Archive for the Uncategorized Category

The Brexit HBR Business Case

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2017 by telescoper

I think the Government has picked option C!

Voice of TREASON


Today we’re going to work through a strategic business case to evaluate how you’re likely to perform in role.

Investment Case

You have an initial investment of £50-60B to make that will have an impact in £100s of Billions over decades. The transformation will completely distract your Executive Team and all your senior managers leaving you unable to do anything else except the project. Once initiated the project cost will be sunk and and the company irreversibly comitted to the course.

All of your consultants have advised you against initiating the project. Your competitors, sensing a misstep have started to hire your most trusted staff. You have a tenuous grip on your board and e-team and expect to lose some critical board votes that will secure the project.

You’re  certain you don’t have the staff to manage the initial analysis  let alone the deployment of the project.

A year ago…

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Is nothing > data?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 19, 2017 by telescoper

I got this yesterday from one of my office mates who suggested that I stick it somewhere. It’s an advert for a data science company called Pivigo. Logically, the statement on the sticker implies that data is less than nothing, which I don’t think is the point that they’re trying to make. On the other hand, I suppose that by posting this I’ve given Pivigo some free advertising so in some sense it is a successful promotional ploy!

Anyway, when I posted this on Twitter it sparked a little discussion about the vexed issue of whether the word `data’ is singular or plural, so I decided to bore my readers with thoughts on that – not that I’m pedantic or anything.

The word `data’ is formed from the latin plural of the word `datum’ (itself formed from the past participle of the latin verb `dare’, meaning `to give’) hence meaning `things given’ or words to that effect. The usage of `data’ that we use now (to refer to measurements or quantitative information) seems not to have been present in roman or mediaeval times so some argue that it is a deliberate archaism to treat it as a Latin plural now. Moreover, some insist that `data’ in modern usage is a `mass noun’ so should on that grounds also be treated as singular.

For those of you who aren’t up with such things, English nouns can be of two forms: `count nouns’ and `non-count counts’ (also known as `mass nouns’). Count nouns are those that can be enumerated and therefore have both plural and singular forms:  one eye, two eyes, etc. Non-count nouns are those which describe something which is not enumerable, such as `furniture’ or `cutlery’. Such things can’t be counted so they don’t have a different singular and plural forms: you can have two chairs (count noun) but can’t have two furnitures (non-count noun).

Count and non-count nouns require different grammatical treatment. You can ask `how much furniture do you have?’ but not how many. The answer to a `how much’ question usually requires a unit or measure word (e.g. `a vanload of furniture’) but the answer to a `how many’ question would be just a number. Next time you are in a supermarket queue where it says `ten items or less’ you will appreciate that it the sign is grammatically incorrect. `Item’ is most definitely a count noun, so the correct form should be `ten items or fewer’.

In the specific case of `data’, it seems clear to me that there are (at least) two distinct uses of this word. One is the use of `data’ to describe an undifferentiated unspecified or unlimited quantity of information such as that stored on a computer disk. Of such stuff you might well ask `how much data do you have?’ and the answer would be in some units (e.g. Gbytes). This clearly identifies it as a mass noun.

But there is another meaning, which is that ascribed to specified pieces of information either given (as per the original Latin) or obtained from a measurement. Such things are precisely defined, enumerable and clearly therefore of count-noun form. Indeed one such entity could reasonably be called a datum and the plural would be data. This usage applies when the context defines the relevant quantum of information so no unit is required. This is the usage that arises in most scientific papers, as opposed to software manuals. In Figure 1, the data are plotted…’ is correct. Although it sounds clumsy you could well ask in such a situation `how many data do you have?’ (meaning how many measurements do you have) and the answer would just be a number. I don’t find this archaic at all. It seems quite sensible.

To labour the point still further,  here are another two sentences that show the different uses:

“If I had less data my disk would have more free space on it.” (Non-count)

“If I had fewer data I would not be able to obtain an astrometric solution.” (Count).

