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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Software

Thursday May 26 2016

One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.

Here is my contribution to this discussion:

image

I know what you’re thinking.  Who might that be?

Exactly.  Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out.  You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.

Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle.  I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered.  For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.

In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be.  I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation.  Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules.  (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it.  Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved.  With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators.  The Big Machine can’t touch them.  Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.

The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate.  Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters.  When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching.  I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using.  Who is this mad bitch?  What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately?  What is her job?  Who is her boss?  Etc.  (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)

Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion.  (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything.  Nothing like.  We can’t.  Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that.  Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about.  That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.

Friday May 20 2016

For years I have struggled, with the graphics programme I have been using, to crop, not square (an option this programme does offer), and not to a size I specify (ditto), but to a ratio that I specify.  For years, I could not do that.  I repeatedly searched for such a thing, in other programmes, but evidently didn’t pick the right words.

Then, in France, I couldn’t remember the mere name (on such things do decisions hinge) of my regular photo-editing package, so I loaded PhotoCat, basically because it had “cat” in its name and I reckoned I could have Friday feline fun with it (ditto), to see if I could photo-edit with that, and I could, and I could do constant ratio rectangular cropping which was a most welcome surprise.

Thus are decisions made, by computer operatives.  There are two rules for getting things done in the modern world.  (1) Do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem.  If it doesn’t help you to do something that you need to do, don’t bother with it no matter how cool everyone else says it is.  Cool is not a good enough reason to be faffing about with something.  (Faffing about to no purpose cannot be cool, because it isn’t, and because another rule is: worrying about being cool guarantees that you won’t be.)

And (2): if it does help you to do just one thing that you do want to do, then, if you can afford the money, the space, the bother, whatever, use it.  Then, when you are using that thing for that one essential thing, then, you can move onwards to finding out if it will do any other merely desirable things.  But, lots of merely desirable things and nothing essential is not good enough.

Using anything is difficult, if you only use it occasionally, to do something merely occasionally desirable.  This rule applies at all times, in all places, and no matter how “user friendly” the gizmo or programme claims itself or is claimed by other users of it to be.  Occasional is bother.  Always.  Don’t do occasional if you can avoid it.

Using anything is easy, on the other hand, if you do it regularly.  This rule applies at all times, in all places, to all things, and no matter how “user hostile” enemies of the gizmo or process claim it to be.  If a convoluted dance around the houses by a complicated route gets you an essential result, then dance.  Convoluted will quickly become imprinted on your brain, and easy, and reinforced each time you (frequently) use it.  This is how rats and ants do things. (Hurrah: other creatures!) They’ll probably outlast us.  Ants definitely.

The above explains why the division of labour was so epoch-making.  When you concentrate entirely on a small but rather tricky part of a big process, you will do it massively better than others attempting this tricky operation only sometimes, in among all the other things they are attempting.  The damn near impossible becomes routine and easy.

So, I prepared for a life of frequently PhotoCatting fixed-ratio rectangles out of my photos.  Using PhotoCat for that one thing.

But then, earlier this week I was cranking up PhotoCat, prior to some fixed-ratio cropping, and it refused to load.  It got to 80%, and then stuck there.  Who knows why?  Was this PhotoCat’s fault?  Was it something I was doing?  Probably the latter, but that isn’t the point.  It didn’t load. So, I went looking for alternatives, and I found one, called: PhotoPad.

And the bad news for PhotoCat is that PhotoPad also does proportional ratio cropping, and does it rather more conveniently, because PhotoPad operates on my hard disc and doesn’t have to be uploaded from the www each time.  Unlike PhotoCat, PhotoPad is not www based, or whatever you call it, which I prefer because you can still use it if the www is out of action.  It’s now all mine:

image

That being a snap of a rather unusual form of transport that I snapped, in France.  I like how you can see what’s happening there, like when they zoom in on a detail in a computer picture in NCIS or a movie or something similar.  (Question.  Does art lead life in computing?  Does stuff like the above start out in the movies, just so absolutely everyone can get what’s going on, and then migrate to real life?)

