Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Archaeology Recreates Bronze Age Welsh Round Barrow in ‘Minecraft’

July 7, 2020

Here’s a piece of archaeology news from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020. An archaeologist and his daughter have recreated a Bronze Age burial mound on Anglesey, Bryn Celli Ddu, in the computer game ‘Minecraft’. The article, ”Minecraft recreates Bronze Age landmark’, by Madeleine Cuff, runs

An archaeologist has recreated one of the UK’s most famous Bronze Age landmarks on the computer game Minecraft, in an attempt to entertain his 11-year-old daughter during lockdown.

Dr Ben Edwards and his daughter Bella have created a digital version of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3,000-year-old burial mound on Anglesey.

The pair were assisted by Dr Seren Griffiths, a colleague of Dr Edwards at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Ffion Reynolds of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.

Their digital invention is now being shared with classrooms around the world to help students learn more about ancient civilisations and cultures.

Minecraft is a compute game created by Microsoft, where players can explore a 3D world, discovering natural resources, craft tools and build houses or other structures. Dr Edwards had to draw on his daughter’s greater technical expertise to recreate the ancient site with modern-day technology.

“Bella had to show me how to do a lot of things, because she uses it more than me,” he told BBC News, adding that Bella said the final version was “very realistic”.

Bryn Celli Ddu, which loosely translates as “mound in the dark grove”, is thought to date back to the Bronze Age. The main burial mound is positioned so that during the summer solstice the dawn sunrise shines right through the main passageway.

This is interesting, as Minecraft has been used by its players for a long time to recreate structures and objects that have zilch to do with the game itself. There used to be a number of videos on YouTube put up by people, who had used the game to do this. I remember one fan of Dr. Who had even recreated the TARDIS.

While the reconstruction of Bryn Celli Ddu in Minecraft is clearly useful for getting schoolchildren interested in archaeology, I can also see adult archaeologists using it. There is professional software available for mapping archaeological sites and monuments, but this is so expensive only institutions like universities can really afford it. A friend of mine, who’s into role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons introduced me a few weeks ago to a piece of software that has been developed to enable players to create maps of the fictional landscapes of their games. While not exactly cheap, it’s definitely much cheaper than the academic software for archaeologists and geographers. I remarked then how useful the game software could be to serious archaeologists in their recreations of ancient landscapes.

Now it seems that Minecraft could be the same. I think it would be too crude for a finished recreation of a monument, but it might help archaeologists when they are beginning an analysis by allowing them to do so at rough, initial stage.

Daily Mail Labeled ‘Fake News’ by Microsoft News Software

January 23, 2019

Ho ho! Another fascinating story Mike put up today is a piece reporting that Microsoft Newsguard, a piece of plug-in software designed to warn users if the news website they’re looking at is unreliable, has flagged up the Daily Mail’s Mail Online as fake news. If you onto the Daily Mail while using the software, you get a message telling you that

“this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability” and “has been forced to pay damages in numerous high-profile cases”.

Mike quotes the Guardian on the software, which says that it is run by veterans of the news industry, who are trying to establish industry-standard benchmarks for judging how trustworthy news sites are. It employs experts to analyse sites to see if they meet certain journalistic standards. It makes all its judgments public and invites news outlets to respond to criticism and improve their standards.

So how bad is the Fail? Well, according to the site Tabloid Corrections, it’s pretty terrible. In fact, it’s worse even than the Scum. It was sanctioned 28 times by the press regulator, IPSO, last year, 2018. The Times was second with 18 sanctions. Behind the Times came the Scum, with 16, the Mirror with 10, the Express and Torygraph with 7, and the Star with 4. Still, the Fail has improved. In 2017 it violated journalistic rules 50 times.

Mike comments that this probably won’t affect the Daily Mail, as most people regard it more as a comic. They only read it to laugh at the nonsense inside. And, sadly, some probably read it only to ogle the scantily clad women in the very sexist newsroll on the right of its webpage. I’m not so sure about this. Years ago a friend of mine said that he thought the Mail was more dangerous than the Scum, because while the people who read the Scum treated it as a joke, those who read the Heil take it seriously. I think he’s partly right, but even this is far too optimistic. Yes, the Scum and the Mail are viewed with contempt by very many people, with more sophisticated tastes and attitudes to the news and journalism, at the same time I’m sure that their readers do take them absolutely seriously.

