Weeknote, 18th September 2022

This has been a week of tech-futzing and annoyances. I converted my ThinkPad back to running Windows because I was desperate to use Aeon Timeline for part of my writing project. That was a big mistake for two reasons. First, I could have just used my Mac to run it. I have no idea why I didn’t just do that. Second, I have really grown to dislike Windows.

Not, I should say, because of the interface. Windows has never looked and worked better overall. Microsoft took the opportunity with Windows 11 to get rid of some of the crufty old settings which hadn’t been updated since the Windows 7 era (and in some cases, Windows XP). It’s just a lot nicer to use.

However, they are also determined to lock in – sorry, “integrate” – more of their services and software into the operating system. That nifty little widgets panel offers you your task list, in Microsoft To Do. You can see news and weather, but only Microsoft News and Weather. And if you click on a link, it’s opening in Edge not your browser of choice.

It’s clear that, like Apple, Microsoft sees services as the way to go to build revenue. Making Windows free to update probably still rankles, and they would like some revenue back, please. But that kind of stuff is not for me.

The Mac, too, is frustrating me for a few reasons. Don’t get me wrong: there is so much to love about the Mac, and my M1 Mac mini continues to be a delight. But again, it feels like a system that is becoming something Apple controls rather than me controlling it, and when things go wrong they often take far more futzing about to fix than they should.

Case in point: I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop using the very fast internet here to do some big downloads. Except that my Mac won’t properly connect to the WiFi. Apple uses its own system process to handle connecting to wireless networks which require authentication, showing you a little mini-window for you to login.

Except that it doesn’t always appear. Sometimes, when you have connected using another device, it connects, but doesn’t bring up the window – and because the network sees the Mac as another device it doesn’t properly connect. It claims to have connected, but it doesn’t log in, so you have no connectivity.

Sometimes all you need to do is turn WiFi on and off and it will work properly. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and you need to restart. And sometimes, like today, it just will not connect no matter what you do. I have even tried invoking the system application which does the captive WiFi connection, with no result.

There is probably a preference somewhere which will fix this. Maybe there is some cache that needs clearing. But whatever it is, nothing on the internet helps.

That’s very different to the world of Linux, where almost every problem you will ever encounter has been solved by someone and documented. The only problem I’ve ever found which doesn’t have a fix is, ironically, running Aeon Timeline in Wine. But to be fair, I never really tried particularly hard – and if I find a solution, you can bet that I’m going to document it.

And I still hate the MacBook Pro keyboard. Yes, I know that new MacBooks have reverted to sane key switches, but when I have tried them they still feel crap to me. Not as crap, but still crap. I’m now used to a mechanical keyboard, and only something as good as the ThinkPad’s keyboard suffices on a laptop. I have turned to the dark side.

There is a more serious and less grumpy point to all this. I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with the integration which Apple and Microsoft are focusing on. It’s not that the services are bad – in Apple’s case, at least, they are excellent – it’s that putting your entire computing life in the hands a single supplier seems like a bad idea. You only need to look at what happened to the man who Google believed had abused his children to see how bad it can get.

And I’m less happy too to have all my documents stored in the cloud. It is hugely convenient. It means that for about a decade I haven’t had to think about backing up, as everything is in iCloud or OneDrive and easily accessible. But it also feels like I am putting too much in the hands of companies which I don’t really trust.

Thankfully, at some point I have connected my phone to this WiFi and it is happily reconnecting, because the network recognises it. So I downloaded a nearly 6Gb file on my iPhone, and had to transfer it to the Mac later. Thankfully AirDrop did the job well.

So I lost a day to reinstalling Linux. I know. I know. This time, rather than Ubuntu, I went for the Ubuntu-derived Zorin OS. It’s designed to be as simple as possible to pick up for Linux novices and I think it hits that mark well. It includes nice little features like making using Windows applications easier by letting you just double-click on an installer while it adds Wine in the background.

This weekend is when the first tranche of new students arrives at the University, so the coffee shop I was writing in is full of parents taking their children for a coffee before they head back to whatever corner of the country they have come from. Outside the window there’s the constant bustle of wheeled bags going past, and our close will have more than one car load of people circle round it, with a parent saying “I don’t think this is the university…” before going back and finding the real thing. We should put up a sign.