PhotoPad does something else which PhotoCat didn’t do, or not for me, which is rotate much more exactly.  Most photo software seems to want to offer only rotation in 1 degree increments.  If they can do better, they don’t volunteer the fact.  But, PhotoPad does volunteer this.  With PhotoPad, instead of rotating something 1 degree or 2 degrees (or 359 degrees), you can do 1.38 degrees or 1.77 degrees or 358.61 degrees.  You’d be surprised, perhaps, how often that is a desirable refinement.  You can do it by eye, and let the numbers take care of themselves.  Terrific.  Cool, even.

So.  PhotoCat now offers me … nothing.  So, … see above.

Just now, while checking out the PhotoCat link for this posting, I successfully cranked up PhotoCat.  Whatever went wrong before has now gone away.

Too late.

Thursday May 19 2016

Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):

image

That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.

I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.

imageThe email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”.  When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).

Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat.  See right.

Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane!  So very tall, and so very thin.  It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything.  I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London.  Not that Antoine’s crane is in London.  It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.

I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes.  When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.

It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.

As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below.  Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.

Saturday May 14 2016

Today I attended the Libertarian Home Benevolent Laissez-Faire Conference.  Here is the text of the opening speech by conference organiser Simon Gibbs.  And here is a selection of the photos I took, of the event and of the speakers:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Conference programme here.

1.1: An attender.  1.2: The venue, very good, with a big side window looking out to a small basement level garden.  1.3: Syed Kamall.  1.4 and 2.1: Janina Lowisz and one of her slides.  2.2, 2.3 and 2.4: Julio Alejandro.  3.1: Simon Gibbs and Yaron Brook.  3.2: Brook.  3.3: Kyril and Rob helping with the books.  3.4: LH info, lit up by the afternoon sun through the window.  4.1: Anton Howes.  4.2: Howes and Brook.  4.3 and 4.4: Gibbs, Alejandro, Howes, Brook.

Friday May 06 2016

Travel and learn.

I mentioned in a recent posting that picture editing here in Thuir is different.  This is because I can’t remember the name of the photo-editing programme that I usually use, and am having to use a different one.  And the one I am using is called PhotoCat.  Irritating.  But one very good thing has emerged from all the irritation, which is that PhotoCat can do cropping which follows the original shape of the picture,which with me is always 4x3.  This means that I can now crop a picture and still have the final result the exact same 1000x750 pixels that all my other pictures are, and that means that I can easily do a much smaller version and make.  I could do that with my regular programme, but only with a lot of fiddling about.

PhotoCat also does rotating in a way that takes you straight to the biggest version you can then have, also while preserving the same proportions.

Here, for instance, appropriately enough, is picture of a cat which I took in Castelnou yesterday.  On the left is the original snap.  On the right is the cropped version.

imageimage

Whether the picture above actually needed cropping is not the point.  The point is that cropping, while keeping the shape the same, was painless.

As is rotating.  This same cat later did a bit of rotating of its own, so here is the original of it doing that, with my left foot intruding.  And on the right is my rotation of its rotating, also cropped:

imageimage

PhotoCat is a web based application, or I think it is.  It works pretty much like you own it, except that if your internet is down, it presumably doesn’t work.

This posting has been done to ensure that I do not forget the name of this programme.  PhotoCat.  By which I mean PhotoCat.

Friday April 08 2016

I’ve already done one posting about the walk that GodDaughter One and I did along the New River (further reaches of) last Saturday, and as I result I learned (thank you Natalie) about Pollarding.  Here is another posting, about a duck which GD1 and I observed that day on the New River, and this time what I hope to learn is what make of duck this is.

Here is the duck:

image

Here are a couple of shots of the duck with his Mrs.

imageimage

Here’s one of those shots where the principle of a good photo photoed badly is taken to its outer limits.  You can see what I was going for and how great it might have been, but you can also see that it didn’t work:

image

Don’t bother clicking on that one.  No point in that being any bigger, is there?

To compensate for the above failure, here is a final head shot of Mr Duck:

image

I don’t usually post pictures of wildlife on this blog, basically because I feel that I don’t have anything to contribute.  Other people – a lot of other people – do this several dozen times better than I ever will.  But this duck genuinely interested me.  Until I saw it, I had no idea that such a bird was to be seen in the vicinity of London, looking like it had just flown in from Africa or Brazil or some such luridly colourful place.

