You can't unsell Hospital Records

If you've yet to stop your GP records being sold without your knowledge, mySociety have built an online opt-out that you should use: Fax Your GP.

The Telegraph reported today that hospital records from 1997-2010 have been sold to insurance companies. They appear to be referring to HSCIC's Hospital Episode Statistics, a database of NHS hospital records.

[…] a report by a major UK insurance society discloses that it was able to obtain 13 years of hospital data – covering 47 million patients – in order to help companies “refine” their premiums.

The report by the Staple Inn Actuarial Society – a major organisation for UK insurers – details how it was able to use NHS data covering all hospital in-patient stays between 1997 and 2010 to track the medical histories of patients, identified by date of birth and postcode.

Hospital records of all NHS patients sold to insurers, The Telegraph, February 23rd 2014

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Back in York

It's been a while since my last post. After living in London for a few months and working out of Shoreditch Works, I chose to head back to York with the new academic year - rather a tough choice given my other, international option.

It might seem strange to those I met in the last 18 months - UnCollege, friends in the YC and hacker crowds - that I've decided to go back to formal education. I deliberately chose to take a leave of absence rather than actually quit in order to make this possible, but I wasn't convinced I would do it until late September.

There's a lot of truth in what groups like UnCollege are saying - the teaching you get at College might often be given just as well online. If teaching is the only thing you've gone to College for, replacing that could be rather easy. I've changed quite a bit, and I am enjoying myself a lot more than in the first year.

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Novelty

Over the last 16 months I've gone through quite a lot of attitudes towards the modern trends and how innovative many companies really are. As for why … I think it's natural, wanting to do something nobody has before, and hard to reason out of that desire towards what matters and is possible in the real world.

There's millions of highly educated, smart people in the world. Ideas you come up with probably occurred to a friend yesterday, a scientist 6 months ago and perhaps a mathematician 50 years back.

How do things still feel new? You're often competing with only your proximate domain/industry, rather than those experts. Work is seen without a view to the time or learning that went into it, merely on the basis of your end product versus your peers.

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How probable are 3 consecutive birthdays?

Have you ever wondered what the likelihood is of having three consecutive birthdays in a row? It's a fun excursion from the classical statisical brain teaser on the birthday problem.

To begin with we'll consider the probability of a given three people - let's call them Alex, Brian and Catherine - having consecutive birthdays. For those familiar with sets, we'll represent them with the set \(P = \{ Alex, Brian, Catherine \}\).

Making assumptions

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Automation and Empowered Organisations

Have you ever noticed quite how wide the market for programmers is? Whether it's banking, space industry, gambling, newspapers or science we're in demand in virtually every field of human endeavour.

Our prospects are good because most people in those fields can't speed their work up. Their highest form of automation is an Excel spreadsheet and a mail merge. Under these circumstances vanishing a task out of existence is almost impossible.

Decades after automation started, even our youngest job candidates don't have a clue how to make it work for them. We dither over how to kickstart higher economic activity while most companies have a huge force multiplier missing.

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Steady state community

Amazon's purchase of Goodreads, a social reading community, has reminded me of the difference between building a community and building a business. Goodreads definitely could be a value add for Amazon and the Kindle, yet unless they treat it with a light touch it could become far more of a Goodkindlereads.

Companies will happily sell for millions and risk the evaporation of their communities, especially if current earnings aren't that cracking. They also might start to commercialize a community in the way Twitter has, or close down a useful platform because it didn't make much cash.

Just look at TinkerCad, the in-browser CAD environment for creating 3D models. It was a fantastic use of technology and very useful for me from time to time, yet now it is being retired - I suspect because the earnings never matched up to the time, money and effort invested.

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Something Greater

With the explosion of human knowledge in recent centuries, exploring every field of human endeavour is now a task greater than any human lifetime. Until we can enhance human intelligence we're stuck knowing only pieces of the puzzle, straining against the barriers of time and memory in a doomed quest to expand our knowledge.

There's just too much complexity in the world to do everything by yourself. Whether in the ancient past or in modern times, behind every famous man or woman are many brilliant people hidden in the shadows. I suspect the myth of the individual hero is based more on respecting bold choices than their personal abilities.

It seems to me that all humans yearn to belong to something bigger than themselves. Whether it's romantic relationships, jobs or supporting good causes we all yearn to feel that we're not alone and that others are there to support us.

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A case in Bureaucracy

A few years before I left school, students were offered the ability to do an academic, school-supported study into our own interests. This EPQ was a trial program and only those with only A and A* grades at GCSE were allowed to apply. Given that I got a B in French and English Literature, my 7 A* grades were irrelevant.

I wasn't very tactful back then. After my efforts to maneuver around this were rebuked by, "teacher knows best," I wrote a sharp complaint letter and dropped it in the application box. It was probably about time I got irritated, with years of frustration at what wasn't taught boiling over.

As you probably know of bureaucracies, things like that don't go down well. I was forced to apologize to the teacher in charge of the project and lost friends amongst the teaching staff. Those friends were teachers that really cared about their subject; the ones that nurtured their students' talent beyond basic teaching.

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The Most Interesting Books

I like to know a wide range of topics enough to practically use them. These are some of my thoughts on how to learn things so that you can actually use them - avoiding mere surface learning.

Popular Science books seem to be all the craze these days. Pick up a book discussing the discovery of Neutrinos, read through to the end … and then nothing. You can discuss broad topics but I doubt you can do anything with it.

If you look at any real research on the topic you'll rapidly realize that the tools you could have gained, new Math concepts and a way of looking at a problem, got skipped in an attempt to appeal to a mass market.

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A first look at Quantum Computers

I've read a reasonable amount in the past around Quantum Mechanics, but never really with a focus on information processing. Recently I've decided to make up this hole, and publish my notes here. To begin with I want to explain a few of the principles behind it.

Why are Quantum Computers interesting?

The computer in front of you is pretty powerful, but it can't factor a 600-digit number before Earth gets cooked by the Sun. No supercomputer humanity does or could build could do that either, so it seemed a sure bet to base the security of some encryption schemes on factoring being (exponentially) hard.

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Train Data Revisited

Last month I wrote about a handy GPS endpoint on East Coast trains' Wifi. I've since found out quite a bit more about wider railway data thanks to help from Samuel Littley, Jonathan Raper and others. Knowledge is best shared, so here goes.

Network Rail Data Feeds

I mentioned Network Rail's feeds briefly last time but hadn't yet looked into them much. It turns out that despite the site not looking promising these are up and running (thanks to Samuel Littley for tipping me off). Sign up and your access will be activated within an hour or so. Given that mine was granted at 3am GMT I suspect it's automated.

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What is 46bit?

Discussing the bits of existence that stand out to hackers, 46bit has been freeing humanity through automation since 2010. Written by Michael Mokrysz.

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