Posted Jan 3, 2011
It now being almost a year since I added anything, I hereby declare this Journal closed
Unexpected effects of snow and ice
Posted Jan 11, 2010
It is a basic principle in the world of measurement that the method used to determine the value of some parameter should not significantly influence that value. In other words, the value of the parameter should, to all intents and purposes, remain unchanged whether we measure it or not. The parameter of interest might be a physical thing, like the distance between two points, or the pressure in a pump or the speed of a particle in the Large Hadron Collider. For items such as these, many years of experiment and practical experience tell us how to make such measurements benignly.
No reputable laboratory would permit the measurement method to become so intrusive that the original value is completely distorted to the point where the 'measured value' is determined entirely by the measurement method. However every day we, the General Public, permit such measurement distortions to be portrayed as fact. Take for example, waiting times at hospital Accident and Emergency departments. The government's target time to attend to a self-transported patient is within 4 hours. All well and good; we'd all like the waiting time to be a lot lower, but better service costs more money. In reality the method of attending to patients is now driven by this target time. Once a patient has been logged into the system by the receptionist, the clock is up and running, but if the patient has been initially assessed by the medical staff, and is now lying in an assessment unit (or worse a corridor), waiting for something or somebody else, then the clock stops. The patient has been seen within the required time, a tick is in the box and the statistics are satisfied. But the measurement of the performance of the A&E department as regards the service received by the patient has been completely lost and destroyed by the method used to determine it.
Another example of such measurement distortion came to light this week with the disruption caused by the snow and ice. Many schools are closed, causing difficulties for parents. What is the principal reason why schools are closed? Teaching staff not able to make it to school? Broken-down heating systems? Health and Safety issues in classroms? Or could it be that when schools are closed, the attendance figures do not count towards a school's attendance target figures, whereas if they open they do.
Tail wagging the dog has got nothing on the effect of government 'targets'.
The Fourth Plinth
Posted Oct 14, 2009
At 0900 this morning, Anthony Gormley's 'One and Another' living art project came to an end. For the past 100 days, people have been occupying the empty 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square for one hour each, round the clock - a total to 2,400 people. They were able to use their hour's time for whatever purpose they chose. Over 34,500 people applied for a slot, from which these 2,400 were selected.
They are all profiled on the web site http://www.oneandother.co.uk/participants where you can watch the whole of their performance or whatever it was they chose to do. I have been browsing through some of these and there were some facinating ideas demonstrated.
I haven't seen anything like them all, but I particularly loved the 0100 am guy yesterday (Tuesday 13 Oct) Ben2Frog - wierd but wonderful
Beware though, browsing is *very* addictive and there is 2,400 hours of it to watch!!!
Posted Jul 19, 2009
We're off! Friday saw the start of the 115th season of BBC Promenade concerts, beginning of course with the traditional First Night of the Proms. I say traditional but there is no 'formula' for this event, unlike the second half of the Last Night in September, which seems to far away at the moment but which doubtless will race up on us with alarming speed. I started listening to this concert on Radio 3, before switching to BBC TV at the first interval - the TV broadcast spent the evening in catch-up mode.
Played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under its conductor Jirí Belohlávek, the concert kicked off with Stravinsky's early piece 'Fireworks'. Written in 1908 as an intended wedding present for Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter, Nadezhda, it never reached her. Stravinsky sent the score to her father, who died before it could be delivered to him; this was its first performance at the Proms. It was followed by another work receiving its first Prom performance: Chabrier's 'Ode à la musique', beautifully sung by soprano Ailish Tynan and the women of the BBC Symphony Chorus. The first section was completed by Stephen Hough playing what is now called Tchaikovsky's Third Piano Concerto – his final composition. In reality it comprises only a first movement with a substantial cadenza, and is derived from an abandoned symphony; an alternative title such as 'Allegro brillante for Piano and Orchestra' might be a better description. Although technically challenging, it is nowhere near the stature of his two previous concertos for the instrument.
The centre section of the concert brought a second piano on stage for Katia and Marielle Labèque to play Poulenc's 'Concerto for Two Pianos'. This was a joy to watch and hear. The two sisters played with their trademark synchronicity, and even gave us an encore – 4 hands on one piano. Marvellous.
After the second interval, there were three works: Elgar's symphonic tone poem 'In the South (Alassio)', the Brahms 'Alto Rhapsody' and Bruckner's setting of Psalm 150. All three were finely executed. For the Brahms 'Alto Rhapsody', it was the turn of the men of the BBC Symphony Chorus, together with the mezzo-soprano Alice Coote. Finally the whole chorus rejoined, together with Ailish Tynan, to sing Bruckner's 'Psalm 150', a fitting conclusion to what had been a very long concert and the start of what promises to be an exciting Prom season.
Sir Edward Downes
Posted Jul 15, 2009
I was saddened to learn of the assisted suicide of conductor Sir Edward Downes. For a musician to go blind and then progressively deaf is the cruelest of afflictions.
With his wife suffering from cancer, this has to be an example of circumstances where access to a death of your own choosing should be a mandatory right.