New Year's Update

published 01 Jan 2014
Jennifer Donnely, October 2013 - 40th Birthday!

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.   





Comments (9)


Happy New Year Mr. F and congratulations to you & your co-authors on your research paper being accepted by such a prestigious world-leading journal - great way to start 2014!
Looking forward to reading about your continuing adventures.

Paul B

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.


Great work so far, Chekov. Your loyal readership is demanding however... the price of success!


Keep up the good work! If you are considering some New Year's resolutions, check out Woody Guthrie's resolutions from 1943...perhaps change number 8 to 'publish an article twice per month' rather than 'write a song a day' !


I hope your EU funding proposals are progressing well.....good luck with the submission in April. Looking forward to returning to in May.


Mr. F....when can we expect the next installment? Have you forgotten your loyal readers :-(

Cliff Hanger

Was really getting into this. Don't let it languish.

chekov's picture

Don't worry, I'm not going away. I'm building up a stock of articles at the moment so that I can go back to a weekly publishing schedule. Expect them to start arriving within a week....

Anonymous you haven't forgotten us Mr. F ! Looking forward to your next article.