It is not unusual for the same words (if they’re nouns) to have both count and non-count forms in different contexts. I give the example of `whisky’, as in `my glass is full of whisky’ (non-count) versus `two whiskies, please, barman’.
There are countless other examples (pun intended) of words that can be count nouns or non-count nouns. `Fire’ can be a mass noun `fire is dangerous’) but also a count noun (`the firemen were fighting three fires simultaneously’). Another nice one  is `hair’ which is non-count when it is on someone’s head (`my hair is going grey’) but count when  they, in the plural, are being split.

In the context of data science it seems to me that `data’ is almost always used as a non-count noun and can therefore reasonably be treated as singular. In the context of the statement that `nothing is > data’ it would also appear that `nothing’ is also of non-count form, but whether this is the case or not, the statement seems to imply that `0>data’, which seems to imply that data is negative.

And there’s another question: what does `>’ mean? Wikipedia says `greater than‘, but I think it means `is greater than’, much as `=’ means `equals’ or `is equal to’. So there’s a syntax error in the sticker too…

..or perhaps I might be reading a little too much into this?

Workshop End

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2017 by telescoper

Well, our little workshop has come to an end. I would like to thank all the participants for making it such a success and wish you all a safe journey home!

We will be posting the slides for all the talks in due course, but in the meantime here are some random shots..

And, er…

here’s the obligatory workshop photo!

Beard of Summer 2017 poll opens with Glastonbury focus

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2017 by telescoper

Oh Blimey.

Owing (no doubt) to some form of administrative error I have been nominated for Beard of Summer 2017!

Please feel free to vote for me, or not, as your fancy takes you!

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

Media release

26th June

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said the poll for the coveted Beard of Summer Award is now open with the result revealed at the end of National Beard Week on Saturday July 1st

The poll is the third of four seasonal Awards that culminates in the Beard of the Year Award at the end of December.

The campaigners say that as ever it is not just the style of the beard but the impact it makes in public

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, we’re looking for the summer beard that adds the most gravitas and the shortlist probably has the biggest range of beard styles ever

Beard of Summer shortlist

Bill Bailey, comedian

Peter Coles, cosmologist

Hefin David, politician

Michael Eavis, farmer

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Theresa May and the Holy Grail

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2017 by telescoper

Is it hotter than normal?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 22, 2017 by telescoper

I remember the summer of 1976 very well indeed, both for the heat and for the West Indies’s victory over England in the test series, including bowling England out for 71 at Old Trafford.

Protons for Breakfast Blog

MaxTemp_Average_1981-2010_June This map shows how the average of the maximum daily temperature in June varies across the UK.

It was hot last night. And hot today. But is this hotter than normal? Is this global warming?

Human beings have a remarkably poor perspective on such questions for two reasons.

  • Firstly we only experience the weather in a single place which may not be representative of a country or region. And certainly not the entire Earth!
  • And secondly, our memory of previous weather is poor. Can you remember whether last winter was warmer or colder than average?

Personally I thought last winter was cold. But it was not.

Another reason to love the Met Office.

The Met Office have created carefully written digests of past weather, with month-by-month summaries.

You can see their summaries here and use links from that page to chase historical month-by-month data for the UK…

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From the Cavendish Committee Room

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2017 by telescoper

The annual cycle of academic life has brought me once again to as External Examiner for Natural Sciences (Physics) at the famous Midlands University called Cambridge, so I’m getting ready to take the train there. We’ve just finished the meeting for Part II of the Tripos examination, had a quick buffet lunch and are waiting for the official pass lists to be produced and signed.

Here’s a picture of the Cavendish laboratory where we are located:


The Committee room that we’ve been in all morning has no windows, which means we’re missing out on the sunny weather but at least it means we’re not distracted from the job at hand. Obviously I can’t write about the details, but I can assure you that we do as thorough a job as possible. Once we’ve signed sealed and delivered the Part II results it will be time to start work on Part III in advance of the meeting tomorrow morning.

Anyway, we’re almost ready to resume so toodle-pip!