Mike also states that the Beeb’s Politics Live has also been discussing fake news, but hasn’t mentioned the Mail, concentrating instead on a piece about the UK parliament but which confuses it with the American political system.

Mike concludes

The issue is one that This Site has highlighted recently – that anyone claiming to quote facts about political issues must provide proof, usually in the form of references to their sources. Then readers can check those sources.

If there aren’t any references then you assume the claim isn’t true – and draw your own conclusions about the person or organisation making it.


Mike’s piece is interesting not just because of what it says about the Heil, but about the rest of the UK media. The Heil is Britain’s worse paper for misreporting, but the second and third worse are the Murdoch papers the Times and the Scum. The Scum will be no surprise to anyone. But the Times prides itself on being Britain’s paper of record. This shows how vacuous and spurious that claim is. And I don’t regard its sister paper, the Sunday Times, as any better. Not after the repeated way it has libeled Labour party leaders and members, like Michael Foot and Mike himself. It’s not up there on the list, but it still slanders and smears decent people simply for the benefit of the Tories, big business, and in Mike’s case, for New Labour and the Israel lobby.

It will also be interesting to see if Private Eye reports this in their ‘Street of Shame’ column. It’s always reported the findings of press regulators, particularly when one of the most notorious rags has been claiming that it is the paragon of journalistic standards and has never made anything up or libeled anyone ever. And Private Eye is now casting its critical gaze over the alternative news sites. Last issue, for the 11-24 January 2019, it carried the article ‘Skwawk-boxed’, reporting that ‘Britain’s sole state-approved press regulator’, Impress, had made its eighth ruling against the Skwawkbox because it misrepresents or distorts the facts, and confuses fact with comment. It claims the regulator oversees 111 titles, but over the past two years has been called in to deal with 15 complaints. More than half of these have been against the same publication, and at least five have been upheld. This is against the Skwawkbox, which it describes as

‘the ultra-partisan Corbynite website run by Labour activist Steve Walker, which specializes in paranoid conspiracy theorizing and simultaneous attacks on the “MSM” for fake news.’

I dare say that this piece is correct, as far as it goes, and its criticism of the failure of journalistic standards in the Skwawkbox is probably correct. But I trust the Skwawkbox far more than I trust mainstream news. The MSM does present appallingly slanted news, including the Beeb, which it hypocritically maintains is objective, trustworthy fact. The massively biased coverage of Corbyn and the Labour party is a case in point. The media has smeared him and his supporters as Trotskyites, misogynists and anti-Semites, when the opposite is true. And there are organisations with very hidden agendas manipulating both the news and government policy. These are the various intelligence agencies, right-wing thinktanks, and industry groups trying to manipulate official policy to promote the neoliberal agenda of privatization, poor wages, destruction of the welfare state and workers’ rights and the invasion and exploitation of the Middle East under the pretense of combating terrorism. You can read about this over at Lobster, Counterpunch, and in the books of and website of Greg Palast and the now sadly departed William Blum and his Anti-Empire Report. Walker might have to tighten up his journalistic performance, but I don’t doubt that there’s more truth in what he writes than in the Fail or the rest of the mainstream media.

And he and the other left-wing news sites supporting Corbyn and genuine socialism in the Labour party clearly are frightening Private Eye along with the rest of the old media. Otherwise the Eye wouldn’t have published this, and another story attacking the excellent the Canary. The genuine left-wing news sites are catching up on the old media very quickly. It’ll be interesting to see if next fortnight’s Eye includes this story, as it did the piece on the Skwawkbox.

Sir Richard Acland on Nationalisation and Workers’ Control in Industry

May 23, 2016

Unser Kampf Pic

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham the other week, I found a copy of Sir Richard Acland’s 1940 book, Unser Kampf, published by Penguin. Acland was a baronet from a Devon and Somerset aristocratic family, and a Liberal MP. In Unser Kampf, he laid out his ideas for the post-War world as a kind of riposte to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Mein Kampf means ‘My Struggle’, while Unser Kampf means ‘Our Struggle’, referring to the national goals, which Acland believes would form a better national and international order once victory had been achieved.


