Monday, November 11, 2019 Mina olen Eesti e-resident! 🇪🇪

I believe the title of the post proclaims me to be an Estonian e-resident. jules likewise. This marks the culmination of a very straightforward on-line process which was remarkably painless right up to the moment that we had to attend the Estonian Embassy in London to pick up our identity cards in person, at which point we had to brave Britain’s creaking rail network.

The point of establishing e-residency is to be able to set up a business there, which will enable Blue Skies Research to remain seamlessly in the EU in the event of the UK ever managing to leave. Not that the latter looks very likely, but in order to collaborate on any long-term project based on EU funding we need to be able to prove that there’s a plan in place to cover the theoretical possibility. This must be one of these “Brexit bonus” things that the tories have been promising us for the past few years. Though “bonus” would usually imply some sort of gain rather than added costs and bureaucracy, not to mention the losses in corporation tax which will henceforth be paid in Estonia rather than the UK. Even for our part-time hobby business, that is likely to be several thousands, perhaps up to ten thousand pounds, per year lost to the UK indefinitely into the future. Our combined share of EU membership fees is probably under a hundred quid per year. Even the bare cost of health insurance for when we visit our colleagues there will cost more than that when we lose the EHIC. But we will apparently get blue passports and we may eventually get a new 50p piece too when they have worked out the design. Apparently they had almost finalised that a while back, but hadn't worked out what to do about the border. Boom tish. Of course they still haven't, so Bonson is just lying through his teeth every time he opens his mouth, and the same old tory voters will just lap it up cos he's such a cheeky chappy with those clever latin bons mots.

We did managed to arrange another couple of things during the two-day trip, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. And it was cheaper than expected too, due to three of the four train trips being significantly delayed to such an extent we can reclaim half of the travel costs.

Saturday, November 09, 2019 Marty Weitzman: Dismally Wrong.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum and all that, but I realise I only wrote this down in a very abbreviated and perhaps unclear form many years ago, in fact prior to publication of the paper it concerns. I was sad to hear of his untimely death and especially by suicide when he surely had much to offer. But like all innovative researchers, he made mistakes too, and his Dismal Theorem was surely one of them. Since it’s been repeatedly brought up again recently, I thought I should explain why it’s wrong, or perhaps to be more precise, why it isn’t applicable or relevant to climate science in the way he presented it.

His basic claim in this famous paper was that a “fat tail” (which can be rigorously defined) on a pdf of climate sensitivity is inevitable, and leads to the possibility of catastrophic outcomes dominating any rational economic analysis. The error in his reasoning is, I believe, rather simple once you’ve seen it, but the number of people sufficiently well-versed in statistics, climate science and economics (and sufficiently well-motivated to carefully examine the basis of his claim) is approximately zero so as far as I’m aware no-one else ever spotted the problem, or at least I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere.

The basic paradigm that underpins his analysis is that if we try to estimate the parameters of a distribution by taking random draws from it, then our estimate of the distribution is going to naturally take the form of a t-distribution which is fat-tailed. And importantly, this remains true even when we know the distribution to be Gaussian (thin-tailed), but we don’t know the width and can only estimate it from the data. The presentation of this paradigm is hidden beyond several pages of verbiage and economics which you have to read through first, but it’s clear enough on page 7 onwards (starting with “The point of departure here”).

The simple point that I have to make is to observe that this paradigm is not relevant to how we generate estimates of the equilibrium climate sensitivity. We are not trying to estimate parameters of “the distribution of climate sensitivity”, in fact to even talk of such a thing would be to commit a category error. Climate sensitivity is an unknown parameter, it does not have a distribution. Furthermore, we do not generate an uncertainty estimate by comparing a handful of different observationally-based point estimates and building a distribution around them. (Amusingly, if we were to do this, we would actually end up with a much lower uncertainty than usually stated at the 1-sigma level, though in this case it could indeed end up being fat-tailed in the Weitzman sense.) Instead, we have independent uncertainty estimates attached to each observational analysis, which are based on analysis of how the observations are made and processed in each specific case. There is no fundamental reason why these uncertainty estimates should necessarily be either  fat- or thin-tailed, they just are what they are and in many cases the uncertainties we attach to them are a matter of judgment rather than detailed mathematical analysis. It is easy to create artificial toy scenarios (where we can control all structural errors and other “black swans”) where the correct posterior pdf arising from the analysis can be of either form.

