On the day, I went through many running orders trying to balance the technical side and balance of art, science and comedy, but this is roughly what I remember of what went on at Hammersmith.
7.04pm Laser harps and jazz from Steve Pretty and the Origin of Pieces. The laser harp has to be on a high setting for a big room, so Steve burns his gloves and plays in a sort of “ow, ow, my fingers way”
Brian and I go on, I talk quickly, he looks at me. He plays a little piano.
Greg Foot comes on and talks algebra and risks a bowling ball dropping on his head in a circus sideshow mechanism. he proves his point.
Baba Brinkman and Dr Heather Berlin mix neuroscience and rap.
Josie Long does her maths exam with 3500 other people.
Andrea Sella deafens and blinds the audience in a display of alchemy.
Steve Backshall does the tango, no he doesn’t, he talks about parasites, while the cast of Strictly whoop the parasitology from the stalls.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd
NASA’s Carolyn Porco shows images of the solar system and talks of the human place in the universe.
Scroobius Pip recites his Letter to God poem.
Paul Abel showed some footage of Patrick Moore talking to a man who could speak Venusian, then Jon Culshaw came on and created his own celebrity garble.
Helen Czerski demonstrates how coffee cup rings are a reminder of the ideas of physics confronting us every day.
Brian Cox shows some pictures and diagram and smiles at them.
Then, it’s jazz Lovecats with Brian on piano, the Steve Pretty band on brass and Robert Smith on vocals.
INTERVAL – the audience are treated for Stockholm Syndrome and there is discussion of a police negotiator becoming involved.
9.26pm – Just as the audience felt their tinnitus was subsiding, Fran Scott blew things up with aplomb, leaving the stage covered in coloured balls – A HEALTH AND SAFETY NIGHTMARE – like the last clues to the mass suicide at a jugglers’ convention.
A speedy Q&A with Carolyn Porco, Chris Lintott, Brian and me. Astronomy and drug references briefly fly before we find out that Johnny Marr goaded Brian to hit Phil Collins for sounding like he was a moon hoax believer.
Chris Lintott leaves us on tenterhooks about the quest for knowledge
Grace Petrie sings a love song to her dog and how it pissed on my shoes.
It’s sloth time with Lucy Cooke talked of sloths.
Ben Goldacre talked so fast, so very fast, still the hot nomination for next Doctor Who – time for epidemiology in the TARDIS.
Al Murray talked spaghetti.
and now THE CURE… (and they were damn good)
11.03pm and CURTAIN
and Friday was similar, but the show was a mere 3 hours 58 minutes.
No Steve Backshall, Al Murray, Paul Abel, Lucy Cooke, Scroobius Pip, or Jon Culshaw, but…
Milton Jones did the best Caterpillar joke.
Alice Roberts talked evolution.
Nitin Sawhney and Nicki Wells created beautiful things with voice and guitar (so much so that Brian forgot to introduce Carolyn Porco, so I did (but not as well as he would)
“where were you?” “oh, I was watching Nitin and it was so lovely that I got my pointing figure caught in the backdrop”
Rufus Hound formed The Julias, a spoken word and music rendition of The Snail and the Whale.
Dara O Briain was his usual excellent stand up self, plus he finished on the solution to the equation Josie had pitched at the beginning of the show, that’s what the people wanted.
AND… Eric Idle swore with musical aplomb at the beginning – “go tell the elves, to fuck themselves” being one of the more delightful couplets. Though it is now lodged in my mind, and I have to rapidly shut my trap as I start singing it while typing near my 6 year old son.
And when Brian felt sad the show was over, well Eric was back, and everyone from the Cure to Alice Roberts sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”
The End of Robin and Brian’s Compendium of Reason, but Brian and Robin will return in Compendium of Solace in 2015. Tickets here.
Some people have said, “oh if I had known (fill blank here) was on, I’d have booked tickets”, but our rule remains, a few hints, but we always like to keep the bill a surprise. Not so good for marketing, but better for the night.