And whereas, when you have a question about the modern world, you can usually now just type that question into a computer and up comes the answer in just a few seconds, that doesn’t work when you have photoed a fancy-looking bird.  I’m sure that this will come, but unless I entirely missed it, the time when this works is not with us quite yet.  I cannot now just stuff this photo into my computer and say: What brand of bird is this?

Perhaps this can already be done.  In which case a commenter can tell me this, and tell me the result that he or she got when he or she carried out this procedure.  He or she can tell me both about photo-searching, and about the duck.  Win win.

Blog and learn.  That’s the plan, anyway.

After writing the above, I tried typing “fancy duck london” into the www and asked for pictures, and a picture appeared in among all the irrelevant nonsense that looked like what I saw.  So now, I know the answer:

Specimens frequently escape from collections, and in the 20th century a large feral population was established in Great Britain; ...

Mandarin duck.  Blog and learn.

Tuesday March 29 2016

Last night I dined at the new and rather temporary home of Samizdata, where I took this photo:

image

Click on this to get it larger.

These really are very tasty crisps, and I strongly recommend them.  I immediately decided that I would try to serve some of these at future iterations of my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings.  So, I took a note of these chips, with my camera.

When I pondered the impact of digital photography, way back when that was, this ability to photo not only mere prettiness, but also information, loomed large.

I mentioned how my friend Simon Gibbs and his workmates all use their smartphones to photo the mass scribblings on a whiteboard after a brainstorming session.  The man making the thumbs-up sign in the above photo told me about a new app that he now uses at work which takes a picture like the ones Simon and his pals take, and smartens it up, so to speak.  It translates handwriting, that is to say, into proper computer text (presumably computer text you can scan), and arranges everything more neatly and more readably.  Impressive.  And I’m guessing that the existence both of smartphones taking photos, and of apps like this that can make even more sense of such photos, changes what gets written on the whiteboard, now that more coherent text will be better recorded and processed.  I’m guessing that handwriting improves somewhat.  But does this app, I wonder, subtract somewhat from the informality of the process?  And might that undermine creativity?

I wonder what this app would have done with my Tyrrell’s veg crisps photo.

I photoed Mr Thumbs-Up’s smartphone, where the logo for this app was to be seen, but alas, the smart-focussing in my camera was not smart enough to focus on this image.  It was all a blur:

image

There’s no point in me showing you a larger version of that, is there?  How sad that my photo-note of an app for processing photo-notes should be so useless.

I should have included more stuff off screen for my camera to focus on.  As I later discovered when I took some other photos off of his smarphone, of how my blog looked on his smartphone.  Those photos came out better.  But that’s for another posting.

Tuesday March 08 2016

My photos of London contain may oddities, which I sometimes only notice later, and often only much later.

Take this photo, for instance, which was one of the first I took from the top of One New Change, on the second of two visits I made in the early summer of 2012, on May 22nd:

image

I like it.  Big Ben, seen through the Wheel, the Wheel presumably being what I thought I was photoing at the time.  Outstanding roof clutter, right next to the Wheel.  The pleasingly eccentric Oxo House, slightly nearer to us.  Good stuff, albeit rather dimly lit.

But what about that big photo-within-the-photo, of what looks like the late Lord Mountbatten, standing next to a young man who looks vaguely like a young Prince Andrew, underneath where it says “Sea Containers House”?  What on earth is that about?

Image google “Mountbatten Sea Containters House”, and all quickly becomes clear.

The largest ever photograph of the Royal Family has been unveiled on a prominent South Bank building in the heart of the capital to celebrate the Queen’s upcoming Diamond Jubilee.

When finished, a day or two afte4r I took my photo, the complete photo on Sea Containers House looked like this:

image

I caught the process of this photo being contrived at its very earliest stage.  And yes, that is a young Prince Andrew.

The only thing I remember about all that Jubilee fuss in 2012 is that, for some reason or other, I pretty much ignored it.  I think I may have watch the boats on the telly.  Had I paid more attention, it would have been obvious to me soon after I took my photo of that photo what had been going on.

Google is wonderful.  Also very sinister.  Very sinister because so wonderful.