Hence, or otherwise, things are not necessarily quite as dismal as they may have seemed.

Friday, October 25, 2019

God's own marathon

I'd like to post about brexit but there's been absolutely nothing of note going on recently - truly it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So instead of that, another race report.

Every year the British Masters Athletics Federation organises a Masters Marathon Championship event, usually as part of one of the autumn city marathons ("Masters" = veterans). This year it was in York, or more precisely the Yorkshire Marathon. England Athletics also organised an England vs Celtic Nations Masters Marathon match at the same event. It's all a bit of meaningless fun really but what with it being reasonably local and with nothing much else on, I decided to give it a go this year. I could have qualified for the England team (through being in the top 4 in my age category in Mancs) but offered my services to Scotland instead. 

Training was a bit desultory, I wasn't going to spend hot summer days trudging around on long runs so just squeezed in an abbreviated plan in the 12 weeks leading up to the event. It was never going to be a PB for me, and a half marathon in September where I barely broke 1:25 (about 3 mins slower than my best) confirmed this. Never mind, I had a smart Scotland (veteran) vest to wear!

Had been hoping to see a bit of York over the race weekend, as we had barely visited before, but the location of our Airbnb to the north, combined with the need to visit the start village on the Saturday afternoon to pick up a race bib, meant we didn't really have time or energy for much else. But we managed to find a decent pizza in the impressive old assembly rooms which was stuffed full with a bunch of mostly skinny oldish people eating unusually large dinners early on a Saturday evening. I don't think the staff knew what was going on. It wasn't quite as good a pizza as in Manchester or Leeds, actually, but seemed adequate for the purposes.

The airbnb was a bit further than I'd have liked to be from the start, but we had plenty of time to wander there in the morning mostly down a quiet cycle route. Loads of people were already stuffed into the starting pens - I've never understood why people want to spend so long standing around like that - and I hopped over the fence with about 10 mins to go and found myself among lots of England veteran vests. In what was an interesting novelty to me, the vets were all wearing race bibs with their age categories on their backs - this is what I'd had to pick up the day before - so we could tell who we were supposed to be competing against. This is a really good idea as usually when an old baldie hoves into view mid-race I have little idea whether they are a direct competitor or not and therefore whether I should try to beat them.

The race was fairly uneventful really - I wasn't that sure of my fitness so didn't risk going too hard. Unfortunately that meant that I got dropped just off the back of what would have been a useful group around the 2nd woman and ran most of the race solo which didn't help in what had become a steady breeze. Temperature was comfortable enough, we only had one very light spot of rain along with a bit of sun that never got too hot. For some reason there were a couple of pipe bands, subsequent web searching suggests they were probably local to York as I can't imagine why any would have come down from Scotland.

Went through halfway in just under 1:25, almost exactly the same as my recent half marathon, but slowed slightly for the second half as my lack of motivation and training started to tell. Nothing drastic though, and I finished in 2:52:52, nominally my worst proper marathon since 2016 (not counting the very mountainous Bentham race) but not really that bad considering. With the wind and lots of gentle undulations it didn't feel like quite as fast a course as Manchester, though runbritainrankings seems to think it was just as quick or even quicker. But that may have been biased by the number of vets peaking specifically for this event. Anyway it was a decent event and well organised apart from the minor annoyance of having to pick up the back bib in person rather than having it posted out as with the standard race number.

On the finishing straight I managed to find my pre-arranged flags and crossed the line waving them to a suitably mixed reception.

