Data disasters

Check out this interactive ‘balloon race’ data visualisation from Information Is Beautiful, of all the major data breaches from the last ten years. Billions of records.

You can choose to highlight the items by year or data sensitivity, and filter for different sectors like academic, governmental or the media.

World’s biggest data breaches & hacks

Our data problems could get a whole lot worse, and not because of hackers this time, but politicians.

A no-deal Brexit may trigger a data disaster, and UK companies don’t have a clue
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Data Protection Act will ensure that personal information processed in the UK will keep enjoying the same level of protection they do now. Still, under EU law, the UK will be automatically considered a third country not bound by GDPR rules, and able to diverge from the current strong standards if parliament so decides. Consequently, data from EU countries would not be able to flow freely to the UK.

“Things will remain the same for organisations residing in the UK, and who need to transfer data to the EU,” says Cillian Kieran, CEO of privacy start-up Ethyca. “But you won’t be able to gather data from the EU into the UK. This is an issue for any company that processes information at any level.”

Do you speak EUnglish?

Learning another language is not easy, but is it harder if you already speak English? It might not just be down to a lack of motivation, knowing that seemingly everyone else in the world speaks English.

Five reasons English speakers struggle to learn foreign languages
4. Keeping track of case
Where German has der/die/des/dem/den/das, English has only the – and this poses considerable challenges for English speakers learning German. So why does German have all these different ways of saying the? This is the German case system which spells out the article the differently depending not only on whether it is singular or plural (see above), but on its function in a sentence (subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor).

But perhaps it’s more important than ever to try, in these uncertain times.

The English language is evolving – here’s how it will change after Brexit
As part of my ongoing PhD research on the translation profession, I interviewed some British translators working at the European Commission. From their perspective, English will remain the principal working language following Brexit, as switching to only French and German, or adding another language would be unrealistic and require a huge investment in training by the EU. Instead, they report that English will continue to be used, and will simply evolve and change in these settings.

So-called “EU speak” is an example of this.

Linguistic diversity driven, not by invaders this time, but bureaucrats?

11 examples of the odd dialect called ‘EU English’
10. COMITOLOGY

The Commission must draft new rules setting out the powers and workings of the bodies replacing the Committees in the framework of the now-abolished comitology procedure, to ensure that the new system operates properly.

The report states that there are 1253 instances of this word in an EU document database but “not only does the word not exist outside the EU institutions … it is formed from a misspelt stem (committee has two m’s and two t’s) and a suffix that means something quite different (-ology/-logy means ‘the science of’ or ‘the study of’). It is therefore highly unlikely that an outsider would be able to deduce its meaning, even in context.” It means something like “having to do with committees.”

Is this indigenous to just Brussels, I wonder. Does it count as endangered?

Thaana, from the Atlas of Endangered Alphabets
Thaana, which seems to have been invented in the eighteenth century, is unique in other respects, too. For one thing, its letters are based on numbers — but numbers from two different number systems. The first nine letters (h–v) are derived from the Arabic numerals, whereas the next nine (m–d) were the local Indic numerals. The remaining letters for loanwords (z–ch) and Arabic transliteration are adapted from native consonants, with the exception of y, which is of unknown origin.

Unforeseen Brexit impact #324

As the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit continues, here’s a look at how some in the art world are dealing with its ramifications.

Art world scrambles to ship art before Brexit deadline
The British Council is sending all works for Cathy Wilkes’s Venice Biennale exhibition in Italy “well ahead of the 29 March deadline to avoid any possible disruption”, says a spokeswoman. Wilkes, who is based in Glasgow, Scotland, has been selected to fill the British Pavilion this year.

The organisers of the biennial’s Irish pavilion are also transporting works from Eva Rothschild’s London studio early to avoid any delays at British ports. “We don’t know what’s going to happen after 29 March but it’s not worth the risk of things getting held up at customs. The ramifications are huge,” says Mary Cremin, the commissioner and curator of the pavilion and director of the Void Gallery in Derry, Northern Ireland.

It’s not just a problem for British art going out to Europe.

The prospect of hefty EU import taxes is already disrupting exhibition programmes in the UK. Tornabuoni Arte in London is closing its show of paintings by Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana two weeks early and transporting the works back to Italy to avoid a potential multimillion-pound reimport bill. Italy’s import rate stands at 10%.

“We are covering our backs because no decision has been made yet, but we are looking at an enormous amount of money to reimport incredibly expensive works. It’s crippling,” says a gallery spokesman.

The title for the Venice Biannale’s art exhibition is so appropriate.

Biennale Arte 2019
The 58th International Art Exhibition, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, will take place from 11 May to 24 November 2019 (Pre-opening on 8, 9, 10 May). The title is a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse that invokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil; “interesting times”, exactly as the ones we live in today.

