remember the moment, halfway through my graduate career, when Guy Steele handed me Reynolds's 'Definitional Interpreters for Higher-Order Programming Languages' (1972).
It is now common to explicate the structure of a programming language by presenting an interpreter for that language. If the language interpreted is the same as the language doing the interpreting, the interpreter is called meta-circular.
Interpreters may be written at differing levels of detail, to explicate different implementation strategies. For instance, the interpreter may be written in a continuation-passing style; or some of the higher-order functions may be represented explicitly using data-structures, via defunctionalisation.
More elaborate interpreters may be derived from simpler versions, thus providing a methodology for discovering an implementation strategy and showing it correct. Each of these techniques has become a mainstay of the study of programming languages, and all of them were introduced in this single paper by Reynolds.

Related material

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Papers We Love: John Reynolds, Definitional Interpreters for Higher Order Languages

I will be speaking on John Reynolds paper, Definitional Interpreters for Higher Order Languages, at Papers We Love, London, 6:30pm Tuesday 7 June; details here.

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