According to the results I was the 7th overall M50, but 5th in the BMAF championships (which you had to specifically enter separately) and the 1st member of the Celtic Nations team. Though these results don't seem to have been officially announced yet. I don't get a haggis as a prize or anything like that. Just an unfeasibly large garish pink t-shirt which has been donated to jules for her own sartorial experimentation.

Monday, September 23, 2019

My latest brexit prediction

Thought I'd better make a prediction before tomorrow's verdict: the Supreme Court will rule the matter justiciable, it will furthermore conclude that Johnson lied to the Queen, but it will not demand a specific solution such as reopening parliament or declaring that the prorogation was null and void. This option was not even discussed on the "Talking Politics" podcast I listened to over the weekend, and since they've reliably got everything else wrong about brexit for the past three years, it's a slam dunk.

No, honestly, though I do think it's a plausible outcome I wouldn't attach a very high probability to being right on this. The story of brexit has been one of unpredictable twists and turns, even if the final outcome is amply summed up in this pie chart:

And here's some more twitter fun:

Probably takes a click to make the gifs/videos play. [Oh, the second one doesn't seem to work. That's a shame. Well, it was just a long list of brexiters pretending everything was going to be great a couple of years ago, and now pretending that they never claimed it was going to be great. Just the usual lying liars lying.]

Oh how I long for the days when a PM syphoning off 100k of public money to one of their mistresses qualified as a proper scandal. These days it barely rates a mention on the BBC, and only then after people have baited them for a day over why they haven't covered it.

Meanwhile the Labour party conference has managed to create an outcome that is even worse than anyone imagined possible, not merely sitting on the implausible brexit unicorn fence but choosing to do so through a show-of-hands vote that many think was called the wrong way or at least too close to call without a proper count. What a shambles.

At least the LibDems have got there finally. I can snark at how long it took them to get there but they are still well ahead of the other two parties.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Bracing for brexit

So, the Govt has decided to splash £100m of our money on telling us to do what it has signally failed to do for the last 3 years - get ready for brexit. Of course the main aim of this marketing campaign is really to soften up the population for the supposed inevitability of brexit at the end of October, and hoodwink them into thinking that if it "happens" then that would be the end of the matter, rather than the start of decades of negotiation, argument and recrimination over the subsequent arrangements.

I had a look at the govt site, and for a small and simple company such as BlueSkiesResearch, there are pages and pages of vague verbiage that mostly miss the point and nothing that explains whether or not we would be able to travel to the rest of the EU to work there as we did in Hamburg and Stockholm over the last few years. Probably the best strategy will be to just lie and pretend it's a holiday. Of course there's no guidance for that either but we can be fairly confident that this would be sorted out in time for our next trip (probably the EGU meeting in Vienna if any Austrian immigration officials are reading).

More consequentially, I've also applied for - and received - Estonian e-residency (jules has also applied, but a bit later so hers has not come through yet). This will enable us to establish a business over there within the EU and hopefully allow easy participation in such things as Horizon2020 and its successor funding programmes. I know the govt had promised to support existing grants but the point is to be able to apply in the future.

Of course an inevitable consequence of this - on top of the time and money wasted, which will amount to a few hundred pounds by the time it's done and dusted - is that our company will be paying corporation tax in Estonia rather than the UK. Just one more bit of pointless self-harm by the idealogues.

I've still got to go to London to pick up the id card, that's more time and money down the drain. Perhaps after visiting the Estonian Embassy I'll take a stroll along Downing Street and chuck a few petrol bombs at No 10. Only joking, I'll probably take a milkshake.

Of course the most likely outcome - as I have said consistently for over three years now - is that we actually remain in the EU after all, when this colossally stupid act of self-humiliation collapses under its own dishonesty and idiocy. In the meantime, the damage mounts up and whatever happens now, the harm will take decades to recover from.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Parcevall Hall

As it says on my Twitter profile (@julesberrry), I am a bad recorder player. This "skill" enables one to attend things like playing recorder weekends in big old houses with lovely gardens! The recorder is a nice quiet instrument so one really can't go wrong no matter how bad. But I still feel fortunate for not being a bad french horn player.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

More winning!!

