Thursday, February 28, 2008

Labs to Riches and Emma Darwin

Back from the Royal Society for their Labs to Riches evening, encouraging scientists to become entrepreneurs. They are setting up a RS Enterprise Fund and have hired Andrew Mackintosh the former CEO of Oxford Instruments to run it. Great to see a number of old friends there: Alec Broers had come first in his class in the ARC in his Oyster 485 Principessa, crewed by his 2 sons and a friend. Met Greg Winter who clearly knows a thing or two about Scientific entrepreneurship and is now Acting Director of the LMB.

Emma Darwin's new novel A Secret Alchemy is being published in Nov and she is giving a first reading of extracts from it at the Stoke Newington Bookshop on Monday 10th March. Sadly I can't make it - but she has sent me the text of her talk for Darwin Day which she gave in Birmingham - interesting and amusing. She has a great blog here.

Our RA has been offered a very promising position at the National University of Singapore and starts in August. Questions of Truth is coming along nicely and will be delivered to the publishers in April so although we'll be sorry to lose him his main work will be done, and it's great that he has this opportunity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RSA Cameron event - Defence, Polls - and Luke 14

Went yesterday to the RSA to the equality and human rights commission hearing with David Cameron giving the keynote speech. He was highly impressive as usual, attacking the failed notion of State Multiculturalism. Trevor Phillips and Joel Edwards were good: Zirudinn Saddar a bit less so and Francesca Klug came across as a typical NuLab Establishment "I do not recognise the problem of State Multiculturalism" - too right. She explained she was at the ABOC's lecture and none of us realised that this was a news event - she almost fell asleep and when on the dinner table with the ABoC didn't ask him for clarification.

Phillips said "if anyone thought the EHRC was going to be the PC Thought Police they must think again" and emphasised that there needs to be dialogue between religious and secular groups based on mutual respect. Edwards suggested that there was a covert vendetta against the role of God (One of Klug's books is "Value for a Godless Age") and that there needs to be a ceasefire between Faith and non-Faith. He also pointed out that people who demand that Christians leave their faith behind in "the public square" often don't make the same demands of atheists, and it was nonsense anyway.

Cameron sounded at one point as if he was endorsing polygamy - he had to issue a "clarification" - "my wife is watching and I value my life when I get home".

Philip Stevens in the FT reports the appalling failure of any minister the attend the Munich Security Conference (the gathering for the security elite - last year Vladimir Putin topped the bill, this year Robert Gates, PM of Turkey and more than 24 Foreign and Defence Ministers, Cameron's Conservatives and even LibDems). He says "I have heard it reported that Des Browne ... prefers quite weekends in Scotland to networking with foreigners". Gordon Brown's contemptuous mistreatment of the Armed Forces is an old story, but still a shameful one. Luckily even the Voters are beginning to notice how dreadful the government is - the Weighted Moving Average C Lead is back to 7.4% having bizarrely dipped to 4.7% on a rogue Ipsos/MORI poll in Jan. Back into double digits after the Budget I suspect.

John has now returned the drafts of Chapters 7 and 8 - so book is in good shape. We have 29.5k words of the body of the book written (93%) and lots of Appendix material. Still working on Ch 1 hope to finish today.

Read the Wedding Feast parable where in the AV we have "go into the highways and byways and compel them to come in" - the RSV has "go into the roads and hedges and compel people to come in" (Greek: Exelthe eis tas hodous kay fragmous kai anagkason eiselthein - again "in the way" is a big theme in the Bible which is often mislaid in translation) Fragmos means hedge, fence or wall. The point is that beggars would congregate along the walls of houses. There is also some connotation of the Gentiles being outside the wall (c/f Eph 2:14).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Welcome suprises and progress

On Sat had a good run, then Elder Daughter came to lunch - great to catch up. In the evening to a concert by Ruth Palmer at St John's Smith Square, playing Mozart Concerto No 2, with her own cadenzas. Drinks afterwards with her and some friends, but home early 'cos I had a 14 mi run to do on Sun followed by lunch with some old friends. This was to celebrate their 10 years of being together, but at the end they also announced that they had secretly married 4 years ago! This was greeted with great joy. Sat next to some v interesting guests, one of whom turned out to know two other people we very much like - lovely small world.