His was a radical vision, far more radical than that of the contemporary Labour party. He argued for the complete socialisation of industry, and the replacement of the current system of management by unelected bosses with a system of workers control. He wrote

The world of the future belongs to common ownership. Only under common ownership can we abolish class distinction, unemployment, inequality and strife. Only under common ownership can we free ourselves from the system which positively encourages every man to seek his own personal advantage here on Earth.

Would it not be rather wonderful to live in a world in which we did not all have to think about ourselves all the time? Would it not be rather wonderful to get away from “this is mine,” “this is yours,” “this is t’other fellow’s,” and look out on everything we saw and say “this is all ours?” (Pp. 94-5).

Capitalist Sabotage

Acland’s proposal for the nationalisation of industry was far more radical than the contemporary Labour party’s. He discusses Labour’s plan to nationalise a small number of industries, and then see how they fare under nationalisation. Then, after this has gained popularity, the party then planned further nationalisations. Acland argued against this on the grounds that the capitalists in the intervening time would be doing everything they could to sacrifice the nationalised industries’ chance of success.

Labour’s Immediate Programme for example proposes that nationalisation, in the first five years, of industries employing one tenth of insured workers. For those five years, therefore, these industries would have to survive in a world whose conditions, as far as boom and slump were concerned, would be entirely dominated by the remaining nine tenths in private hands. In those five years we would be asked to judge by the results and make up our minds whether to nationalise other industries. We would be asked to consider whether the nationalised industries had “paid” in the accepted sense of the word. It may be taken as fairly certain that in those five test years the owners would take good care – some acting consciously and some unconsciously – that the whole of industry did not pay. Of course, if in those five years the owners wanted to do something they would have to come to the Labour government and accept its terms. But the game is far easier than that for the champions of monopoly capitalism. Labour has made a fundamental mistake in assuming that in those vital five years these people would want to go on making money. These men have bigger ideas than that. They would care about nothing in this world except smashing the Labour Government for ever. And the beauty of the situation from their point of view is that in those five years, to achieve their purpose, they would not have to do something, they would merely have to do nothing. They would let their nine tenths of industry run down, and you cannot run the railways, the mines and the banks and make them pay while all the industries they serve are slowing down. At no stage would you be able to do the manifestly sensible thing, namely, to take the unemployed as a whole and put them to work producing bread and clothes and boots, because that would compete with private enterprise which, by the terms of Labour’s election promises, must not be nationalised in the first five years. (Pp. 102-3).

There is no question to my mind then but that the advance to common ownership should be made boldly and not by a series of timid little shuffling steps. this does not so much mean that on the very first day every single industry down to the smallest must be taken over and run exclusively by the state. What it does mean is that from the very first day anyone who finds himself still working on his own account will be regarded as occupying entirely new status. (P.104).

On the matter of the amount of compensation that should be given to their owners for nationalised industries, he argued that the proprietors of the largest industries should receive the least amount of money while the smaller business owners should have the most. This is because he saw the right to ownership as based on work. The owners of large industries had mostly inherited them, and so they were not the result, or only minimally the result, of their personal labour. On the other hand, the opposite is true of small businesses, which were far more likely to be the result of their owners’ hard work.


It is quite true that mere ownership of property conveys no right to an income. Only work conveys that right. It is also true that most of our property is derived from long inheritance or from business transactions which, though not called illegal (or not discovered by the police to be illegal), were in morals nothing less than bare-faced swindling. But as against this, a great deal of property is still even in our days the result of honest work and honest savings. This property represents in fact crystallised work, and the owners of this property must receive compensation not in respect of their property as such, but in respect of the work which it represents… (Pp. 98-9).

I would submit that it is true in general that the smaller properties contain the larger element of crystallised work and the larger properties contain the larger element of inheritance and swindling.

I would therefore submit that it is reasonable to compensate the smallest properties virtually in full, and proceed on a sliding scale until the rate of compensation for the larger properties is very much lower. (P. 99)

He replies to the objection to the removal of the vast majority of the inherited wealth of the rich by pointing out that this would leave them with an income that is perfectly satisfactory for everyone else, and that others are also making their sacrifices to build a better world.

If anyone says it is monstrous to confiscate 90% of a millionaire’s property, I say that £8 4s 3d. per day is something which ought to enable a man to live quite reasonable well. If any owner asks, “Why should we make any sacrifice at all” Why should not we and our children have every last penny for ever?” I reply that millions of men, owners and non-owners alike, are going to risk their lives in these next months. They make their sacrifice for the common good, that those who are left may live fuller lives. Do I ask sacrifices which are too much if it is the fact that we cannot build a noble civilisation, while the means of production are in private hands only to be used if the owners can make a profit?