Seeing Brexit clearly

Even as we approach the end of the beginning of Brexit, it’s still hard to pin down what it is. On one hand, it’s simple — it’s a mistake. On the other, the complicated tangle of frameworks it’s operating within is hard to grasp.

Here’s a very helpful visual explainer from David McCandless.

Brexit explained
Everything you need to understand about Brexit in one graphic. Written, designed and narrated by David McCandless

Sometimes, an outside view can best illuminate the absurdities we’re too close to. Here’s an article from the Washington Post.

The collective madness behind Britain’s latest Brexit plan
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded that her party reject her own Brexit plan so she could go back to negotiations with the European Union and dismantle an agreement that her government reached with the continent, on an impossibly fast timeline, during talks that have already been ruled out. On every level, it is an insane way to behave. The British government is actively sabotaging the work it has spent the past two years completing and then doing a victory dance.

Now what?

What a mess they’re making in Westminster. No need to worry, though.

How should this Brexit crisis be fixed? Our writers’ verdicts
According to the prime minister, some amicable discussions with senior parliamentarians, a bit of leeway from Brussels and a few tweaks to her EU deal will end the logjam. According to Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit is only a secondary issue, subordinate to the higher goal of securing a Labour government: once he is in Downing Street, everything will be fixed.

Though the question I have is — do they not have enough chairs?

now-what-1

The vital, busy, invisible border

A neat summary and infographic from the Economist on the issues surrounding the Irish border in relation to Brexit.

What does the Irish border have to do with Brexit?
The invisible frontier has become the most complicated feature of Britain’s negotiations with the European Union. […]

For the past 20 years Britain’s political class has all but ignored Northern Ireland. Yet two decades after the end of the Troubles, the Irish question is back–and it is more likely than any other matter to derail Brexit.

The times are a-changing … or not

Don’t forget to turn the clocks, er… wait a minuteback this weekend.

Europeans could be turning clock back for the last time
The commission has decided to act after a public survey, which drew a record 4.6 million respondents, showed overwhelming support among voters for ditching daylight saving time. European officials said the reaction from citizens was on a “massive, unprecedented scale” and that the consultation had sparked “the highest number of responses ever received.” …

However, a report published this week from the UK’s House of Lords European Union Committee revealed that 84.6 percent of replies to the poll came from just three countries, with an overwhelming 70 percent from Germany alone, prompting accusations that the poll isn’t representative.

Politicians from northern countries, including Lithuania, Finland, Poland, and Sweden, among others, have voiced support for reform and want the clock change dropped, due to their long, dark winters. They point to evidence that altering the time can cause short-term sleeping disorders, reduced performance at work, and even serious health problems such as heart attacks.

Well, if it changes over there, it’s not likely to over here, post-Brexit and all that.

When do the clocks go back and could 2018 be the last time they change?
Changing the clocks seems set to stay in the UK. It is just over 100 years since the concept of changing the clocks was introduced by the 1916 Summer Time Act, and there doesn’t appear to be any great groundswell of opinion among British politicians about changing domestic arrangements for British summer time.

What must they be thinking of us?

Here’s a continental perspective.

Brexit Talks: Watching a country make a fool of itself
The United Kingdom is currently demonstrating how a country can make a fool of itself before the eyes of the entire world. What was once the most powerful empire on earth is now a country that can’t even find its way to the door without tripping over its own feet. […]

Almost everyone who has a say in Brexit belongs to the British establishment, meaning they went to an outrageously expensive private school and completed their studies at Cambridge or Oxford. In this regard, too, we have been enlightened. What in the name of God do they learn there? It certainly can’t be skills that would prepare them for the real world. Or would you trust a lawyer who regularly shows up to negotiations so completely unprepared that they have to be broken off again after just a few minutes?

Understanding EAL students’ backgrounds

A teacher at the school I work at shared these news reports from the last couple of weeks, to give us an insight into the background of some of our EAL students; what they may have experienced in their countries and why they may have come here. I thought I’d share them here too.

Far right in Czech Republic: the politicians turning on Roma
Hostility towards Roma people is so ingrained in Czech political life, the country’s president recently called them “work shy”, and in this weekend’s Czech municipal elections some politicians are openly stirring up virulent anti-Roma sentiment.

I know one should never read YouTube comments, but the majority under that video make for difficult reading.

‘It’s just slavery’: Eritrean conscripts wait in vain for freedom
With their hopes dashed that peace with Ethiopia would bring an end to national service, young Eritreans must either accept a life of forced labour or flee.

Nothing positive about Brexit

The further we go with this, the more intractable and stupid it all seems.