Sunday February 28 2016

Popular Mechanics has an interesting article about Why Cranes Keep Falling.  (Thank you Instapundit.)

For me the interesting stuff is about why they may not be falling quite so often in the future:

We’ve already reached the next step in safety. Crane manufacturers are now trying to build in new automatic features to keep disaster from striking their equipment. Modern-day mobile cranes have load moment indicators that, when they are properly programmed, act as limit switches. These switches limit operators from moving loads deemed too heavy for the crane. The high-flying tower cranes have controls to limit loads in various places on the hoist line, depending on the function of the crane at any given point.

Tower and mobile cranes now can come equipped with video cameras to show views of the loads and work zones in the operator cab - the newest cranes include this technology in “head-up displays” that require no looking down to see the images - to manage blind lifts. Additionally, crane operators can expect to use anti-collision systems to stop a crane from moving outside its engineered zone.

The most recent crane malfunction I can find having happened in London was this one, in Ealing.  Nobody hurt.

Different story altogether when a crane recently fell over in Mecca. Death toll: 107.

This prang, on the other hand, was not a crane collapsing, rather was it driven into by a helicopter.  Ever since that happened, in January 2013, London’s construction cranes have all had bright red lights on the top of them.  Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “red light district”:

image

Those cranes are across the river from me, photoed by me last November.  Not the best photo you’ve ever seen, but it does the job of showing you what I’m talking about.

Saturday February 27 2016

Here:

Six years ago I submitted a paper for a panel, “On the Absence of Absences” that was to be part of an academic conference later that year - in August 2010. Then, and now, I had no idea what the phrase “absence of absences” meant. The description provided by the panel organizers, printed below, did not help. The summary, or abstract of the proposed paper - was pure gibberish, as you can see below. I tried, as best I could within the limits of my own vocabulary, to write something that had many big words but which made no sense whatsoever. I not only wanted to see if I could fool the panel organizers and get my paper accepted, I also wanted to pull the curtain on the absurd pretentions of some segments of academic life. To my astonishment, the two panel organizers - both American sociologists - accepted my proposal and invited me to join them at the annual international conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science to be held that year in Tokyo.

I wonder what Hemingway would have made of “On the Absence of Absences”.  (Hemingway, for those not inclined to follow links, is a programme to make your writing clearer.)

Presumably someone has also written a program which churns out this kind of drivel automatically.  Google google.

Yes:

The creators of the automatic nonsense generator, Jeremy Stribling, Dan Aguayo and Maxwell Krohn, have made the SCIgen program free to download. And scientists have been using it in their droves.

At the moment, this sort of drivel just marches on.  This is because people who oppose the drivel have to convince the drivellers to stop, which is hard.  And, being opposed to drivel, they usually have better things to do with their time.  The trick is somehow to reverse the burden of proof, to put the drivellers in the position, en masse, of having to convince the rest of us that their drivel is not drivel.  At that point, they find that they have no friends, only public contempt.  Everybody, including them, thinks that it is drivel.  And nobody thinks it worth bothering to even try to prove otherwise.

Monday February 22 2016

There’s a really good piece at Samizdata, posted earlier today by Michael Jennings, about Why a traveller loves Uber.

In a piece I did a while back about Uber, I speculated that a typical way that people will first get the Uber habit is when they visit a foreign city, where they trust the local taxi drivers about as far as they can spit them.  So, they use Uber.  Michael, with massively greater recent globetrotting experience than me, bangs this point home.  We libertarians do love to talk about Uber.

imageOne of my regular visit sites, Dezeen, recently featured a story about the redesign of the Uber logo, which resulted, critics mocked, in a new logo that looked like an arsehole.  Uber’s head of design then immediately stepped down, to spend more time with his family.

This might be true.  He was tired, and had been spending lots of long hours away from home, working on the design of the arsehole.  That could be it.

What on earth possessed these designers to dump the U and go with a near-O instead, like they were changing the name from Uber to Ober, Oil of Ulay (now Olay) style, I cannot imagine.

None of this logo nonsense will change anything.  Uber is great, no matter how they choose to logotomise it.