Workers’ Control

He also states that the nationalised industries should be managed through a system of workers’ control through a system of workers’ councils. The most efficient and enterprising workers on these councils would be those, who would be promoted to positions of management.

But above all the whole taunt of the present capitalists who ask how we will manage our industries without them shows that people have failed to imagine what industry under common ownership will be like. To-day, an owner manages an industry in which the workers work. We are asked how we are going to organise the thing which will manage the industry the industry and tell the workers how to work? It is not going to be like that at all. The industries are going to be the workers’ industries and the detailed organisation is not going to be piled on to them from on top, but built up by them from below.

The workers in each productive unit – or their representatives in the larger units – will be meeting every week to consider their work, their condition of work, how they can improve their work themselves, and what improvements might be made in their work with the assistance of other groups of workers. In addition, all the workers in all the trades in any area will be regularly meeting – either directly or again through representatives – to consider what improvements could be made in the industrial possibilities of the entire area. Surely, these meetings supply the answer to those who suggest that there would be no way in which new processes and new techniques and new devices and gadgets of all kinds would find their way into industry under common ownership. Surely, they answer also those who wonder how the problem of promotion would be solved. Is it reasonable to suppose that those who showed themselves most effective in the councils of these meetings would be marking themselves out for promotion? Of course some unworthy men would gain promotion by spuriously impressing themselves on their colleagues. But are there really no unworthy promotions today? (Pp. 107-8)

Acland’s book was a radical manifesto for a complete transformation of British society and industry. In the event, it was far more radical than the Labour party, which nationalised about a fifth of the British economy, but left much in private hands because they felt there was simply no case for it being taken into state ownership.

Acland nevertheless makes a good case for workers’ representation at least in industry. He’s also right about large firms being due to inheritance and not the hard work of individual entrepreneurs, though there are some exceptions, such as Microsoft. And he is absolutely right about the way private industrialists would wreck the economy to prevent the nationalised industries from succeeding. This is exactly what the Tories are trying to do now to the NHS, in order to prepare it for privatisation.

Computers Before Babbage: Schickard’s 17th Century Mechanical Calculator

May 26, 2013

Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine is now considered to be the first computer. Designed in the 19th century by the pioneeering mathematician, it was designed to prevent human error in the calculation of mathematical tables used for vital tasks, such as navigation. Wholly mechanical, it proved far too expensive for the British government to fund completely and so was never built. A replica of part of it stands in the Science Museum in London, while another replica was built for the home of Charles Simonyi, the vice-chair of Microsoft. As an icon of Victorian technological excellence and information technology, it has also been an inspiration to Steampunk Science Fiction novelists. This is most explicit in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s 1990 The Difference Engine.

Yet there is a whole history of mechanical computers extending back as far as the 17th century. The first of these was the ‘calculating clock’ built by the German polymath, Wilhelm Schickard in 1623. Schickard was inspired by the calculating aid, Napier’s Bones and incorporated them into his own device. The Calculating Clock was the size of a typewriter using a direct gear drive and rotating wheels to perform addition and subtraction. The machine used Napier’s Bones in its upper section to multiply and divide.It could computer figures up to six digits in length. Below these were a line of wheels and dials for addition and subtraction lay below them. The wheels were arranged so that when one wheel made a complete turn, the next moved a tenth of a complete turn. The dials were connected by toothed internal wheels that brought forward one digit whenever the wheel passed from nine to zero. The dials were moved in different directions for addition and subtraction. If the result of the calculation could not be displayed because it was longer than six digits, a bell rang.

Unfortunately, like many great inventions, including Babbage’s Difference Engine, it was never built. Schickard was building a replica of the calculating clock for the great astronomer, Kepler, when his workshop was destroyed by a fire. He gave detailed instructions for its construction to Kepler, before Schickard and his family were all killed by the plague in the 1630s. It was only rediscovered in the 1950s amongst Kepler’s papers held in Russia.

Despite this, it’s an astonishing demonstration of the mathematical and engineering ingenuity of the early 17th century, and makes you wonder what else they were capable of, and even how unique are the modern scientific achievements of our own day.