That evening we went to the local Catholics, Mass said by the charming "curate" who speaks very quickly, so all over in an hour with a good sermon and hymns - at the end he announced that "there would be a party on Sat and you're almost welcome"

Working on the introduction to Questions of Truth - I'm sure John will greatly improve it. I'm proposing to delete one of the Questions in Ch 9 so that there will be room for 2 others to be suggested by our publishers - or selected from the many other spares.

Great progress on the science work today - my colleague from All Souls and I worked together all day cutting code, running experiments, and developing the thinking: we then email the code and thoughts to the Harvard team and can pick up tomorrow. I've also thought of another problem with Cosmological Natural Selection which I must add to the relevant footnote in the book - I'm thinking of doing a paper on Dawkins' Answers to Anthropic Fine-Tuning. Interesting piece in Nature by Bob May & al on applications of Mathematical Ecology to Financial Regulation, which spurs me to send a much-delayed email thanking him for the introduction to Martin.

Great to see that Tilda Swinton won an Oscar, as did Peter and the Wolf. We went to an early performance of this at the Cadogan Hall where Ben Walfisch, who conducted Ruth's Shostakovich, conducted the orchestra with a screening of the film, and met the producer who signed the DVD. It was excellent, and I'm delighted that it won.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Book, and dinner with Nobel Laureate

Delightful family celebration yesterday - we went up to Cambridge because Son has to work this morning.

Lots happened last week: two important client meetings got postponed which has freed up more time for the science - good. Also we have hired an impressive new team member. Publisher has decided to launch our book in Jan in the US and March in the UK, which gives us a bit more time to finalise the contents. We plan to use it for checking and getting subject-matter experts to read some of the technical sections, so we are still under the gun to finish the content and I've just finshed the final chapter of questions this morning. Got home late last night to find an email from a Nobel Laureate accepting a dinner invitation - always a good way to end the day.

I'm impressed with John Cottingham's The Spiritual Dimension. Much of what he says is spot-on. To pick just what I have most recently read: "Given that we allow physicists to invoke entities whose nature they can approach only via such indirect means...it seems hard to deny in advance to the religious adherent any similar right to speak of a divine reality that transcends the resources of directly descriptive language. (p92)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Much on - polls and Iraq stable

Lots going on at the moment. One of my Harvard collaborators was over at the beginning of the week - and I've also finished all but one of the Questions chapters of Questions of Truth. The final Chapter has a wide variety of fields - just finished one on early embryos which required me to look up Aquinas and now a couple of questions on Dawkins. It's be great to finish this by the weekend but work is exceptionally busy as well.

Iraq casualties seem to be stuck around 1.2 per day - much better than last year but not maintaining the low in Dec. UK Polls also stuck as well - despite fluctuating individual polls the Weighted Moving Average is pretty stable. Interesting to see what happens with the latest twist of the Northern Rock fiasco.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tragedy or Farce?

Sue Cameron in today's FT wryly observes that it is hard to be sure, with GB's No 10, whether we are watching a tragedy or a farce. Nearly 200 people: chief of strategy, director of political strategy, head of strategic policy, strategy unit (with 42 staff) etc...

Much criticism of Darling, but he was only doing his master's bidding. And keeping the seat warm for Ed.

It'd be interesting to see a new opinion poll - but there is a dearth in the UK. People are more interested in the US: looks like I got one of the 2 contenders right. McCain would, I think, beat Hillary and be beaten by Obama. But Obama, although admirable in many ways, seems to have a hopeless position on Iraq. We shall see...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Proposals, Science and Book (PS ABoC & Brown)

Delightful surprise at our Life Group when a much loved member, J, who had gone back to Australia turned up unexpectedly. He had flown back on Thurs, tapped his girlfriend on the shoulder in a bar on Sat evening, and proposed to her later. So two Aussie weddings in our Life Group. Wow.