It’s fun listening to the guy who works here ask each parent in turn if they have had far to come, telling them there’s more seating downstairs, pointing them in the direction of the shop or the library or Sainsbury or wherever they are off to next. Then there are the small groups of students who are obviously new, meeting for the first time and going for a coffee to chat. Or to sit awkwardly in semi-silence.

It brings back memories of my own first trip to college when my dad drove me down to Hatfield. Unlike many families I see, my mother didn’t make the journey: she was upset that the last of her babies was leaving home, and didn’t want me to see her cry. She also gave my dad strict instructions that he was not to use the M1 and to use the A1 instead, because motorway drivers were madmen and she didn’t want him to drive at the crazy speed of 70 miles an hour.

Writing

This has been a terrible writing week. I have struggled to get my head down and write. I don’t have any excuses: I have a good idea where the story is going and I have had the time available to keep writing, but I just… haven’t.

Reading and watching

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is actually very good. The characters and (especially) plot are better than Tolkien, who I tried to reread a while ago and found dreadful. Like a lot of people I read Lord of the Rings young, and raced through all three books in a week or two. I vividly remember staying up late and reading it in bed, gripped by it.

Sadly I haven’t retained that love – or perhaps I have just grown into better writing.

Please won’t someone stop the bullshit about RCS?

I am so tired of how tech sites preach the gospel of RCS as the “solution” to interoperability between messaging on Android and iOS, based on nothing more than parroting Google’s “talking points”.

Android Police:

Google is also calling attention to the fact that SMS and MMS are older and less secure than the RCS standard that’s now common on Android phones: While one-on-one RCS conversations are encrypted, SMS and MMS conversations aren’t.

The RCS standard- which Apple could adopt as an additional layer of fallback for messages- does not include support for end-to-end encryption in single or group chats. Instead, Google has built its own proprietary encryption extensions on RCS. Unfortunately, they only work if you use Google servers for messaging and with Google’s Messages app. Although Google has published top-level technical papers, there is no way that open clients, or Apple, can support Google’s proprietary encryption at this point.

The comments on that Android Police article prove just how well Google’s PR campaign is landing with some — and how important it is for tech sites to start getting this right. The comments are full of people talking about how Apple is stopping messages from being secure by not adopting RCS as if it was part of the open standard that Apple could adopt.

Now, of course, I am sure Google would be “happy to work with” Apple to support its proprietary encryption. But that would mean Apple effectively handing over control over messaging standards not to a standards body but to Google. Anyone who thinks that is likely to happen doesn’t know Apple. And anyone who says it should happen doesn’t don’t know Google.

Google wants to encourage the adoption of RCS because it offers another platform for advertising. And although messages sent between Android users (using Google’s app) are encrypted, and Google can’t read the content, it can track who you are messaging, which gives it a significant data point about who your social circle is. In addition, that gives it data about the strength of relationships in your social graph, which it hasn’t had much insight into since the decline of email as a personal communication method.

Adopting RCS, of course, also counters the real target of Google’s strategy here: Meta. WhatsApp is wildly popular, particularly outside the US, and Meta bought it in the first place to get access to that social graph data about who you message most often. So Google needs a counter, and RCS adoption — with its proprietary extensions — is what it is pinning its hopes on.

Miscellany, 6th August

Web3 provides both anonymity and accountability, they said. It has its own built-in protections against bad actors, they said. Oops.


It’s usually worth watching Windows Weekly, but this week included a long section on how Microsoft just can’t get Windows releases right — the cadence, how it communicates, everything. It’s well worth a look.


Speaking of classic Microsoft idiocy, its (very nice) little video editor Clipchamp used to have three paid tiers plus a limited free version. That was too complex; rightly, it has hacked that back to a single subscription price.

Unfortunately, that price is $11.99 a month, and you will need to link your account to a Microsoft account. It’s a nice product. But it’s not a $143.88 per year product.

Meanwhile, iMovie continues to be completely free on Mac, iPadOS and iOS. Clips is completely free on iOS and iPadOS. Clips even uses Lidar to let you put 3D objects in your videos.

That $148 a year probably adds up to the difference in price between a Mac and a PC over three years, too.

Microsoft really is clueless sometimes.


But don’t leap too quickly into AppleWorld. Here’s Apple again putting ordinary people’s rights in fifth place behind its need to placate the PRC, its need to make 40%+ margins on everything, freedom of speech and human rights in general. Privacy is guaranteed — as long as you’re not Chinese. Remember when they hid the Taiwan flag from customers in Hong Kong?