The hole where the Brexit deal should be
The great sticking point—around the Irish border—has always been there. Since the Brexit negotiations began, in the summer of 2017, they have been vexed by the logical need to create a border between Ireland (a member of the E.U.) and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom), and the political need not to have a border, in order to protect the island’s peace process. Squaring this circle would be hard enough under any circumstances, but, to pass legislation, May’s government relies on the ten members of Parliament who belong to the hard-line, pro-union Democratic Unionist Party. Any solution to “the Irish backstop,” as it is known, is likely to involve Northern Ireland staying more or less within the E.U.’s structures, while the rest of the U.K. takes a step away. This is a no-go for the D.U.P.

Brexit: a cry from the Irish border
‘Jacob Rees-Mogg you’re right. You don’t need to visit the border… you need to have lived here.’ Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea explores the real impact of Brexit and the uncertainty of the future of the Irish border in a short film written by Clare Dwyer Hogg.

John Major: I have made no false promises on Brexit – I’m free to tell you the truth
I understand the motives of those who voted to leave the European Union: it can – as I well know – be very frustrating. Nonetheless, after weighing its frustrations and opportunities, there is no doubt in my own mind that our decision is a colossal misjudgment that will diminish both the UK and the EU. It will damage our national and personal wealth, and may seriously hamper our future security. It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom. It will most definitely limit the prospects of our young.

And – once this becomes clear – I believe those who promised what will never be delivered will have much to answer for. They persuaded a deceived population to vote to be weaker and poorer. That will never be forgotten – nor forgiven. […]

None of the mainstream political parties is in a healthy condition. Both the Conservatives and Labour face pressure from fringe opinion within their own membership. My fear is that the extremes of right and left will widen divisions and refuse to compromise, whereas more moderate opinion will often seek common ground. The risk of intransigence – “my way or no way” – is that the mainstream parties will be dragged further right and further left.

Our nation should not tolerate the unreasoning antipathy of the extremes – to the EU, to foreigners or to minority groups. Such antipathy is repellent, and diminishes us as a nation. Softer, more reasonable voices should not be drowned out by the raucous din of the loudest.

We’re doomed! Don’t panic!

The Brexit deadline’s getting nearer, and the situation looks as intractable as ever. Should we be getting worried yet? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?

Flights stop, supermarket shelves empty, and NHS supplies dwindle: Britain after a no deal Brexit
I really do wish all of this could just be dismissed as Project Fear, but, honestly, when the government has no strategy in place for leaving the European Union, and when I ask repeatedly what happens on 30 March 2019 if it’s a “no deal” which means “no transition” the silence is terrifyingly deafening.

No-deal Brexit risks ‘civil unrest’, warns Amazon’s UK boss
Doug Gurr, the retail giant’s UK manager, reportedly made the comment during a meeting between Raab and a group of senior business executives on Friday. Amazon declined to confirm whether Gurr had made the remarks, reported in the Times, but admitted it was planning for a wide range of outcomes.

Take fright on Brexit: even the civil service head is telling us to panic
Everyone will take fright at the government’s own warnings to businesses and households. John Manzoni, the head of the civil service, told MPs last week that a no-deal break would be “almost unimaginable”, and have “horrendous consequences”. Already the government warns that the M26 in Kent will be a “holding area” for 1,400 trucks to ease gridlock as 10,000 lorries a day are potentially delayed by new EU customs checks.

It’ll all be worth it in the end, though, right?

The Brexit con
Brexiters told us that leaving the EU would be quick and easy and would save us £350m a week. With a chaotic no-deal looking a real possibility, however, Jacob Rees Mogg now tells us it could take 50 years to reap the benefits. What he’s doing here is something con-men have always had to do – stopping their victim going to the police when the goods they have charged him for fail to arrive.

Oh well, at least the postal service will still be working.

Are these Dad’s Army stamps inspired by Brexit?
The Royal Mail insists not, but it is quite a coincidence.

EU et UK HE

It’s let’s-have-a-heated-debate time again, this time about whether or not we should stay in the European Union.​​ Here are a few articles on the higher education angle to all this.

Contemplating a Brexit for UK HE
I’ve left the strongest argument that the HE sector can muster till last: the student trade. 6% of all students in UK universities are from elsewhere in the EU. That’s a lot of fee income. And, over the decades after their graduation, it’s a lot of soft power. Of course it’s more than that too. It’s an example of our open society. It changes us to meet, argue, learn from, befriend and fall in love with people from other parts of Europe.

What has the European Union ever done for us?
The EU is both a catalyst and an enabler of collaboration. It breaks down barriers to collaboration and makes working across borders easier by reducing the level of bureaucracy which researchers face when putting together complex multi-national bids.

Both authors think we should stay in the EU and that the UK higher education sector, and society as a whole, benefits from our continued membership, but both seem to worry that their arguments are quite weak and can be easily rebutted.

I can’t imagine for a moment though that many people are giving the academy much thought in this debate. Unfortunately.