Sunday February 14 2016

There have been times, which I prefer not to remember with links, when a bit of heckling from this programme would have improved my writing, and it would probably have improved this sentence, maybe by chopping it up into two sentences, or even three or four, or five, especially in the first or first few sentences of postings, when I tend to go round the houses like a drunken milkman, which is a bit unfair to milkmen, but there you go.

Via here, and here.

Tuesday December 08 2015

Two other people’s screens while avoiding their faces photos, taken on a muggy evening last September:

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The one on the right is okay, because Westminster Abbey looks more interesting on someone else’s screen than in does in a regular photo, or in real life come to that, I reckon.

But the one on the left is really nice because the lady with the matching pink iPhone case and pink spectacle frames is photoing one of those little assemblages of modern architecture of the sort I especially like.  There are all those apartments across the bridge approach from where James Bond’s bosses live, and to the right of these apartments (which already look rather tatty from close up but which look much better from afar) we observe the Spraycan.  The Spraycan will soon, I believe, be joined by other towers, as that whole part of town erupts with activity sparked by the new US Embassy a bit further up river.

And, she is holding a map.  Does she not know that she could whistle up a map on the phone she is photoing with?

And here are two more photos of people photoing, taken within the same short time-frame as those above:

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The total amount of anonymity supplied to these two dudes is about right, but is, unfortunately, rather unevenly distributed.  Dude 1 on the left is not showing us his screen, but I do like how I used that lamppost to prevent any machine from being able to spot him.  Although, we can all see where the photo was taken, thanks to that road sign, which I also like including in photos.

But could a machine maybe identify Dude 2, on the right, perhaps from the rather blurry and shadowy image on his screen?  A human who knows him would know him from that photo, but that isn’t the question.  Here’s hoping that no machine will be interested.

Trouble is I like the photo too much to keep it to myself.  You can even see the Wheel, on his screen.

Photo-screens come into their own, as objects of photography, when the light fades.  They stay bright.

Fascinating point made in this piece at Libertarian Home by Simon Gibbs, about how and how not to educate computer programmers:

I am skeptical of whether formal education teaches programming, or whether programming is an innate aptitude. My computer science education is certainly a part of what made me a good programmer and I have met very good people who have retrained from other industries and become successful programmers. I have also met people who have had years of training and still lack the fundamental skill of breaking a process down into steps, despite passing various exams and tests. I graduated with such people and not with dramatically higher grades either. Formal education seems ill suited to capture, transmit, and assess the nuances of this particular skill. The ease with which code is plagiarised is one factor, as is the process of mugging up for exams, but the real problem is that the skill itself is a form of implicit knowledge which you cannot simply write down.

Further, learning to program is not an easy process. It is damned hard and no single resource or bootcamp or whatever will help you navigate a route by which you can deliver value. You have to get there on your own and that is, by definition, not something that anyone else can easily help with.

I can remember that, when I education-blogged, the above rumination was the kind of thing I would seize upon.

What Gibbs says sounds like the point that I have recently been making, generally and in particular in connection with this book (about PR (by another friend of mine (Alex Singleton))), that learning how to do something like play the violin (or do PR (or computer programming)) is fundamentally different from merely reading a book about how to play the violin (or reading a book like this one about how to do PR).  Most people will never be able to play the violin well (or do PR well), no matter how much else they are able to learn about playing the violin (or doing PR).  By writing a mere book about how to do PR, Singleton has not given away his personal-professional crown jewels by teaching thousands of others how to replace him.  On the contrary, his crown jewels are his “innate aptitude” (honed by much practising) for combining and deploying all the PR techniques he knows of and knows how to do, when solving a PR problem.  He has turned himself into a PR industry go-to media guru (which means he gets to advertise himself free) and made himself even more employable, in a kind of PR positive feedback loop.  After all, the better Singleton is at doing his own PR the better he’ll probably be at doing yours.

Gibbs also makes it very clear that he reckons himself to be a good programmer, in a way that many rivals, clever in all sorts of other ways, will never be.  He too does some good PR for himself, even though it’s incidental to the main point of his piece.  To learn which, read it in full, by clicking on the link at the top of this posting.

Thursday October 29 2015

From the Washington Post, yesterday:

What if your self-driving car decides one death is better than two - and that one is you?

The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned.  I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun.  I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.