Weeknote, Sunday 3 July 2022

Some weeks fly by and leave you feeling that nothing has been done. Unfortunately, this is one of those weeks. While I’m sure that if I looked back through my calendar and plotted the meetings I’ve had and the places I’ve been, I would feel like the days had been packed, without doing that, I’m left with the thought that nothing much happened.

Work-wise, that’s not true: I spent two days this week in extensive workshops on a couple of projects. The travel involved (both were early starts up in Peterborough, a two-and-a-half-hour journey from home) also knocked out a lot of my spare time. Even if you’re getting home on time and the travelling is easy (it is), it’s wearing. Even quiet reading becomes a chore if you’re mentally exhausted.

June and July always feel like the sluggish months of the year for me, when the heat of the day saps my energy. Unfortunately, my Indian DNA doesn’t give me the gift of coping well in hot weather: instead, my father’s midlands genes kick in, and I feel like I’m wading through treacle. And apart from the absolute soaking I got cycling down to the station on Thursday morning, the warm weather doesn’t offer much relief.

Writing has been minimal, reading also, but we finished watching Danny Boyle’s Pistol. Unfortunately, the last couple of episodes lost their way a bit. Having focused on humour and fun in the first few, it was hard to turn it around when things got darker later. The murder of Nancy by Sid and Sid’s subsequent death just don’t lend themselves to lightness. Looking at the series as a whole, the episode which focuses on the back story to the song “Bodies” is the pivot: things got a bit scary for the Pistols, and the series reflects that. All that said, the performances are great: no one looks like their character physically, but absolutely nails the characteristics.

Weeknote, Sunday 5th June 2022

This might be abbreviated as we have just returned from spending a long weekend camping with some lovely friends. Memo to self: take more pillows. And a titanium back. Oh, and of course, it rained, because this is England in June. I am fond of camping, though, at least the whole sitting outside with a campfire reading a book bit.

Apparently, there was some kind of jubilee celebration too? Must have missed it.

After much fooling around, I managed to get Scrivener 3 working on Linux via Wine. In theory, this should be easy, but there are a lot of configuration bits and pieces to go through to make it work, and annoyingly the articles which tell you how to do it have some minor errors in the options they suggest. Now I’ve got it done, though. I have been able to completely nuke the Windows partition from my ThinkPad, as there are no other Windows applications I need to use on it.

Watching

Episode three — sorry, “Part III” — of Obi-Wan Kenobi was OK. I’m not really getting drawn into it, which has been true of quite a few of the Netflix/Disney+/Amazon Prime series. I haven’t even really got into the second series of Russian Doll. Maybe it’s me?

Reading

While spending time stuck in a tent, I finished Neal Asher’s Weaponized. Asher’s speciality is space opera on the cusp of horror, with a different take on what a post-scarcity society run by AIs would look like compared with Banks’ Culture. In this one, Asher comes back to a theme that he used in his first novel, Gridlinked — that of what it might be like to be so altered by technology that you start to lose your humanity. Where Gridlinked looked at this from the perspective of computing tech, this time around, it’s about genetic engineering of a sort.

If you’ve read and liked Asher before, you’ll enjoy this one, but parts of it definitely felt like Asher-by-numbers, and I’d like to see him abandon the Polity Universe — although he would probably end up suffering the same experience as Gary Gibson, dropped by his publisher after he started writing novels which weren’t like his Shoal sequence:

The thing I learned writing for Pan Mac was that publishers expect you to write books as much like each other as possible. In many ways, this actually makes sound business sense. It means readers come to you seeking the specific type of experience you can provide them with, and it also makes it easier to market you. You always knew with an Iain M. Banks Culture novel what you were going to get. Ditto with an Peter F. Hamilton book, or even a Clive Cussler book, and so on and so on.

My problem was that no one fucking told me this, so I had to figure it out largely for myself. Unfortunately, I had a problem: I get bored easily. Worse, while I have no trouble generating story ideas, they aren’t automatically ideas that fit in the context of starship+aliens+space travel. Or rather, I had plenty of mediocre ideas for space operas, but brilliant ideas for entirely different kinds of books.

