Friday, August 18, 2006


Contrary to my personal predictions, I got ABBB in AS English, chemistry, maths and physics. I'm very pleased with this. The universities I am considering applying for are UCL, Bath, Manchester and Birmingham (possibly Leeds, Bristol, Sheffield, Edinburgh, York...) and these unis have AAB/ABB/BBB as their "typical grade offering". I reckon if I retake two of physics, chemistry or maths (probably maths and chemistry) then I'll be able to up the B-grades to A-grades and go on to get (at least) three B-grades for A2.

Like I said before, when I go to university I'd like to do chemical engineering or biotechnology or computer science or something. I don't have much idea to be honest, but chemical engineering is certainly near the top of my list.

The car I'm going to buy has to have a little work done on it (windscreen wipers, new tyres), but I should have acquired it before I go back to school in September. I have a driving lesson this Sunday and work tomorrow. I've got to spend a lot of the next two weeks working on chemistry coursework.

I'm going to go to the University of London Open Day on the 12th or 13th of September, and I'm also going to Manchester on the 4th.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Little about Me

Hi. There are a couple of things I need to say. The first is that I don't yet have a MySpace. Undoubtedly it will just be a matter of time, the reason I don't yet have a MySpace is that I doubt I'd have very much to say about myself. Fortunately from what I've read MySpace makes it very easy to appear interesting enough to promote casual voyeurism - what can you really tell about someone if they prefer Coke to Pepsi (everyone prefers Coke to Pepsi).

The second thing: I should let you, the reader, in on a little about myself. I'm 17 years old. This isn't a particularly difficult age, 6 was harder, as was 13. 17 is mainly annoying as you have undergone several years of adult fairs and child-only savings and still don't have any of the benefits of being an adult. I'm referring of course to intoxication, but enough of that.

I guess the most important thing, from the POV of a web-user reading this, is what my interests are, and what my politics are.

I'm interested in quite a lot of things, but I have little in the way of hobbies. I do pretty much all the things people my age are supposed to do. That said, I'm interested in technology, both electronic gadgets and the vast concept of technology. I'm interested in memes (I mentioned them in an earlier post), I'm interested in philosophy (mostly Descartes at the moment) and engineering, I'm interested in the future, I read a lot of science fiction. I enjoy schoolwork, I draw cartoons, I write quite a lot. I wish I understood things more. Like how computers work, and how communications networks work. I would like to write a book (I'm not too fussed over what sort - maybe a graphic novel).

Careerwise I expect I'll go to university, study chemical engineering, I might become a chemical engineer or I might do a post-graduate degree in CS and then try to get a job as an investment analyst. Then maybe I'll set up a business. I'd like to have lots of different jobs and careers over the course of my lifetime.

I'd like to paint, draw, and write as well. I want to constantly learn new things and to learn to do new things. This is part of the reason I quite enjoy school.

Politics. Rearrange any of the following words in any order, and -ic and -ist where appropriate: democratic, liberal, humanist, secular, materialistic, transhumanist. I agree with the democratic transhumanists on almost all important political issues. I also agree with them as to what issues are important.

Here are some books I'm reading at the moment: The Kite Runner, Engines of Creation by Kim Eric Drexler, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil (I read this a while ago and I am currently rereading it), various books by Gore Vidal and JG Ballard and Noam Chomsky and Charles Stross and John Le Carre and whole load of other authors. Cutest of all: Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony. I love Eoin Colfer's writing style, and the characters he has created are brilliant. I also like Terry Pratchett, Bruce Sterling, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds, and Stephen Baxter. No woman! Well I have a couple of (presumably) female SF authors lined up to read but I can't remember their names.

I'd like to meet pretty much everyone on the planet (as long as we were introduced to each other at a suitable venue for a conversation - not a torture chamber). Specifically I'd like to meet all the people I mention above, George Soros, Fidel Castro (does he speak English?), Felix Dennis, Ray Kurzweil, James Harris Simons, Craig Newmark, Marilyn Vous Savant, Greg Egan, Cory Doctorow, Ken MacLod, Terry Pratchett, Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, Gary Kremin, Abby Lee, Germaine Greer (I want to see if she's like she is on TV), Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, all the nation-bosses and HoS in all the world.

I'm buying a car in a few days and I'm currently learning to drive (I mean - I'm currently taking lessons, I'm not writing this during a lesson).

My AS-level results come out tomorrow. I expect I will get BCCD in the subjects I'm taking. These are English language, chemistry, maths and physics.

Hey - I had quite a lot to say about myself anyway! I'll check in tomorrow to let you know how my results went.

The War of the World

I just finished watching The War of the World. It was an interesting documentary and the parallels the historian Niall Ferguson draws between the anarchist-terrorists assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand near the beginning of the C20th and the Muslim-terrorists attack on the World Trade Centre in America are intriguing.