Tim Farron has just been on Sky News Murnaghan programme. Someone on there didn’t do their research. First all, Dermot said that Tim was handing over to “Sarah Brinton.” Yes, that’s her official name, but everyone knows her as Sal. You wouldn’t run up to Elton John and say “Hi, Reg”, now, would you?
Then he asked Tim the equivalent of wasn’t he just a rat deserting a sinking ship, stepping down now. Tim was able to say that this wasn’t his choosing, he had served the two terms he was allowed.
After that easy one, the line of questioning got more conventional. Every Liberal Democrat will be asked the “wipeout” question. Farron answered it well, although he could have got in there that in local government by-elections, the Liberal Democrats have made net gains this year as Britain Elects showed us the other day:
This year’s council by-elections in more detail. pic.twitter.com/R55WJCUeOA
— Britain Elects (@britainelects) December 19, 2014
We know we have ahead of us 4.5 months of tough campaigning. This is the biggest set of elections Liberal Democrats have faced in generation but you could say that for the other parties as well.I’ve never seen such a crowded market in british politics.
Although market is crowded, there is enormous space for liberal democrats when it comes to stand up for our economy, human rights and civil liberties.
We have a fruit machine of an electoral system. You put votes in and goodness knows what you get out.You can’t go stamping your feet like a spoilt brat and say you don’t like the outcome.
It’s in Britain’s interest for the Liberal Democratss to survive and thrive. In next 4.5 months anyone giving head space to any sort of leadership vacancy in the future would be selfish and foolish.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings
We’ve almost arrived at the Christmas break. Today we have new polls from Opinium (their last of the year) and YouGov (their penultimate of the year – there is one more to come on Monday night). I’m not sure when Populus put out their final poll of the year, and Survation have a Scottish poll being published next week, but that should be it for the year.
Topline figures for today’s two polls are:
The Observer write up of the poll, incidentally, is particularly poor, or at least, contains one particularly poor sentence. Toby Helm writes “It is the second poll in a week showing that the Tories have lost ground since chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement earlier this month”. Now, I have long whined about newspapers treating only their own poll as being meaningful and pretending others don’t exist, so well done for putting a poll in context… but it’s a rather extreme case of cherry-picking context to create a narrative that doesn’t exist.
The Opinium poll is the second one this week to show Labour’s lead growing, in fact it’s the third as there was also TNS. But there were also rather a lot of other polls that didn’t… there were another ten polls who the Observer has chosen not to mention. There was an Ipsos MORI poll this week (no change in lead), a ComRes phone poll this week (no change in lead), a ComRes online poll last weekend (shrinking Labour lead), two Populus polls (who have shown smaller Labour leads in their four post-Autumn Statement polls than their four before the statement) and five YouGov polls (whose post-Autumn statement polls have shown essentially the same Labour lead as those before). Lord Ashcroft hasn’t polled this week, he’s already finished for the year, but his post Autumn Statement poll had Labour’s lead down one point. As you can see, there as as many polls showing Labour’s lead falling post Autumn Statement as rising, and overall I expect what we’re seeing is a simple case of normal random sample variation. Taking a crude average of the Labour leads in November would give you an average lead of 1.6 points, take a crude average of the polls in December so far gives you an average Labour lead of 1.6 points.
There’s always a temptation to see narratives in polls, to ignore those showing no movement, latch onto those showing exciting looking changes and build an explanation and a story around them. It’s normally wrong to do so.
Thanx to the late Joel Rosenberg for suggesting this line of thought.
Fewer than a third of British people believe in the humanitarian principle that we have a duty to help everyone in distress, regardless of circumstances, according to a new survey conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation.
The research revealed that, beneath the generosity that people show in giving to charity, there is also a judgment – which means that people give far less money to help innocent people caught up in war or conflict than to people who suffer as a result of “natural” disasters, such as earthquakes or floods.
More than a third of people (39%) believed governments of crisis-hit countries should deal with their problems on their own, rather than be helped through humanitarian aid. Just a quarter of us think we should ignore the political or cultural context and help where help is needed.
Altruism is in human nature, sure it is. But it’s a qualified altruism (as so much about humans is qualified).
We’re more generous to those where we can and do think “There but for the Grace of God go I” and less generous where we think there’s human agency in the fuck up and less generous again when we think that the agent of the fuck up is the one suffering it.
Perhaps, morally, it shouldn’t be so: but it seems that it is so for some majority of us.
And note, this is still all about humanitarian aid, this isn’t even touching on development aid.
There is a vast discrepancy between how we see the world when giving gifts and when receiving them
The Harford girls have given Father Christmas two very different challenges this year. Miss Harford Senior typed a charming yet professional letter, illustrated with clip art, specifying a number of expensive gifts that would be greatly appreciated. Miss Harford Junior hand-wrote a short note saying that she had tried to be good this year and would like a surprise.
The girls raise two questions. Are surprise gifts better than something specifically requested on a wish list? Are expensive gifts a good way to express affection?
Father Christmas might seek guidance from a set of studies conducted by Gabrielle Adams and Francis Flynn of Stanford, and Harvard’s Francesca Gino.
Gino and Flynn surveyed married people, asking some to reflect on wedding gifts they had received, and others to think about wedding gifts they had given. Gift givers assumed that gifts chosen spontaneously would be just as welcome as those chosen from a wedding registry. Recipients felt otherwise: they preferred the gifts that had been on the wedding list. Such lists seem charmless but they work.
Gino and Flynn found similar results from a survey about birthday presents: again, givers thought that gifts they’d chosen themselves were more appreciated but recipients preferred the gifts that they’d specifically asked for. The lesson: you might feel that it’s awkward and unnecessary to ask what gift would be welcome but the recipient of the gift sees things differently and would prefer that you asked rather than guessed.
Gino and Flynn conducted a third study in which people created wish lists. Other participants were asked to choose an item on the list to be sent as a gift; a third group were asked to peruse the wish list but then to choose some other present of equivalent value. It’s not surprising to discover that recipients preferred the items from their wish list — but what’s remarkable is that they felt the wishlist gifts were more “personal” and “thoughtful”. We think that picking an item from a wish list is lazy and impersonal but the person receiving that item doesn’t see it that way at all.
For good measure, a fourth study by Gino and Flynn found there was one thing people appreciated even more than an item from their own wish lists: money.
There’s more. Adams and Flynn surveyed newly engaged couples about engagement rings. The givers assumed that more expensive rings were more appreciated. The recipients felt differently. A similar result came from asking people to think about a particular birthday present they had received or given: recipients were just as happy with inexpensive gifts, to the surprise of givers.
In short, there is a vast discrepancy between how we see the world when giving gifts and when receiving them. The gift giver imagines that the ideal present is expensive and surprising; the recipient doesn’t care about the money and would rather have a present they’d already selected. We should spend less than we think, and we should ask more questions before we buy.
All of this makes good sense in light of “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas”, a scholarly piece of research conducted by Joel Waldfogel and published in a leading academic journal, the American Economic Review. It celebrates its 21st birthday this month. (Congratulations, Joel.)
Waldfogel’s work on Christmas is well known to readers of this column but here is a quick summary for those who have forgotten. After surveying his students about gifts they had received over the holiday season, he found that most gifts were poorly chosen relative to what the students would have selected themselves. Gifts from friends and lovers tended to be better chosen than gifts from elderly relatives but, on average, the waste attributable to poorly chosen seasonal gifts was between 15 and 20 per cent of the purchase price of the gift — that’s well over $10bn wasted in the US alone every Christmas. This is a vast squandering of time, energy and valuable raw materials.
The usual response to this is that economists have, yet again, failed to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. But to me this simply suggests that economists have managed to acquire a toxic brand in matters of human relations.
Were a priest to counsel against materialism at Christmas, nobody would accuse him or her of missing the point; the same message from an economist seems foolish and emotionally stunted.
Coupled with the findings from Adams, Flynn and Gino, the conclusion is plain: there is no need to stop buying Christmas presents but we should spend less and pay more attention to what the recipients might actually want.
So what should Father Christmas conclude when faced with my daughters’ letters? Miss Harford Senior is wise to specify exactly what she wants and Father Christmas should take heed.
Miss Harford Junior is taking a risk asking for a surprise — but at least Father Christmas knows that the last thing he should do to compensate for his ignorance is desperately spend more money.
Tim Harford’s latest book, “The Undercover Economist Strikes Back”, makes a superb seasonal gift.
Written for and first published at ft.com.
We’ve seen the bidding war on immigration between UKIP and the Tories.
But Theresa May is now taking it to a new level. It’s one thing talking about restricting the benefit rights of EU migrants. But it is another to declare, as May does through the Sunday Times headline: “I’ll kick out foreign graduates”.
Just think that one through.
Our schools, colleges and universities are revered around the world. Parents pay a fortune to send their children from the opposite side of the globe to educational establishments in the UK. We then give them the benefit of a fine education and a grounding in our culture and language. It is quite right that such graduates can currently move reasonably seamlessly to a work permit. We have areas of our economy where we desperately need brain power. The NHS springs to mind. But there are other areas such as science-based industries, telecommunications and IT. We can always do with the brightest and best helping our industry and public services.
But what does May want to do? She wants to kick out those brightest and best. Kick them out of the country and then make them grovel to come back in. In many cases they won’t bother, and we would have lost an excellent source of brains. And this, we’re told, is in order to meet the Tories’ crazy net migration target.
It’s economic madness. If we went down that road, as a country, we would be cutting our nose off to spite our face.
But there is an interesting irony in this move by Theresa May, said to be ‘burnishing’ her credentials as a future Tory leader. Most likely, the immediate timing of this move was motivated by yesterday’s headline. The Commons Home Affairs select committee have found that May has presided over chaos in the immigration system, with just short of 400,000 unresolved immigration cases in existence.
So, Theresa May has basically allowed anyone to walk into the country and stay here, via administrative chaos, and reacts by cutting off a vital supply of brainpower for our economy.
This is the most remarkable evidence so far of the economic insanity of the competition between UKIP and the Tories.
They’re fighting over the shroud of Enoch Powell at the risk of consigning the UK to the rank of economic also-ran.
* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is Wednesday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Liberal Burblings.
That book, of course, is The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston.
Someone else, I think, has already quoted the "Lulley, lullay" scene this year, so I choose something different, though still musical.
Alexander, the middle child of the three who are shown in a portrait above the fire and who still inhabit the house they lived in three hundred years earlier, goes to visit a church which is famed for its stained glass, which narrowly escaped the purifications of the Commonwealth a decade or so earlier.He had a sudden great desire to sing, to send his voice away up there and hear what nestling echoes it would brush off the roof, how it would be rounded and coloured as it came back. Standing by the choir-stalls he sang what first came into his head, part of a new song that his mother was teaching him. He tossed his notes up, like a juggler tossing balls, with careless pleasure. He could feel the building around him alive and trembling with sound.
I call, I call, I call,(he sang)
Gabriel! Gabriel! Gabriel!
He stopped to listen. It was as if the notes went up like rocket stars, hovered a second and burst into sparklets. The shivered echo multiplied itself by thousands. One would have thought every stone in the building stirred and murmured. He tried it again, louder.
Gabriel! Gabriel! Gabriel!
He could almost imagine the Archangel must hear, might come. He looked round, suddenly awestruck. To his confusion he saw that he was not alone. Leaning out of the organ loft was a Jack-in-the-box of a man with a pointed red beard and a bald heat like a marble.
"Boy! Boy!" he shouted, and all the echoes roared like lions. "Boy! Boy! Stay there (there). On your life (life)."
*It isn't the most chilling Green Knowe book, that being An Enemy at Green Knowe which I only got out the library, in summer, when I was feeling particularly brave.
The Rochester and Strood Constituency Conservative Association have lodged a claim against its former MP Mark Reckless to claw back thousands of pounds it spent on 2015 General Election campaigning literature before he defected to Ukip.
Members of the association say Mr Reckless and his agent, Cllr Chris Irvine, who are both now Ukip members, were approving expenditure for campaign literature for next year’s general election, up to two days before Mr Reckless defected to Ukip Saturday, September 27.
They say they had no alternative but to throw away the campaign leaflets.
He’s in turn launched a financial appeal to pay for legal expenses. Given that he’s a lawyer himself, it looks as if he sees rather more of a threat in this legal action than his publicly dismissive comments might indicate.
I just caught her standing in front of the cabinet with her teeth on the key trying to turn it.
Our cat has figured out that keys open doors.
Bought a house.
2. Did you keep your new year's resolutons, and will you make more for next year?:
I don't do new year's resolutions. I know they aren't going to happen.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?:
4. Did anyone close to you die?:
5. What countries did you visit?:
Minnesota. Didn't go anywhere else this year.
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?:
Stability. Financial, mental, emotional, any kind really.
7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?:
March 20th we officially got the house. It was the 28th we moved in.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?:
Looking after the house, looking after Andrew.
9. What was your biggest failure?:
Doing such a terrible job of looking after myself. Letting things that I know need doing slide just because they are hard for me to do.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?:
11. What was the best thing you bought?:
The house? Train tickets to Brighouse and lots of beer in The Ship.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?:
greyeyedeve, haggis, diffrentcolours. Em J. Andrew. magister
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?:
U.S. police officers, who seem to think killing young black men on a grand scale means their system is working as it should
14. Where did most of your money go?:
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?:
My "official birthday" trip to Bletchley Park in the summer, and Dave's to the National Space Centre. magister's sister's wedding in the summer. Going to Headingley with miss_s_b for a brilliant day of test cricket. Rosetta. Alex and Richard's wedding. Getting shelves built so I could unpack all the boxes of books.
16. What song will always remind you of 2014?:
It hasn't been a very musical year for me, actually. I'm not sure.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you
i. happier or sadder? Sadder.
ii. thinner or fatter? About the same, I think?
iii. richer or poorer? So much poorer.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?:
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?:
20. How will you be spending Christmas?:
Same as always: with my family in Minnesota.
21. Did you fall in love in 2014?:
Not with anyone new.
22. How many one night stands?:
Oh gods my life is just so not set up for one night stands to ever happen.
23. What was your favourite TV programme?:
Doctor Who. And I re-watched the first season of House of Cards before the new one was released in February; the second season was if anything even better.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?:
I try not to keep track of things like this.
25. What was the best book you read?:
I didn't read a lot this year, unfortunately. No attention span for books. I did really like Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen, which taught me a lot about Britain (and America, and other places) in the seventies, a subject about which I knew pretty much nothing, and it was really fascinating.
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?:
In a way, it was how soothing I find western art music. I didn't discover anything new, but I discovered a use for old things.
27. What did you want and get?:
My mom to get better.
28. What did you want and not get?
Some career stability.
29. What was your favourite film this year?:
I saw a new-to-me, hideously of-its-time but very pretty, Cinerama movie.
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?:
I'll be 33 -- I keep thinking I'll be 32, but I've already done that! greyeyedeve and I had a joint party yesterday, which was lots of fun. I probably won't do anything at all on my actual birthday, except pack.
31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?:
A stable job.
32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?:
I've started wearing trousers again, after shunning them for years.
33. What kept you sane?:
It might well be argued that nothing did! This year I tried beta blockers and went back on SSRIs, which I'm still not sure if they're helping because my life has been so full of variables I haven't been able to control for, but everyone seems to think I'm doing better than I was when I started them three or four months ago.
34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?:
Peter Capaldi, again.
35. What political issue stirred you the most?:
Anything with the word "immigration" in it. On a more personal level, it was a challenging year for the political activism I do, being secretary to a chair who thought I was "uncooperative." I thought he was infuriating and running the organization into the ground while taking credit for other people's work, so I guess we're even. One of the political issues that stirred me the most was backing another candidate for next year's chair, and I was absolutely delighted that it worked out. And I'm not secretary any more. Phew.
I think I will, perversely, be taking a step back from politics in 2015. I no longer hold either of the officer positions that I did this year, and I'm really not excited about campaigning for the Lib Dems or hearing about the upcoming election. I wish I could just hibernate until about June, which I hope will be enough time for it to have all settled down.
36. Who did you miss?:
My brother. My grandpa. My parents; I felt bad for being so far from my mom.
37. Who was the best new person you met?:
I've really enjoyed getting to meet some of James's family.
38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:
Sometimes, if you want to go to the ball, you've got to be your own fairy godmother.
39. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?:
My parents and James, I imagine.
40. Quote a song that sums up your year:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
41. What was your favorite moment of the year?:
It's so difficult to choose a favorite of a whole year.
42. What was your least favorite moment of the year?:
When I really thought my mom was going to die.
43. Where were you when 2014 started?:
In Jen's front room, I think?
44. Who were you with?:
45. Where will you be when 2014 ends?:
Having port and cheese with what Andrew has started calling "the Brighouses." I like to imagine this is their collective surname.
46. Who will you be with when 2014 ends?:
The Brighouses, and possibly Andrew if he isn't dead from jet lag (we'll have just gotten back that morning) or peopled out.
47. What was your favourite month of 2014?
June, maybe? The horrors of finding, buying and moving to a new house were mostly over. My parents' visit had been and gone, and I still had a job.
48. Did you drink a lot of alcohol in 2014?:
I probably did, actually. I got given a lot of whisky, too!
49. Did you do a lot of drugs in 2014?:
Only caffeine and sugar and the aforementioned booze.
50. What are your plans for 2015?
Get a fucking job. Sort out the house a bit more. Get myself registered blind.
The Murphmonster and Colin Hines put together their pensions proposal. Insisting that the stock market had made people nothing and therefore bonds were the way to go.
You might also recall that they didn’t include dividends in their returns to stock but they did include interest in their returns to bonds. It does rather make a difference:
The FTSE 100, inflated by this irrational exuberance, was perched at a peak of 6930 just two days before the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Those buying into the stock market will have been horrified to glimpse the future and see that today it stands at 6466 – 7pc lower. It would have turned £10,000 into £9,137.
But that’s before dividends are included, as data collated by Hargreaves Lansdown shows. If you bought the right type of fund (accumulation rather than income – more is explained here) then £10,000 would have grown to £15,213.
It’s a paltry compounded annual return of 2.8pc, according to our sums. But add in inflation, based on the retail prices index, and the return disappears altogether. In fact, you would have lost £138 in real terms.
Anyone care to tell us what the inflation adjusted bond return was over the 15 years? Given the fall in long term interest rates it could be quite good for a fund that was in long bonds before that fall. But I rather doubt that it’s quite as good as against stocks as Ritchie and Colin told us.
In a country that loves a centenary, even a grim one, we have spent a lot of the year remembering the outbreak of the First World War. The Westminster parties have marked that grisly conflict by spending the past 12 months waging political trench warfare. Both sides have unleashed a lot of gas. We expect the prime minister to be rude about the leader of the opposition, but David Cameron scrapes the bottom of an extremely desperate barrel when he resorts to yelling: “He’s a waste of space!” at Ed Miliband.
Much mud has been churned – and slung. Combatants on each side have lost their political lives. Maria Miller stepped on an expenses landmine and was forced to resign from the cabinet. Brooks Newmark, the minister for civil society, blew himself up by “sexting” a pic of his dishonourable member to someone who turned out to be a reporter. Labour’s Emily Thornberry was dragged before a firing squad in the middle of the night by her own leader for tweeting a picture of the front of a house, the year’s most surreal casualty of political war.Continue reading...