New Year's Update
2013 was a productive and busy year for me.
Back in March, I started working on a small side project in the field of cliodynamics. We are collating time series data sets to describe the history of political instability in the UK and Ireland since 1780. We will combine this data with other datasets describing demographic and economic measures and use the data to test theories of social dynamics. The goal is to produce a model which can predict likely future political instability patterns, similar to what Professor Peter Turchin has produced for the USA. Along the way we should be able to come up with answers as to why various historical events happened the way they did. These answers won't be prefect - history is opaque and messy - but they'll be more scientific and based on better evidence than anything anybody else has produced, so they should be interesting.
That small side project mushroomed, over the course of the year, into a large and complex consortium of international universities and research centres coordinated by Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University. In November, I was in Aarhus, visiting Professor Turchin, where we established a long-term collaboration plan to build a technical system to harvest the Seshat global databank of world-history. Peter wrote a lengthy account of the presentation that we gave, which went into some of the technical details, on his (excellent) blog. I was playing with my phone like an idiot when the photo was taken, naturally. Serves me right.
In December we received our first research grant for the work and our first journal publication. The prospects are promising and the possibilities are exciting. There are all sorts of interesting questions about human social systems that we will be able to provide better, more scientific answers to, than anybody has ever done before. The better the datasets get, the better our answers will get and the greater confidence we will be able to have in our models' predictive ability. Eventually, we will figure out not only how to predict future patterns in social systems, but what should be changed in order to most reliably achieve desired social outcomes.
2014 should see some of this work emerging from the ivory towers and becoming publicly available. We've constructed a system called Dacura which allows the public to participate in the process of mining the Internet for historically interesting data and it should be publicly launched in the second half of 2014. In April we are coordinating two research consortia that are targetting €7 million in EU funding, so I will spend the first three months of the year travelling all over Europe putting those proposals together. It promises to be another busy year - especially since I'm the sucker who writes the code. However, by the end of next year, it should start to bear fruit as our results emerge. We will understand the world a little bit better than before.
The Site & Blog
While all of that was going on the background, I launched the site on Mayday 2013. I published 39 blog posts in that time, just over 1 post per week, about 80,000 words in total. My original goal was to publish several times per week and to complete the project within a year. Unfortunately, I was far too busy in the second half of the year to sustain that pace. I have made considerable progress, about 30% of my story has been published at this stage, I have no chance of getting it all finished by May considering how busy I'm likely to be. Nevertheless, I remain committed to publishing it all, so I'm going to keep on going until it's all put down but am determined not to let it run on into 2015! I will get to the end before the year is out. I will try to return to a regular weekly publishing schedule if and when time allows. As a sign of my reborn enthusiasm and drive for 2014, the next installment of my narrative, entitled Arise Comrade Chekov, appears today, new years day.
Writing these stories has proved to require more effort than I expected - progress has been tortuous at times. Nevertheless, it has been made enjoyable and worthwhile by all of the nice feedback that I've received. I would therefore like to wish a happy new year to all the those who've taken the time to read my stories and an especially happy new year to those who have given me feedback, in any way at all.