Where winning = doing something, anything, faster than James.

Last year I discovered why the Lake District is called that. I always thought it was a funny name for a bunch of pretty mountains and lots of cars. But it turns out there are all these big deep cold lakes, and you are allowed to swim in almost all of them! 

Ullswater 500m, 1 mile (1610m - don't ask me why it isn't a sensible 1500m!), and 3.5km swims were last Sunday.  The 500m (84 finishers) is perhaps the beginners event. The 3.5km is pretty much ironman practice distance and the standard was high. However, it was so cold that this event was reduced to 2.5km. The 1 mile was equally cold (11.8C brrrr.) but they made us do the whole thing! 292 people finished this one, including me and James. I got round 6 minutes quicker than James which makes the difference between us in swimming and running about the same, but the other way round! But somehow James came out more inspired. My race was a bit of a fist fight. Whereas a week ago at Leeds I was swimming among a wave of elegant, lithe, lightweight, coordinated, fit but middle aged women, when it comes to pure swimming, the big, the fat, the young and the male tend to trounce lightweight middle-aged elegance! I was completely unprepared for being half overtaken by thrashing behemoths doing front crawl who then collapsed into breaststroke for  few strokes thus entangling all their kicky limbs among mine. The way out is to kick violently, but this does take quite a lot of energy. Next time! Still, a reaction of annoyance rather than panic is encouraging I suppose. I am still not sure how to overtake these people, however, as it is really hard to get around widely flailing limbs in a packed field, and trying to draft behind them doesn't really work. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The sociopaths have taken over the asylum

Just in case anyone was in any doubt about the nature of the swivel-eyed loons who will shortly be picking our new PM....

Saturday, June 15, 2019

[jules' pics] World triathletes

James kindly blogged my amazing triumph in the British Triathlon Championships... the triumph being not dying during the event and also BEATING HIS MARATHON TIME!! (hurrah!)

Here are the real ones. 

Cycling (not the lead group)


Georgia Taylor-Brown won in the end (she is in second in the running pic here). Katie Zaferes was second, and Jess Learmonth was third.

Some men also did it later on.

Friday, June 14, 2019


jules has taken up triathloning. I'm a rubbish swimmer so am not really tempted. The cycling and running bit would be ok but there's not much fun in doing a race where I start by half-drowning myself and giving everyone else a 20 minute head start. Anyway she has done a couple of shorter pool-based events over the last couple of years but enjoys open water swimming so wanted to do one of those, which are more often the full Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10km run).

Leeds of course is the centre of the UK for triathlon, with not just the Brownlees but also the women's team (who are probably better than the men these days) mostly based there. So doing the Leeds triathlon was the obvious choice. As well as the UK age-group championships there was an international elite event following (part of the ITU World Triathlon Series).

We started out with the traditional pizza, which was very good but so small we had to get some more slices.

The morning was bright and sunny but quite cold. Compared to Windermere where we had been practising, the water was apparently not too bad at 15C.

One of these pictures contains jules, the other is the wave in front of hers.

This isn't jules, who had apparently just swum past without me noticing. She didn't want to wave in case she got accidentally rescued! She was a little faster than I'd expected and you really can't tell people apart in the water when they are all wearing wetsuits and hats. So I missed the fun of watching her struggle to get out of her wetsuit in transition.

A massive collection of very high-tech bikes. Together with jules' one. All surrounded by high fences and patrolled by security guards all night as you had to leave your bike there the night before.

Not much evidence from the photo but she was actually running in this pic! (It was uphill to be fair). And having been following her round the course, I didn't quite have time to get into the grandstand proper for the finish, due to the circuitous route and closed roads. But her hat is just visible over the barrier. There was also a live stream on the BBC website...ah here it is with no sound.

jules had worked out that she might be able to beat my marathon time....and sure enough...

She's been wearing the medal non-stop since the weekend! So I've got my work cut out over the winter to win back bragging rights....