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Friday Philosophy – The Passing of Nelson Mandela December 6, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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As this is a blog on the technical aspects of the Oracle RDBMS and management in IT, it is not really the correct place to pass comment on the passing of a political figure, let alone touch on the politics of race and discrimination.

But I don’t care, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

I’m partly saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela even though I never met him as I think he was one of those rare things – a politician who was actually a good person who was trying to right wrongs. Thus I think humanity has lost a very good human. But he had been suffering from very poor health for a long time and maybe he would have been happy for it to come to an end. I do not know of course.

I do know that tonight’s next glass of wine will be lifted to him, even though I never met him and know less about him than really I probably should. Personally I think I agree with his politics but only in that fairly nebulous “we should all get on and act as a community” left wing type of stuff.

What I am finding interesting is watching the media output on the death of Nelson Mandela, the rounds of significant people queuing up to praise him and the footage I am seeing of people in South Africa who seem to be more celebrating his life than suffering in mourning. I’m a bit cynical about the world leaders and politicians but rather affirmed by the SA nationals saying “Let us celebrate this person”. That agrees with my philosophy on life.

Any time I check the web to see if I am being mentioned (something I do every few months, mostly just due to narcissism but also to see if anyone has mentioned me and I should say thanks) I will come across Brian Widlake, who is a journalist who got to be about the last person to interview Nelson Mandela {and one of if not the first to do so for television} before his incarceration and when Mandela made a comment that maybe peaceful methods of protest were not going to be enough. So I am constantly reminded of Nelson Mandela.

I’m actually named after a similar person, Martin Luther King. It must have been my Father’s doing as my mother, as she creeps up on senility, is showing a level of casual racism that bugs the hell out of me.

Anyway, I started by saying this is not the place to pass comment on politics and I am not really going to as I have no position of authority or knowledge to do so. But I do have a fair knowledge of genetics and biology, what with it being the subject I was trained in at University.

Racism is rather knocked into a cocked hat (from a biological perspective) when you understand genetics. We are all one species with really very, very minor differences between us all and, if you go back just a few thousand grandparents, well we all had the same “grand” mother – and at a similar point maybe one grandfather too but that is harder to track. However, as humans are all so very, very similar genetically/biologically, how come some people are so fundamentally good and some people are fundamentally not and most of us bob around in the middle somewhere? It’s a complex question and though I think I understand some of the factors, I *really* am not going there. I’ll just have another glass of wine and ponder them.

Maybe in my “retirement” I will stop being a moderately successful geek and become a really very poor philosopher.

A 100TB Database June 23, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in development, VLDB.
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Some of you may know of me as the guy who constantly presented on the “massive database of genetic information” he was creating. I started presenting about it around 2003 and I said it would be 7TB. As I built it, the data kept flooding in and by the time I had it up and running and fully populated, around 2005, it was getting scary – it had grown to over 25TB. Who am I kidding? It was beyond scary, it kept me awake at nights.

Well, it still exists and continues to grow. I saw it up to 45TB before I left the Sanger institute {where I built it} and it continues to grow towards the 100TB I designed it to scale to.

Why am I bragging about this? {” hey, have you seen the size of my database”?!}. Well, I am very proud of it. It was my pet project.

But pet project or not, I had a team of DBAs at the Sanger and of course, when I say “I built it” I should say “My team and I built it”. And they looked after it after I departed and it got even bigger.

Last week I got an email off one of them to invite me over for a small celebration this week. What are we celebrating? The first database on-site to hit 100TB. Am I proud? Hell yes, I am proud.

But not proud of what you probably think I am, given my careful preamble.

It is not my database that has broached the 100TB limit.

It is another one, a database the team put together after I left and that they have looked after without my input. What I am really proud about is that, with Shanthi Sivadasan who was holding the fort when I arrived at the Sanger {and remains there}, we put together a team of DBAs that is capable of creating and looking after such a large behemoth. It could not be done without excellent support from the Systems Administrators as well, but I feel particularly proud of the DBAs.

So congratulations to the DBAs at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institue: Shanthi Sivadasan, Tony Webb, Andy Bryant, Aftab Ahmed, Kalyan Kallepally and Karen Ambrose. You went further with this than I did.

I hope that the cake to celebrate is very nice :-)

The Sneaky WHAT Strategy!? June 15, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in biology, Perceptions.
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OK, I can’t resist any more, I have to write a Blog about this. I apologise up front for any offence I cause anyone, it is not intended.

There has been a bit of a thread between my and Richard Foote’s blog about the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is his post on it. The Dunning Kruger effect (Jonathan Lewis told us what it was called) is where people have an over-inflated opinion of their own ability. Since the names of behavioral traits came up, I have been unable to get something out of my mind.

When I was at college I studied Zoology. In one lecture on animal behaviour we were told about the “Sneaky Fuck3r Strategy”. Yes, you read it right, that is what it is called. {I’ve stuck a ‘3’ in there as I’m concerned I’ll blow up some web filters}.

It was described in the context of Red Deer. A single dominant male has a harem of females during the breeding season. Other big, strong males will challenge the Dominant Stag and, if they win, will take over the harem. So, this one Stag has all the lady deer at his disposal, only challenged by similarly large, aggressive males.

Well, not quite. What sometimes happens is that, when the dominant stag is fighting off a challenge, one of the younger stags will sneak into the herd and mate with one of the females. Thus the term “Sneaky Fuck3r strategy”. Genetic testing shows that quite a few of the deer born are not fathered by the dominant male!

The one little twist added during my lecture was that it had been observed that one young male, male(A), would go and challenge the dominant stag whilst another young male(B) snuck into the herd. Then, a while later Male(B) would challenge the stag and Male(A) would have his turn. I don’t know if that was an unsubstantiated embellishment but is suggests smart as well as sneaky.

I really thought she was pulling our legs about the name, but the lecturer wasn’t. It is a real term, used by real zoologists, though mostly UK-based. You can google it but I won’t blame you if you want to wait until you are not at work to do so!

Many people lay the credit for the name to John Maynard Smith But this article with Tim Clutton-Brockhas an excellent description of the situation {click on “show Transcript” and I suggest you search for the word “sneaky”}. I am not clear if Tim did the original work on the subject though. For some reason I can’t fathom, wikipedia does not mention the strategy in it’s entries for either scientist…

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