Making good progress both on the scientific collaboration with Martin and the book with John. On the former, Jeremy and I can work on the simulations in the UK in the morning and afternoon, then email our code to Dave in Harvard and he works on it in the evening and night (our time). Moves forward quite fast. On the book, I draft a chapter, send it to John who re-drafts it, and then Wang-Yen can deal with the Appendix material. I've now re-drafted 33 of the 50 responses and we're in good shape, DV, for an Editing Day before Easter to get the book into final shape and send it to the publishers. John says he had an excellent time talking to Winchester College, with over 100 students and staff, making excellent contributions - and all the 50 copies of his books that were on sale were snapped up.

The row over the ABoC is unfortunate - but the proposition that he should only be able to say things that cannot be mis-represented by journalists is absurd. And on a separate note, Charles Clarke comes out with the most forthright comments yet from a Labour "big beast" on Brown: even not ruling out a leadership challenge.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Development, in Africa, the Church and Young People

Tea at the House of Lords with Lord Ahmed and Paul Collier. Both great guys. Fascinating discussions about how to bring development, growth and public services to poor countries, and the most constructive ways of involving the private sector. Must introduce them to some of the relevant global executive who, strangely, they haven't yet met. Lord A had to dash down to vote for a pro-life amendment to the Embryology bill - it was heavily defeated but he rightly feels he has to vote with his conscience. The cooperation of Muslims and Christians here needs better publicity.

Then to HTB to hear from Nicky Gumbel and others about their youth work. All very encouraging. Their purchase of new offices will free up lots of space on the church campus for youth and other pastoral work. Great to introduce C to him and to meet Pippa. We haven't seen much of each other at all since we were at Trinity together 32 years ago. Of course God has often worked through teenagers and very young people. We know Samuel was very young when he was called, and it's almost certain that St John was in his teens when he was a Disciple. Was also very encouraged to meet Tom Gillum's wife who says they are working on brining in monastic prayer to St Jude's. Another wonderful example of the confluence of the Catholic and Evangelical traditions.

Posted Ch 4 Draft to John, and have made some more progress on Ch 5 & 6. The BBC covers the CSJ report on Glasgow speaking of "The right-thinking Centre for Social Justice". No doubt they'll "correct" this but for once they are right!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Beethoven, Physics and a rant from Polly Toynbee


Managed to get a return for Barenboim's Beethoven Recital at the Festival Hall yesterday. Tremendous performances of 3 of my favourite sonatas. At the end I thought he deserved a standing ovation, and so did most of the hall. Would have loved to stay for the discussion, but had to get back to finish the draft of Chapter 4 of QoT. Very technical, and have had to read fascinating papers on cosmology by Hawking, Smolin & Susskind. Good for my education!

Polly Toynbee is quoted as ranting on about how "A tidal wave is sweeping across America. A tsunami of liberalism is washing across the Eastern Seaboard, wiping away the cobwebs of capitalism and Christianity, ushering in a new era of progressive secularism.
John Howard despatched in Australia. Tony Blair in the UK. Could George Bush be the third and most notable victory for those of us who campaigned against the Iraqi invasion?"
Er, calm down Polly. All the leading US Presidential candidates are avowed Christians, and vital though your contributions may have been in getting Bush to leave the White House, the US Constitution's Term Limits may also have had some influence.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Harvard Collaboration, and Stations of the Cross

What a week. Intensive work on the Harvard collaboration, with one of the team over here and one down from Oxford, making a great deal of progress and presenting the initial results to our client.

On Friday went to opening of exhibition of new Stations of the Cross at our former Church. This had been organised as a competition at the Slade and won by an amazing Chinese artist Aishan Yu. We met her, and Prof John Aiken, the Slade Professor, and purchased two of the works. My Grandmother was a Slade though I don't know how, or whether, we are related to Felix Slade the founder.

Working hard on Questions of Truth - hope to finish drafts of 2 chapters this weekend but have been reading fascinating papers on Lee Smolin's ideas for Cosmic Natural Selection.