First, the Conservatives are going to be professional and disciplined, with a strong central political leadership, projecting a modern party and delivering on their promises. Second, they are going to restore dignity and strength to Parliament. There will be fewer MPs, but they are going to have more power and independence and more control over the agenda. And third, they are going to decentralise, providing local institutions with greater freedom and local activists with more responsibility.The problem, of course, is that these all go in different directions.A fringe benefit of globalisation (link)Cheaper goods cut, or at least, alter, crime. Household burglaries are down, as DVD players and televisions are no longer such high-value hauls. Personal robberies and muggings, on the other hand, have not seen such a slump, as the high-value electronics are generally about the person, as an iPod or similar. Indeed, as everything gets more affordable, which is to say, as labour's productivity improves, there is less incentive to steal, since honest work is more remunerative. Just another example of freedom cutting crime.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Quantum machines, coming to a plant near you (link)The quantum world is a bit freaky, and we think of it as being somehow rather remote from us: it's the world of the very small, the very short-lived, and very low energies. Here's an example of its freakiness. When you and I think of subatomic particles moving (every day, I'm sure), we think of billiard balls. But in the quantum world, it's more like the billiard ball spreads itself out and goes down every available route at once. Then, when it reaches its destination, the route it turns out to have taken is the most efficient one. The thing is, we always thought that this kind of behaviour died out as temperatures rose, because everything gets so much more energetic.'Here's the science bit,' although experts should note that I'm going to wave my hands furiously. The two key constants for this question of temperature and quantum systems are Planck's constant, h (which links the 'quantum energy scale' with time), and Boltzmann's constant, k (which links energy and temperature). Their ratio is about 5×10-11 K s, which means that we expect systems at room temperature (about 300K) to behave as quantum systems only over timescales of a mere 10-13 s. Previously, we had thought that that was unrealistic for anything useful on a biological level. (This is the quantitative reasoning people use to oppose Penrose's view of consciousness.) It turns out that one of the processes in photosynthesis lasts only that long, so it is within the realm of quantum processes. The benefit of this is that the step is therefore able to be far more efficient than a classically-equivalent process, where electrons just barge their way across like a ball in a pinball machine.While we're struggling to build quantum machines, nature already has shedloads of them, growing around us. Whatever your view of the provenance of those natural machines, it's a thought which should put us in our place.A presidential leader in No 10? Bring him on (link)Danny Finkelstein writes about the changing face of the executive branch of British government, and argues that it could be time to separate powers formally, so that the Prime Minister is elected directly, and separately from MPs. John H and I had a good discussion about Cameron's plans for Parliament yesterday (src), in which context it is interesting to read the Fink touching on a similar theme: