Sunday, April 24, 2016

To be or...

It is I - Hamlet the Dame!
Never act with Children or Animals or...
Toasted The Bard with English Champagne last light and then watched The RSC Shakespeare Live show (on TV alas) because Judi was in it. There were some real delights but the most enjoyable by far was the To be or not to be sketch.

If you have access to iPlayer and it's still available watch here from about 1:25 and you won't need to read on!

The current RSC Hamlet Paapa Essiedu comes on stage to deliver the famous soliloquy but is almost immediately interrupted by Tim Minchin who says that he should emphasise the "or" more heavily. Gamely Essiedu tries this but then Ben Cumberbach comes on picking a different word. Minchin at first doesnt recognise him: "who are you?" "O I'm an actor" and then it dawns on him that he's in the presence of a Movie Star - Eddie Redmaine! The successively Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear and Ian McKellen all come on and all naturally pick a different word to hit (McKellen greeting Cumberbatch with a casual "Hi, Eddie").  As each bigger and bigger star arrives the volume of applause on entry grows louder and when Judi comes on carrying a skull the crowd goes wild!  "Who are you?" asks Minchin to which Judi gives a withering look and the immortal reply "It is I, Hamlet the Dame."

Finally "might I have a word?" enquires Prince Charles and offers his own take.  Asked afterwards what it was like acting with Prince Charles Helen Mirren and Judi Dench apparenly said, well you know what they say: "never act with children or animals ... or Prince Charles."

Another delight was that David Suchet was paired with Judi for the final scene from Midsummer Night's Dream - with David Tennant doing office as Puck!

The influence of Shakespeare is so extraordinary on art, literature and history. When I wrote an article on Why is the UK such a great place for Innovation for the Harvard Business Review China I began with Shakespeare and he had an enormous impact on shaping the UK and our view of ourselves, securing and cementing the Elizabethan settlement which is the foundation of the dominance of the Anglosphere. And of course his final works were for James I and helped cement the union of the crowns and pave the way for the United Kingdom.

No-one but a woking actor could have written these plays and it is totally absurd to suggest that some other "educated" person wrote them. Indeed the hilarious No Bed for Bacon by Carol Brahms and Skid Simon (who was a great bridge player that my father knew) suggests that any stylistic resemblances between Shakespeare and Bacon would be because Shakespeare occasionally polished up Bacon's work. It also suggests that Malvolio was a direct satire on Bacon and that Bacon planted rumors of his authorship of Shakespeare as a revenge.

There will be many more celebrations in this Shakespeare Year but this was a wonderful start.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Excitement over the 750 GeV diphoton anomaly

From PRL Synopsis: Explaining a 750 GeV Bump
Fig 1 from Petersson and Torre.
An item in Nature brings to our attention excitement in the particle phyisics world with four possible interpretations of an apparent anomaly in production of photon pairs from proton-proton collisions.  This is covered in detail in the April 16 issues of Physical Review Letters. Alas I don't subscribe to this so can only see the papers in Arxiv pre-prints.  But there is a handy synopis here.

I say apparent anomaly because at present these excess photon pairs are only significant at about 3 standard deviations  (3.9 and 2.6 depending on the experiment) and when you are looking for anomalies in enormous amounts of data you have to be cautious. But if they are real then additional data will settle the matter and it's interesting to see what the theorists come up with.

The point is that, if they are confirmed, this would be the first time that CERN has detected something that is not predicted by the Standard Model.  The theorists models also suggest potentially fruitful areas to look for new data that are within the scope of CERN's current experiements. 

For example Nakai et al in "Footprints of New Strong Dynamics via Anomaly and the 750 GeV Diphoton" discuss "a scenario that a pseudo-Nambu-Goldstone (pNG) boson of a new QCD-like theory is produced by gluon fusion and decays into a pair of the standard model gauge bosons. Despite the strong dynamics, the production cross section and the decay widths are determined by anomaly matching condition. The excess can be explained by the pNG boson with mass of around 750 GeV. The model also predicts exotic hadrons such as a color octet scalar and baryons which are within the reach of the LHC experiment."

I am of course in no position to judge the validity of the competing interpretations. I'm pleased to note that a number of them reference Jeffrrey Goldstone's seminal work since Goldstone taught me quantum physics when I was an undergraduate at Trinity. I remember vividly bumping into him in the College Library when I returned to look something up, and he was back from MIT, with an astonished but friendly "what are you doing here?"

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Yundi's brilliant Chopin at the Festival Hall

Yundi taking a selfie at the Restaurant
I have better pictures but they aren't uploaded yet.
Last night to the Festival Hall for our friend Yundi's brilliant concert.  What a delight!

In the first half he gave us the 4 Ballades, in performances of extraordinary - indeed breathtaking - sensitivity and musicianship. He played them, not at all "virtuoso pieces" to be belted out at top speed, but as profound meditations and journeys. The remarkable layering and contrapuntal nature of these pieces was so clearly brought out, and there was also a phenomenal ability to convey the overall structure and movement of the pieces.

Each piece was rapturously recieved by the audience - which included over 100 people seated on the stage!

The second half was the complete set of Preludes, played without a break. As the programme notes indicate, this was not how Chopin ever performed them. They go through all the major and minor keys and are clearly intended in some sense as a homage to Chopin's beloved Bach. but of course they go in a different order by going from the major to the relative minor. Shostakovich in his Preludes and Fugues adopts the same scheme, but of course adds fugues as well. Chopin only composed one original fugue which was unpublished.  This complete set gave a large scale structure on top of the beautiful execution of the individual numbers.

Afterwards we went backstage and then Yundi had to do interviews and sign about 400 records for adoring fans. It wasn't until nearly 11:30 that we met up for dinner in an excellent Chinese restaurant which had been kept open 1 hour after the kitchen closed for our party.

Yundi is touring Europe - playing in Dublin tomorrow I believe. Catch him if you can!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A wind in the house of Islam

Launch of #BringBackOurGirls in 2014
courtesty World Watch Monitor
Wonderful sermon this morning by Julia Bicknell who runs World Watch Monitor about the conversion of St Paul in Acts 9.

She said that Ananias was in a similar position to a Christian told in a vision to go and visit an Islamist Terrorist leader who had come here to kill Christians - a thought provoking analogy especially when you think that Ananias didn't have the option of going to the police (though I've never quite understood why the High Priest could have people arrested in Damascus - it was part of the Decapolis and although there is some reason to believe it was controlled by Herod the Great and it may or may not have been under the control of Herod Philip until his death in 33/34.)

Julia went on to tell of the large number of Muslims who convert to Christianity, at great personal cost and in fear of their lives. Many of them have visions of Jesus - others are moved by the witness of Chirstians and revulsion at the deeds of Islamist extremists. She told of one Islamist fighter who came back to a Christian bookshop that he had previously frequented to say that he had decided to follow Jesus (who they call Isa Ibn Maryam) and of Dr. Imed Dabbour and his Sat7 programme Forbidden. She also drew attention to the book A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison which shows how many movements there are now of Muslims to Christ.

All very encouraging.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Rotterdam Marathon and Referendum

Sprint finish
A delightful if somewhat strenuous last weekend in Rotterdam running the Rotterdam Marathon for the 3rd time - my 9th Marathon.

I'm pleased to say that this was my fastest Rotterdam time, with a really encouraging sprint finish. In age-graded terms it was my second best marathon ever - though in absolute terms only my 7th. My stretch goal for next year is to get sub 4:15 which would be just over 60% age graded and therefore an age-graded PB - but we shall see.  It's somewhat scary that the record time for a 62-year-old is 2:33(!!)

Frustratingly I lost my phone in Rotterdam and it took a few days to get a replacement, hence the delay in blogging.

The Official Designations of the Referendum Campaigns have happened so campagning can start in earnest. I was hoping to man the phones for Remain but they were fully booked last week - I'll do so next week DV. Almost without exception every single active world or business leader who could be said to have the interests of the UK at heart is urging us to Remain. It is astonishing that the polls at the moment are so close. Though of course it's very hard for the polling companies to know how to re-weight their samples for the Referendum: in a General Election you have a lot of data to go on but we haven't had a really significant UK-wide referendum since the 1970s.

Hopefully as people focus on the realities things will improve.  It would be great if we had a really good sprint finish here as well. We shall see...

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Dev Patel and Ken Ono
Back from a delightful few days in Cornwall with 2 Grandchildren and 2 of Granddaughters delightful friends. Yesterday to a private viewing of The Man Who Knew Infinity followed by a reception at the Royal Society.

This is based on the story of the great Indian Mathematician Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel) and his collaboration with Hardy (Jeremy Irons). Beautifully acted by both of them, and a strong supporting cast, including Stephen Fry as Sir Francis Spring, Toby Jones as Littlewood and Kevin McNally as Major MacMahon.

Of course if one is a mathematician, a former Trinity Maths Scholar and the son of an FRS one is likely to care more deeply about the story than the aveage filmgoer but I do hope it reaches a wide audience because it is both good and beautiful.  It does to some extent over-play the racism of the time: as Venki Ramakrishnan pointed out in reality Ramanujan lodged initially with a Cambridge academics and his wife, and the wife even bought a vegetarian cookbook (hard to obtain in 1912) to learn to cook for him.

It also doesn't (quite understandably) give enough credit to Sir Francis Spring who apparently lobbied quite hard for official government support for Ramanujan's researches - though he is shown as being very sympathetic to his work.
Venki Ramakrishnan at the RS
Venki was of course greatly influenced by the story of Ramanujan as a brilliant young boy in India - and he was born in quite a similar background. He is of course a Fellow of Trinity as well as an FRS but also a Nobel Laureate and President of the Royal Society: the first person of Indian origin to be elected. Ramanujan was in fact the second Indian FRS but the first (a distinguished shipbuilder and engineer) was elected when it was a gentelman's club rather than one that required outstanding scientific achievement. JC Bose was elected two years later in 1920 and Raman in 1924 (6 years before he was the first non-white person to win a scientific Nobel).

In addition to meeting Venki I met Ken Ono who was one of the mathematical consultants on the film, and in whose life Ramanujan has played a very important part. His book In search of Ramanujan is about to be published and should be fascinating.  He is concerend about the difficulty in the US of developing scientists and mathematicians who can find deep insights was very pleased to learn about the LMB and its emphasis on long term research. Venki said it was the reason he came to the UK for a 40% pay cut because they would allow him to do this long term work - tackling a problem that a well-funded team in Germany had failed to crack and which he was sure the NIH would therefore refuse to fund. Another triumph for the LMB and the UK system at its best.