Having read that and Alistair Reynolds’ Eversion in a row, it’s time for a change of tack, and I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I might finish off D. B. C. Pierre’s Release the bats, which is about as far away as you can get from space and aliens.

The New Victoriana

In 1997 I wrote a piece for the long lost and much missed Rewired about a cover story from Wired. It was one of the first pieces I wrote which appeared online, and it’s probably one of the angriest things I’ve ever written. Although reading the Wired piece back I think I might have been a bit harsh, I think I on to something.

Originally published on Rewired, July 7th 1997

Wired 5.07 arrived late in Britain, a couple of weeks after it had first hit the streets of San Francisco. When it did make it, when I finally got around to reading Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden’s cover feature, my reaction was that if they wanted to print a piece of science fiction, why didn’t they get Arthur C. Clarke to write it?

The biggest problem with the feature is that Schwartz, whose well-known views frame the article, only wants to think to one level of difficulty, and his determination to be optimistic makes him refuse to think beyond that. For example, technology will save the environment because “infotech… makes much less impact on the natural world.” And yes, at the simplest level he’s right — the environmental impact of sending something digitally rather than via FedEx is lower.

But this ignores the environmental cost of creating the infrastructure in the first place. Where do all those plastics used in PCs come from? How much water is wasted and polluted in the process of PC and chip manufacture? Problems like these are simply ignored by Schwartz, who would presumably just wave his magic techno-wand and make them go away.

Another example is transportation; Schwartz sings the praises of the hydrogen cell. He ignores the technological problems that need to be solved — fair enough, within the boundaries of this work of “speculation” — but then claims that “the only waste product [is] water.” Yes, at the end of the line — from the car itself — that’s true. But what are the waste products of producing the hydrogen cells in the first place? What is the environmental impact of all that additional water in the atmosphere?

An even worse error is ignoring the impact of the simple production of more cars. When the combined populations of China and India are rich enough to afford the Western standard of a car or two (or more) per family, then you have an awful lot of steel, aluminium, and copper to find somewhere. What’s the impact of the additional mining, smelting, more factories, and so on? These issues, the less obvious ones, are the most important of all — and Schwartz ignores them.

To add insult to injury, the cover line, “We’re facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom and a better environment for the whole world,” doesn’t even reflect the feature. Schwartz’s approach to Africa is typical of this; while the developed world gets ever richer, Africa gets biological warfare, ethnic conflict, and increased poverty (except, of course, in ‘enlightened’ South Africa). The only solution is the eventual intervention of the rest of the world.

Yeah, of course what Africa really needs is more intervention from white men. As if the West’s interventions in Africa for the past 300 years haven’t been damaging enough. Schwartz appears to see the problems of Africa in total isolation from the rest of the world, as if the exploitation of African resources by the West wasn’t continuing to damage the African economy — and, incidentally, provide us rich folk with some of the cheap commodities we take for granted. As if the problems of Africa could be cured by a quick dose of Western culture. As if “enlightened” multinational companies didn’t continue to prop up oppressive dictatorships in order to ensure that business continues smoothly — without the troublesome peasants complaining about the destruction of their livelihoods and environment in the race for “progress”.

Schwartz is just as dumb about Europe, and is particularly naive about Britain. Yes, Britain’s official unemployment rate is much lower than much of the rest of Europe’s — but that has more to do with the way that successive governments have massaged the figures, rather than any huge reduction in unemployment. School leavers, people on training schemes, anyone over 55 — all are excluded from the figures, which makes our level look marvellous. A better measure might have been the OECD’s economic rankings, which Britain has been sliding down for two decades, or that the poorest 10% of Britain’s people are poorer in real terms than they were 20 years ago (while the richest 1% are much, much richer).

But Schwartz evidently doesn’t keep up with European news. Far from Britain being the only “laggard” in the race towards the single European currency, it looks likely that no one will be ready for 1999. Even Germany and France, the two bulwarks of the Euro, are set to fail to meet the economic criteria for entry into the single currency. Schwartz would claim that this is due to their welfare state systems; others, perhaps less ideologically committed to the destruction of welfare states, might point to the crazy cost of pan-European initiatives like the Common Agricultural Policy.

But all that can be avoided by that old fashioned panacea, “strong leadership”. Yes, the people of Europe must suffer when their welfare systems are dismantled, and if they complain strong leaders will push them forward. No matter what they want, this is good for them. This is where Schwartz starts to turn the stomach, but it gets worse.

The crisis in China caused by the difference in wealth between the city dwellers and the peasantry is avoided, by authorities “occasionally using draconian measures”. This offhand way of describing torture and oppression sickens. I wonder whether Peter has ever read an Amnesty International report about China, where one of the favorite “draconian methods” is to insert an electric “crowd control baton” (read as “cattle prod”) into the vagina or anus and turn it on, full blast?

Perhaps in the big picture world that Schwartz lives in, such oppression doesn’t matter. After all, if you can convince yourself that utopia is just around the corner, that all we have to do is be optimistic, then it’ll all be worth it in the end. Sure, this Long March will have some casualties, but what revolution is bloodless? The fact that, once again, the casualties will be the poorest and weakest people in the world doesn’t appear to matter to him.

In the “Goofy Leftists Sniping at Wired” topic in The Well’s Wired conference, I called Wired’s revolution “a nasty Victorian counter-revolution”. Schwartz’ feature typifies that new Victoriana, with its attitude to Africa with its calls for “strong leadership”, with its optimism about progress, and ironically, given the “global” nature of Schwartz’ vision, its flag waving for a particular nation. Yes, the dear old USA, the country that’s “first among equals” must lead the way into this techno-utopia, guiding those backward folks in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.

Just as Britain saw itself as the guardian of the world’s affairs in the last century, a shining beacon of civilization that would bring order and good conduct to the world, so the strong leadership of the US will enlighten us all.

Well excuse me, Peter, but some of us want no part of another age of Victorians. Some of us “just don’t get it”; and don’t want it, either.

Weeknote, 24th April 2022

A brief note this week: we have only just got back from Oxford so there’s not much time to write.
We were in Oxford in part to see Jesse Darling: No Medals No Ribbons at Modern Art Oxford. It’s on for another week, and if you’re in the area I’d really recommend it. Darling’s work is playful, but also fragile, beautiful and sometimes uncomfortable too. Gravity Road, the biggest piece which dominates an entire room, has notes of flight, escape and roller coasters.

Reading

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers. The fact that I read this in less than a day tells you two things: One, it’s short; Two, it’s an absolutely fantastic book. I’ll have more to write about it in due course once I’ve sat on it but this is a story which is filled with delight and wonder and optimism and it’s probably exactly what you need to read right now.

Watching

Dune again. It’s probably sacrilege to say that Villeneuve has created something that easily exceeds its source material but he has with this. There’s hardly a frame in it which isn’t some large degree towards perfection. And boy are there some good battles.

Weeknote: 3rd April 2022

It’s a week since I tested positive for Covid which means it’s been a week when not much has happened other than a large amount of lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself. Having done exactly that on Monday, I tried doing some work on Tuesday, only to collapse back into bed in the afternoon. Friday was the first day where I could actually get through an entire day without feeling so drained that I had to retire and I still feel ill. Bearing in mind that I am vaccinated, boostered and have had it before I dread to think what I would have been like without the essential jabs. And let no one tell you it’s “just like a cold now”, because it isn’t. It’s like the worst flu you’ve had, but lasting longer and being far more infectious.

All of which means I’m in isolation, possibly until Wednesday. Legally of course I could just completely ignore the fact I’m infectious and wander around maskless giving every vulnerable person I meet a disease, but I have more morals than the government so I’m not going to do that.

Annoyingly the enforced isolation comes at precisely the moment I was feeling like emerging from the wintering I’ve been going through – getting the bike out, travelling more (we are supposed to be down in Brighton next week, but with Kim also now isolating there’s no guarantee we can). The past few weeks I have finally started to feel like life is getting moving again, and enjoying it.

Being sick, and so being unable to do the amount of energy-sapping meetings (virtual) as normal also meant I had time to do more writing, and it’s underlined for me how much I miss it. It’s really only in the past five years that my work has moved from writing words to doing spreadsheets/presentations/management and having some space and time to write made a huge difference to how I feel. All of which means I need to carve out time (and protect it) for writing.

Some of that writing – shock, horror – was actually fiction, which is an area that I don’t normally delve into at all. It started with a simple writing prompt and ended up as a solid couple of thousand words in a couple of hours. I’m not saying they are good words, but they’re words.

Reading…

Astounding Days by Arthur C Clarke. This is Clarke’s “science fictional autobiography”, packed full of anecdote about the mid-century science fictional London and his own work. I’ve been listening to a lot of Clarke short stories lately, as I have all five volumes of them via Audible, and they’re great to fall asleep to. I have heard the first half of “The Sentinel” many times: its end, less so.

Writing…

What will it take to change people’s minds about Brexit?

“We survived”

Time lies

Watching…

Picard: it’s getting good.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

Terry Pratchett pockets a palmtop PC: A short video clip of Terry being interviewed about libraries caught my eye and thanks to some super-sleuthing from Rob Manuel and Jay Grooby I was able to identify the device that he was using to write – an Olivetti Quaderno from 1992. This was a pretty unique mini-laptop which had no pointing device at all, and a really weird placement for the numeric keypad. It also has one of the most weird promo videos of technology history, which is an hour long. The first minute is entirely composed of a women’s gym class and the camera’s focus is mostly the instructors breasts. If any Italian speakers can tell me why, I’d love to know.

Neil Cybart wrote about how Apple is now in a league of its own, and looking at tech at the moment it’s hard to disagree. A great example of this is Universal Control which is an absolute game-changer, and something that only Apple can do thanks to the degree of work they put into underlying technologies and integration.

Jason Snell reviewed the Apple Studio Display and like everyone else loved the display while hating the webcam. Apple really messed up with the software for this.

What will it take to change people’s minds on Brexit?

I do wonder what the level of poverty and misery is that Brexit supporters are willing to inflict on their fellow citizens before they start to think “hang on, I might have made a bit of an error here”.

I suspect the answer is “quite a lot” for a couple of reasons. First, for many, winning the referendum was the first time in maybe a decade they had felt like they had any control over their lives, and were on the “winning” side. Once you have had that feeling, it takes a lot to shift you away from the position of winning: you’re emotionally attached to it in a way which is very, very deep.

Second, though: Brexit was largely delivered by the old, the conservative (small c) and less well-educated. None of those demographics are known for changing their minds often.

What’s also interesting is how the number of people who believe we were right to leave is remarkably consistent. Yes, as of today, 49% believe we were wrong to leave compared to 39% who believe we were right, and the gap has been widening since the middle of last year, but the gap widened in 2020 to about the same amount and then bounced back.

I would love to understand more about the factors moving those polls, because I think it’s almost certainly less obvious than most people think. But it’s clear that there is a rump of probably around a third of the country which believes Brexit was right no matter what the consequences they have seen so far, and are likely to believe the same in the future.

While it’s tempting to think that people are sick of hearing about it and tone down the anti-Brexit rhetoric (I’m looking at you Keir) it’s clear that the underlying attitudes and issues which are driving that 39% are going to be influencing British politics for a long time.

“We survived”

You see a lot of this: “we survived”. It’s called “survivorship bias”, and it’s the error of focusing on those who got past an event while ignoring those who did not. It’s VERY common with people who want to make out “the good old days” were great.

The classic example is in war, of course. You’ll have seen this image on various Twitter threads, from WW2 research: The bullet holes on returning aircraft show areas where a plane could take damage and still fly well enough to return safely to base. Engineers were smart enough to then reinforce the other bits. Clever engineers!

So how about our survivor of poverty? Well we all know that mortality rates for children under 5 have fallen dramatically, as you can see from this graph.

In 1800 in Britain, a whopping 329 children failed to survive their first five years of life. Today that number is four. And the progress is global: since 1990, the number of child deaths per 1000 has fallen from 93 to 37 – still far too high, but a huge improvement in a short space of time.

What does this have to do with Sylvia and her indoor toilets? Well, as you can see in the graph above child mortality rates declined massively from 1900 – 228 per 1000 – to 1950 (44). So those post-1950 boomer births benefitted massively from improved sanitation, vaccination, and living conditions. When Harold MacMillan said in 1957 “you’ve never had it so good”, he wasn’t lying.

But this dramatic fall between 1900 and 1950 masks a further one since: the child mortality rate in the UK is now… 4. Since 1950, we have reduced the number of children dying in early childhood by 90%.

So yes, Sylvia remembers a happy, healthy childhood. But that’s partly because if weren’t healthy you were much less likely to survive to the age of five. And of course, you aren’t around to talk about it today.