Sunday, February 27, 2011

Q4 GDP - and an unsolved question in fluid dynamics

Very busy week and great progress on the scientific financial stability work.

Today managed to get the 50 most recent JCP Questions and Responses online -using a blog format because it's easier and easier to search. It's here if you'd like to look.

The ONS revised Q4 "growth" figures (minus 0.5%) were fractionally downwards, when I was expecting a big increase. But I note that at current market prices the growth was plus 0.4%.  The relationship between this and the "chained volume measure" is complex. On average over the last 8 quarters GDP at current market prices has been 0.5% higher than GDP at chained volume (roughly corresponding to 2% inflation) but last Qtr it was apparently 1%.

Manufacturing growth continues to storm (+1.1% in Q4) and I'm still very dubious about the supposed 2.5% fall in construction - though this has been revised upwards from the frankly incredible earlier figure of 3.3%. This may also be behind the 2.5% fall in Gross Fixed Capital Formation.  And although the trade deficit widened this was driven mainly by imports of aircraft to beat a change in the VAT rules on 1 Jan.

On a completely different note I was struck by this report in Nature showing that it was still unclear whether the motions in a typical astrophysical disk are stable or unstable. This could have a major influence on the rates of star formation - and of Habitable Earth-Like Planets.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

21st Celebration at the Royal Society

Amazing couple of days.

On Monday we had a celebration at the Royal Society to celebrate 21 years of Sciteb. This began with a panel discussion “Strategy and Beyond” where I was joined by three immensely distinguished friends: Bob May, John Parker and Ian Davis. After 4-5 minute opening remarks from each of us there was a very interesting interactive discussion. We’d told people the discussion would go from 6-76pm with a reception afterwards, and so with great reluctance I adjourned the discussion at 7:10 although it could easily have gone through to 7:30 or later.
The reception was fun and the opportunity for many lively discussions. It was great to see so many friends, clients and collaborators, and the RS is an excellent venue. We’re hoping to make a Harvard Business Review article or something similar from it.
Tuesday was also very busy with client meetings and then in the evening a rather impromptu supper party with a few friends including Ruth Palmer. For once we didn’t ask her to bring her violin, though we did listen to the last part of her iconic Shostakovich CD – she really should perform this in London!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Toby Spence and Das Lied

Wonderful concert last night at the Festival Hall, with the LPO conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The first half was the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with Stefan Jackiw violin and Richard Yongjae O’Neill viola. Nézet-Séguin is a very enthusiastic and inspirational conductor, and the soloists are deeply accomplished. O'Neill in particular had a very profound sensibility. Although very fine performances, for some reason they didn't quite gel into the indefinable mystery of a great one: I wonder whether they had spent enough time together, and there seemed to be three subtly different conceptions of the piece.

Then Das Lied vob der Erde with Toby Spence and Sarah Connolly. This was really tremendous. Toby sang very much as the poet, as a large scale song cycle rather than in Operatic mode. You could really imagine him Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde holding up the drinking proceedings to reflect on mortality, "all the rotting trifles of the world" and the ape howling in the graveyard - Dunkel ist das Leben, ist des Tod! I'd just been listening to Sarah Connolly in her duets recording with Rosemary Joshua, so it was great to hear her in the flesh. Her magesterial Mezzo was well suited to the drama of Von der Schonheit. Toby was also very fine in Der Trunkene in Fruhling - although his voice of course is very different he reminds me of Ian Bostridge in the way he inhabits the words so intelligently. Maybe it's Oxford (and for that matter Jackiw studied at Harvard - a very Elite University concert!). Why I wonder didn't Mahler use both soloists in Der Abschied?

We saw Toby backstage afterwards but there was a delay since they decided to do some patches for the Mozart, and we both had to be up early today. We'll catch up over dinner later. He's doing Don Ottavio at Glyndebourne which we must see.

PS: Big article in the Mail by an author who has noticed what I and others have been saying for years. Scientifically, Christian belief and practice are very good for you. Scientific atheists can argue with integrity that the beliefs are untrue - wrongly in my view - but from a scientific PoV they are certainly not harmful!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

V busy, but more gems from McGilchrist

Madly busy - big event for us at the Royal Society next week with Bob May, Sir John Parker and Ian Davis as my fellow panellists. And a business friend has emailed that our work was mentioned on Radio 4 (I've now listened to the programme: it was, quite heavily, though we were not. However those in the know understand where it came from, and cite us in their papers).

Met David Trimble last night - v good guy. The first UK parliamentarian to win a Nobel Peace Prize since the now immensely obscure Philip Noel-Baker.

Iain McGilchrist's book continues to dazzle. He talks about Scheler's Pyramid of Values:
  • The holy
  • Values of the intellect
  • Values of vitality
  • Values of use and pleasure
and how for the right brain the lower ones are in service of the higher, but the left brain wants to reduce the higher ones to the lower.

He debunks the absurd idea that our eyes are like cameras, and emphasises that:
The focussed but detached attention of the surgeon, with intent to care.may easily mimic the focussed but detached attention of the torturer ... It is the detachment with which the detailed plans for the extermination camps were developed, often relying on the expertise of engineers, physicians and psychitrists, that make the Holocaust so particularly chilling.
This over-emphasis on the left brain is part of the reason behind the shocking reports of neglect of the elderly in NHS hospitals.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gems from Ruzsa and McGilchrist

Making some progress with Additive Combinatorics. It's fascinating stuff, though I'm not getting in really deep and attempting the exercises. However I came across this gem. They can prove that if A and B are additive sets:
|2B - 2B| <= 16 (|A + B|4 |A - A|)/|A|4
(in Additive Sets A+B is the set of all possible sums of an element of A and an element of B etc.. and 2B is B + B, so 2B - 2B will only be 0 if B has only one element)

However they can get rid of the factor of 16, by taking M to be a large integer, considering the M-fold cartesian product of A and B in the group ZM, showing that:
|2B - 2B|M <= 16 (|A + B|4M |A - A|)/|A|4M
and then taking Mth roots and letting M tend to infinity! Very elegant idea due to Ruzsa.

Also getting back to The Master and his Emissary. McGilchrist refers to an unpublished study he made of degree subjects undertaken by university students who then went on to be admitted to the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospital druring a psychotic episode. He found that subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia was most closely associated with having studied Engineering, followed by Philosophy.

Also listen to this:
Neuropsychology is inextricable bound up with philosophy...this has been increasingly recognised, mre by philosophers than neuroscientists...[but]...what science is actualll doing when it delivers its revelations goes unexamined: the scientific process and the meaning of its findings is generally taken for granted. The model of the body, and therefore the brain, as a mechanism is exempted from the process of philosophical scepticism...As a result, in a spectacular hijack, instead of a mutually shaping process...the naive world view of science has tended by default to shape and direct what has been called 'neurophilosophy' (p135
and this:
The word 'true' suggests a realtionship between things: being true to someone or something, truth as loyalty, or something that fits....It is related to trust and is fundamentally a matter of what one believes to be the case. The Latin word verum (true) is congnate with a Sanskrit word [{ वॄ } {vRR} c/f वेद veda] meaning to choose or believe: the option one chooses, the situation in which one places one's trust. Such a situation is not absolute - it tells us not only about the chosen thing but about the chooser. It cannot be certain: it involves an act of faith, and it involves being faithful to one's intuitions. (p151)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship

V interesting an enjoyable large party last night with members of the government. Excellent short speech from David Cameron, in which he spoke of "Serving the country we love, together in the national interest" and the key British values of "Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy and the rule of law" (my italics)

He also thinks "Britain can be one of the great success stories of the next decade." Let's hope events prove him right.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Amsterdam and the Vixen

Just back from 3 days in Amsterdam where we had gone to see The Cunning Little Vixen. Stayed at a v nice family-owned hotel called The Toren which was notable for the exceptionally helpful and positive attitude of the staff. On Friday we went to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.

The Van Gogh has 4 lovely Redons on display including Buddah (in his youth) and 2 outstanding paintings in the form of triptychs that I can’t find on the web.

The Rijksmusem is being refurbished (we can all come back in 2013) but they have a small section on display including of course The Nightwatchmen, The Milkmaid, two Rembrandt self-portraits (as a young man and as St Paul – when he was my age!) and this astonishing picture by Cornelis Claesz – “The explosion of the Spanish flagship during the battle of Gibraltar, 25 April 1607”. I’ve subsequently read the excellent Sea Battles and Naval Heroes in the 17th Century Dutch Republic by Peter Sigmond and Wouter Kloek which is absolutely fascinating, with an excellent combination of art-history and history, and outstanding illustrations. That evening we had dinner at the de Lewte which was a real gem, simple food simply cooked to perfection.

Saturday I joined a running group for two laps of Vondel Park, and what with running there from the Hotel and then to the swimming pool managed to get something approaching a normal Saturday quota. That evening with had dinner with the delightful Rosemary Joshua at a superb little restaurant called Zuid Zeeland. Rosemary had generously donated two tickets to her Vixen to the auction in memory of Anthony Leggate which we were fortunate enough to secure.

On Sunday we went to the Jesuit church where the Mass was mostly in Latin – though of course the sermon was in Dutch and thus a good opportunity for meditation. Then to the Rembrandt House which gives a remarkable feel for the conditions under which he worked. He paid 13,000 guilders for this house but alas fell behind on his mortgage and indeed was declared bankrupt* in 1656. The good news for posterity is that all his possessions had to be inventoried and sold so we have a great deal of evidence which has allowed the reconstruction. Though it does seem a terrible shame that arguably the greatest artist of his generation, and certainly of his country, should have suffered such an indignity. Although the average labourer’s income was only 300 guilders a year, leading artists could ask for 6,000 Guilders for a painting and get 2,400. However Rembrandt was also an art dealer and spent quite extravagantly, and it is a basic and sad fact of economics that whatever your income may be it is always possible to spend more.

There was a demonstration of how Rembrandt made his prints, in the actual room that he used, and I was able to turn the handle. I asked if I could buy the actual print but alas not, however I could buy another copy which I did. These are made from v careful reproductions of Rembrandt’s original plates – many of which still exist (and could in principle be used to make more Rembrandts). BTW it has often occurred to me that Museums could make a great deal of money by offering to sell reproductions of essentially any object either held or depicted in their collections. Just think of what people might pay for a milk jug identical, as far as possible, to the one in The Milkmaid for example.

Then to The Cunning Little Vixen or Het Sluwe Vosje. This was an absolute triumph, an astonishing production that really should tour to another great opera house. Rosemary is of course outstanding in the title role, which in the production involves a great deal of running around as well as some beautiful and very demanding singing. Her flirtations with the Forrester, her feral moments killing a rabbit and chickens , her disdain of the dog and other sub-standard specimens and her courtship with the fox were all superb. And her death from a shot from the Poacher was really moving. The whole cast was very strong, clearly enjoying themselves a lot and building on each others strengths. Dale Duesing at the Forrester was particularly fine, but there wasn’t a single performance below par.

* According to the Rembrandt House Museum. Wikipedia says there was a court arrangement to avoid bankruptcy, probably more accurate.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Did the UK economy really shrink last quarter??

Had an excellent few days in Harvard, also seeing Elder Daughter and family. There had been lots of snow (although none fell when we were there) creating a rather surreal effect with piles 4-6 feet high by the sides of the streets: one turned out on closer inspection to have a car buried underneath it.

I've already blogged about the cosmology: we also made some pretty important steps forward in our scientific work on financial stability, but not bloggable.

I really doubt whether the UK Economy did shrink in Q4. Looking closely at the statistics of ONS revisons to their preliminary estimates, it's clear that there's a significant fat tail of upwards revisons. If the prior probability of the economy shrinking in Q4 was less than 10% then the posterior probability that the economy shrank is about 50%. I think it is less that that, but we shall see: the first revisons come out later this month. Some leading economics commentators in the UK didn't seem to understand this point, but are now at least thinking about it. Of course the brilliant Philippe Aghion, who I saw on Monday at Harvard, gets it immediately. The Economist poll of forecasters has only reduced its growth estimate for the UK by 0.1% so they don't believe it either.