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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Natwest T20 Blast: Glamorgan v Sussex

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on July 22, 2017 by telescoper

Last night’s Twenty20 match in Cardiff was planned as a staff social outing for members of the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University. I had to do some things at home before the 6.30 start so didn’t join the group that went to a pub first but went straight to the ground.

It had rained much of the day, but stopped around 6pm. When I got to the ground the covers were still on:

The umpires inspected the pitch at 7pm, and during their deliberations it started drizzling. They decided to have another look at 7.30.

I stayed inches ground, updating the rest of the staff group who happily stayed in the pub while I sat in the gloom of a sparsely populated SWALEC.

Eventually the ground staff started to remove the covers

The toss was finally thrown at 8pm. Glamorgan won and decided to field. Play would start at 8.30, with 9 overs per side.

Play did get under way at 8.30..

It was predictably knockabout stuff, with Sussex slogging from the word go. They reached 87 for 2 off 8 overs, but then the rain returned. A little after 9pm the game was abandoned. Fewer than 10 overs having been bowled, tickets were refunded.

It was a shame that we didn’t get a full game, not only because the social event was a damp squib, but also because Glamorgan really wanted a win. Their previous match at the SWALEC (against Somerset last Saturday) was also rained off but their match  the following day against Essex in Chelmsford led to a victory with a six off the last ball as Glamorgan chased 220 to win off 20 overs.

Anyway, it’s the return match against Essex in Cardiff on Sunday so let’s hope for a full game then.

The Dead Statesman

Posted in Poetry, Politics with tags , , on July 21, 2017 by telescoper

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

A Problem of Brightness

Posted in Cute Problems with tags on July 20, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted anything in the Cute Problems folder, so here’s a nice one:

Two physics students are studying at desks in the same room. The two outlets of the wall socket to which their desk lamps are attached have inadvertently been wired in series rather than in parallel. The only bulbs available for the lamps are designed for the nominal mains voltage (240V) : Student A chooses a 200W bulb for his lamp; Student B opts for a 50W bulb for hers.

Which is the brighter student?

Hint: Assume that the filament in each bulb obeys Ohm’s Law.

Answers through the comments box please, preferably with working…..

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?

Daniel Barenboim’s Proms Speech

Posted in Music, Politics with tags , , , on July 19, 2017 by telescoper

Daniel Barenboim made this wonderful speech at the BBC Proms at the weekend. It seems to have annoyed some people who get annoyed when someone expresses something that doesn’t fit in their own narrow minds, and does it with grace, eloquence and great dignity. I’m posting it here to annoy such people still further. It’s no more than they deserve.

And here is the encore that followed the speech – Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance  March No. 1 – in full. It’s a piece I usually hate. This was the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually enjoyed it.


R.I.P. Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017)

Posted in mathematics with tags , , on July 18, 2017 by telescoper

Very sad news arrived at the weekend of the death of the brilliant Iranian-born mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani of breast cancer at the age of just 40. Let me first of all express my heartfelt condolences to her family, friends and colleagues on this devastating loss.

A uniquely creative and inspirational figure, Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman ever to win the coveted Fields Medal; her citation for that award picks out her work on the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.  Here’s a short video of her talking about her life and work. It’s fascinating not only because of the work itself, but the insight it gives into the way she did it – using very large sheets of paper covered in drawings and notes!

R.I.P. Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017).