Sorry if I misinterpret it, but his thesis lacks something. What I think he basically said was that:

“…the C20th was one of total war; it was the time when falling empires were brought into conflict with emerging empire-states. Global capitalism at the start of the century, with enormous movements of goods and peoples around the world under the supervision of the global empires, was curtailed by conflicts that were brought about partly because foreign minorities became so integrated into society (so says Ferguson – I think this sounds too similar to the “justification” of the Holocaust by Nazis, i.e. “the Jews are racially inferior and have wormed their way into every part of our society, so they must be cleansed”. Genocide seems to be something people do, and it is a compulsion that continues. Exactly why it occurs is a question for social anthropologists, sociologists and social-psychologists, and I feel deserves a little more attention than was given by Ferguson). Ferguson claims the most major events of the 20th century did not surround “the victory of the West” in WW1&2 and the Cold War, but were in the “triumph of the East”. From the Russo-Japanese war (a fascinating story BTW) in 1904 to the recent rise of the totalitarian/capitalist China, and the constant stream of young Muslim immigrants into an aging Europe). He also mentions that in order to defeat the monstrous war machine of Hitler’s Reich the Allies had to adopt the same gut-hating and no-holds-barred mentality of their enemies…”

OK. Personally I found Ferguson’s programming style a little too tortuous. I felt he should have stuck to the topic a little more closely and tried to get his point across more clearly (from the above you can see that I haven’t quite got it – I’d check his website for more info).

OK. This is how I see the history of the Twentieth Century. For thousands of years humankind warred amongst itself. War, like genocide, seems to be part of the much celebrated “human-condition”. It is something we do. Possibly because its fun, possibly because life has always been a zero-sum game, or maybe there’s a cross-wire in our evolutionary makeup.

For most of human history there have been barbarians. I don’t just mean people who don’t live in cities. I mean people who had no concept of the rights of man, and who did not know of the value of liberal democracy (something I believe in). These barbarians include the Romans, and the British. Back when we had an empire and a concept of divine right or manifest destiny to rule the world, our guys on the frontier had very little scruples when it came to strapping the Pathans to a cannon and giving Johnny Foreigner a taste of British [school firewall].

I mentioned the cannon. This is important. Technology amplifies our actions. Advanced, industrial technology mixed with collapsing empires and emerging empire states makes for baaad voodoo at the dawn of the C20th. I think looking at population-movements and macroeconomics ignores the greatest lesson of the C20th. At the start we had machine guns and kites. Now we have ICBMs tipped with thermonuclear warheads capable of devastating an area the size of Israel. The Cold War didn’t get hot because the major players knew that any direct combat would be insane. Failing to blow up the world has got to be one of the greatest human achievements of all time, especially considering our trigger-happy ancestry.

The C20th was when the barbarians met heavy industry. WW1 was so shocking because before war had been something that happened a long way away (from the British perspective) and was rifles vs. pointy leaves. War between industrialised nations never reached a level of “total war”, where the entire economy is forced over the producing the means to destroy the enemy, and where the objective becomes to destroy the enemy, as opposed to warding them off or suppressing them.

My point (made with even less clarity than Ferguson’s) is that Ferguson didn’t recognise the role that advanced technology played in the twentieth century. Here’s what Ferguson says on the matter:

Progress, people and weapons

Why? What made the 20th century, and particularly the 50 years from 1904 until 1953, so bloody? That this era was exceptionally violent may seem paradoxical. After all, the 100 years after 1900 was a time of unparalleled progress: by the end, thanks to myriad technological advances and improvements in knowledge, human beings on average lived longer and better lives than at any time in history.

To explain the extraordinary violence of the century, it is not enough simply to say that there were more people living closer together, or more destructive weapons. No doubt it was easier to perpetrate mass murder by dropping high explosives on crowded cities than it had once been to put dispersed rural populations to the sword. But if those were sufficient explanations, the end of the century would have been more violent than the beginning and the middle.

In the 1990s, the world’s population for the first time exceeded six billion, more than three times what it had been when the First World War broke out. But there was actually a marked decline in the amount of armed conflict in the last decade of the century. The highest recorded rates of military mobilisation and mortality in relation to total population were clearly in the first half of the century, during and immediately after the world wars. Moreover, weaponry today is clearly much more destructive than it was in 1900. But some of the worst violence of the century was perpetrated with the crudest of weapons: rifles, axes, knives and machetes (most obviously in Central Africa in the 1990s, but also in Cambodia in the 1970s).

I don’t agree with Ferguson’s assertion that the nature of the graph of the number of people you can kill to the number of people you do kill is not linear for any other reason than mutually assured destruction.

But I digress. My basic point is that the idea of genocide is not new. Genghis Khan killed millions. The Romans succeeded in wiping out an entire civilization (one up on the Nazis) – the Dacians. Someone’s written a gruesome account of what the Roman’s did to the Dacians on a big rock in Rome – Trajan’s Column.

Human nature is said to be the one constant in all of history. If this is so (the transhumans think that this might change Any Day Now) then you can’t really explain the C 20th in anything other than advances in technology amplifying tendencies that have always been there. Even the greater transport, globalisation and integration of different races ultimately comes back to the impact of advances in technology.