Three time less

I frequently get annoyed by reports in the media that one thing is, for example. three times greater than another. What does that mean? Three times what?

If it is said that John is three times older than Mary, and Mary is, say, 20, then how old is John?  If we said John is 40 years older than Mary, then we would add (20 + 40) so he would be 60. So, as three times Mary’s age (3 x 20 =60), we should add that to Mary’s age, and get 80. But I suspect that what is really meant is that John’s age is three times Mary’s, so he would be 60.

That could be regarded as mere pedantry. But things get worse if we consider less/younger/smaller etc. If “Mary is three times younger than John” what does that actually mean? Three times what? If we agree, as above, that Mary is 20 and John is 60, then 3 x Mary’s age = 60, subtract that from John’s age, and Mary is 0 years old. Even worse, 3 x John’s age = 180 and Mary is minus 160 years old!

Even the respected scientific journal Nature is not immune. I recently came across the statement that a new solar probe will reach seven times nearer to the sun than any previous probe, and I am completely at a loss as to what they actually mean.


Hospital waiting times

When we hear statistics about hospital waiting times, what does that mean? When does the clock start ticking?  The NHS website says it is from the date of the initial referral, but the following case history casts doubt on that.

  • Week 0. GP appointment. Referred to hospital for surgery.
  • Had to wait 3 weeks before it was even possible to make an appointment
  • Week 3. Offered appointment in week 10.
  • Week 10. Appointment cancelled at short notice. Offered appointment in week 14.
  • Week 14. Surgery outpatient clinic.
  • Week 18. Pre-op appointment. Referred to cardiology (low heart rate, ?unsuitable for general anaesthetic)
  • Week 19. Cardiology clinic
  • Week 20. Surgery clinic confirms different operation with local anaesthetic. Told operation would have to be before January (the “breach date”).

This implies that they have re-started the clock at this point, when a further 18 weeks would take it to the middle of January. But this is 38 weeks from the initial referral. It may be that NHS rules do allow re-starting the clock in certain circumstances, which would not ne totally unreasonable, but it does mean that there could be a substantial level of undisclosed waiting.

How to replace a lamp-post

I have been following with interest, over several months, the process of replacing a lamp-post in a nearby street. The task was to remove an old concrete lamp-post and replace it with a new metal one, a metre or two away. You might think that is simple – install the new one, change over the wiring, and remove the old one. But it clearly involved several different activities:

Digging holes and filling them in

Installing the new lamp-post

Dealing with the electrical wiring

Removing the old lamp-post.

As each of these required different people, probably on separate contracts, it became a drawn-out procedure, with each step separated by one or more weeks:

  1. Digging hole for the new post
  2. Erecting the new post
  3. Filling in the hole. Now there was the old one still working, ane the new one, not yet connected. Before connecting it, there seemed to be some preparatory electrical work required. So we had:
  4. Digging out the hole again
  5. Preparing the electrics
  6. Filling in the hole. It was now ready for connection to be made. So:
  7. Digging out the hole
  8. Disconnecting the old lamp-post
  9. Connecting the new one.
  10. Filling in the hole

At least that was what I expected, and should have yielded the new one working and the old one not. Then it would have been a question of removing the old one and job finished. In fact the current situation is that we have two lamp-posts, neither of which is working. I am waiting for further developments. I wonder if it will be finished before the end of the year.

Update January 17 2019

The new lamp-post is now working, but the old lamp-post is still there. After the best part of a year, it is still waiting, like a number of others in this area, for the old post to be removed.

Whitby Folk Week

I’ve been back from Whitby for nearly a week, and, as usual, it’s taken me that long to pick up the pieces.

The undoubted highlight, for me, was Robin Huw Bowen playing the Welsh triple harp. I’ve read lots about it, but I’ve never even seen one before, let alone heard anyone playing it, and playing it so superbly.

I especially remember the comment he passed on, from an old harpist that he had been learning tunes from, who said “Now, you’re getting there. You’ve got the notes, now you need to learn the music.”  That’s a piece of advice that many session players could take heed of! All too often we seem to be just playing the notes, with no sort of feel for the music. I get particularly annoyed when the source material, and the feel of the tune, clearly indicates that there should be a brief gap between the notes – the source notation shows a rest there – but it gets filled in, either by joining the notes or adding an extra one to fill the ‘gap’. Paddy Carey is a clear example.

I didn’t go to so many sessions this time. I decided there were more interesting things going on than sitting in a session playing the same tunes that we always play. People seem afraid to start off tunes that they think others won’t know, and if they do, so many people just sit on their hands and don’t even try to join in. I even heard someone grumble about people playing tunes they didn’t know. For me, that would be a cause of celebration rather than grumble. I want to hear, and hopefully learn, ‘new’ tunes. Otherwise there’s no point in going all that way, except that it’s cheap entertainment.

Furthermore, many of the tunes exist in a number of variants, one of which has become dominant, usually because some band has recorded that version. If you try to play a different version, the chance are everyone will try to play the ‘standard’ one and you will get swamped. Even worse, you may be told you’re playing it wrong! That did happen to me, when I was just starting out, and I was too new to the game to argue. If anyone tried it now, I would point out that if I start a tune, then everyone should try to play the version that I’m playing. If I start it, that’s the ‘right’ version. The focus on ‘standard’ versions of a limited number of tunes means that we are missing out on the tremendous variety of tunes, and versions of them, that exist.



I’m becoming increasingly fed-up with all this stuff about anti-semitism in the Labour Party. I don’t doubt that there are a very small number of members who are genuinely anti-semitic, and perhaps a few more who have made comments at times that could be construed as anti-semitic. But I have seen no evidence that it is any worse now than at any time in the past.

Now the argument seems to be all about whether Labour should include all these supposed examples of anti-semitism. The fact that they are the sort of things that might be said by anti-semites does not mean that these statements are themselves anti-semitic.

Take one example; “The existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour.” Is this itself an anti-semitic statement? Consider the following series of statements:

1. Israel is a state based on racial identity.

2. Israel is a racially based state.

3. Israel is a racist state.

4. The state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Which of these statements would get me into trouble? Statement 1 has now been affirmed by the Israeli Parliament, and I don’t think they are being accused of anti-semitism, so presumably that is OK. Statement 2 seems to follow inexorably from 1, so that must be OK. Statement 3, I would argue, also then follows logically from 1 and 2; I guess there would be political objections, but I can’t see that it is inherently anti-semitic.

So we come to statement 4, which is the controversial one. To my mind, it requires some detailed semantic analysis to distinguish 3 and 4. So I really do not see the point.

In the end, we have to ask why all this has been blown up now, and why so much attention is being given to this supposed anti-semitism, as opposed to all the other possible forms of discrimination (which are undoubtedly more prevalent)? Are there forces at work that are afraid of the outcome if JC were to get into power? I fear that all this fuss runs the risk of causing some people to actually become more anti-semitic, e.g., by believing that the ‘Jewish lobby’ is powerful enough to manipulate the news in their own interests – which could be said to be an anti-semitic statement. So I wouldn’t want to say that, but I can see the potential for that argument emerging. It could be stirring up a hornet’s nest.