Where next for Pro Bono OR?

May 25, 2016


In view of the success of the UK Operational Research Society’s Pro Bono Scheme, which links OR professionals with charities to their mutual benefit, participants in the upcoming European OR Conference will be keen to learn which of their countries it can most easily be expanded to.

In an attempt to answer this question, the chart above shows a measure of the penetration of Operational Research in each country (the number of members of the national OR Society per million population) against a measure of the importance of the charitable sector in that country (the percentage of the population claiming to have given money to charity over the past four weeks), for those European countries where both data items are available.  Clearly one would be looking for countries with a large charitable sector and a high penetration of Operational Research.

The UK is in the lead on both indicators, followed at a respectful distance by the normal suspects in North-Western Europe together with Croatia and Slovenia.  The fact that Norway/Sweden, Germany/Austria/Switzerland and Hungary/Czech Republic are all very close to each other gives us some hope that we are actually measuring something real here.

Whether one can implement such a scheme successfully probably depends on having some central body that can make it happen, and it is nor clear that other European countries have an infrastructure comparable to the UK Operational Research Society.  Even more importantly perhaps, one needs a driving force who is determined to make the thing happen in the first place.

With regard to the variables employed, membership of national OR societies is probably a reasonable measure of the penetration of OR in particular countries, and it would be hard to find anything else without a great deal of effort.  As ever in international comparisons, the size of the charity sector is subject to definitional problems, for example where you have churches funded out of taxes (as in Germany) or charities contracted on a large scale to carry out what would otherwise be functions of the State (as in the US or the UK).

Data on OR Society membership comes from the EURO website, while that on population is from Wikipedia.  Data on donations comes from the CAF World Giving Index 2015.


London classical music listings

April 13, 2016


Guardian Time Out concert-diary visitlondon londonclassical concerts classical-music.com bachtrack
11-Apr 2 3 2 9 N/A 2 2
12-Apr 8 5 2 12 3 2 3
13-Apr 5 6 3 10 2 2 9
14-Apr 7 9 5 14 2 5 8
15-Apr 6 7 8 18 3 8 12
16-Apr N/A 6 8 15 1 8 9
17-Apr N/A 4 4 14 0 4 10

An enquirer on Tripadvisor wants to know the best classical music listings for London.

So we put ‘classical music listings london’ into Google and discounting individual venues what we get is as follows.  Time Out is horribly clunky and incomplete.  Concert Diary is quite neat but also incomplete.  Visitlondon.com is comprehensive but pretty clunky and difficult to get useful information out of.  Londonclassicalconcerts.com seems to be a site for selling tickets at some of the main venues.  Classical-music.com is also pretty clunky but gives you a lot of detail on a restricted number of concerts.  Bachtrack is whizzy and gives useful information quickly and neatly, as well as being reasonably complete.  By way of comparison, the hard-copy Guardian listings are also neatly laid out, but not especially complete.

So we recommend Bachtrack, supplemented by Visitlondon.com if you think you might be missing something.

Half-day conference on OR in Healthcare, Southampton April 27

April 6, 2016


Sally Brailsford announces:

Half-day mini-conference on OR in Healthcare
Wednesday April 27, 14.00 – 17.30
University of Southampton, Building 2, Room 3043

The theme of this event is practical applications of OR modelling in healthcare. The talks will be suitable for a general audience as well as OR specialists with an interest in health.  Speakers:

  • Martin Caunt, Operational Research & Evaluation Unit, NHS England
  • Martin Utley, Clinical OR Unit, University College London
  • Martin Pitt, PenCHORD, NIHR CLAHRC South West, University of Exeter
  • Julie Eatock, Brunel University London
  • Daniel Gartner, Cardiff University
  • Paul Benson, Southampton City Clinical Commissioning Group

There is no charge for this event and all are welcome, but please RSVP by April 22 by email  for catering purposes and if you would like a parking space (note, these are limited).

Belfast Summer School in Classics, 4-8 July

April 5, 2016
Gratuitous picture of Belfast by night

Gratuitous picture of Belfast by night

An announcement on the CLASSICISTS list says:

The Classical Association in Northern Ireland is delighted to invite you to the first Classical Greek summer school in Belfast.  The school is open to all over the age of 18.  This year, courses will be offered to complete beginners and those with a rudimentary knowledge of Classical Greek. 

There will be two hours of teaching each morning, at 10-11am and 12 noon-1pm, Monday to Friday, and afternoon classes from 2-3pm on Monday and Wednesday, allowing time for private study between sessions. 

The fee for the course is £75 and the closing date for receipt of applications is Friday 3rd June 2016.  For further information and an application form, please contact the co-ordinator, Helen McVeigh by email

There’s also a Facebook page here.

The Russian school of dressmaking (in translation)

April 2, 2016


We have received the following query:

I am learning how to draft and sew my own clothes. There are these fabulous Russian books and dvds that have ALL I want.They teach you easy and clever ways to get the right fit without having to do numerous alterations . They have those great techniques that would give you professional results without having to put much effort!

 I could not find them in anywhere in English!!!

The problem is that they are in Russian and I have been trying to find a translation agency that has reasonable prices but they are Way too much for me . It is for my personal use , I don’t intend to sell and gain profit.

Most would charge between 8-15 cents per word and for 1 hour dvd the prices are outrages like 1000 dollars!

I wonder do you know of a reasonable price translation agency or individual who has good translations but not expensive?

There is a software but it still needs someone to review and by the way it costs 300 dollars.

It seems to me that it’s highly unlikely ever to be an economic proposition to have a book translated especially for yourself.

If it was me, I think I would pay for some dressmaking lessons instead, as being cheaper and more useful.

If you want to use the books/DVDs, I would advertise on Gumtree (craigslist, etc) for a Russian speaker to spend an hour or three going through them with you and explaining what they’re about–that might be enough if there are plenty of illustrations.  The other thing to remember is that a surprising amount of Russian ‘practical’ literature is derived from foreign-language sources, so that’s something you could easily get someone to check for you–whether there’s an English-language original it’s been adapted from.

For a specific technical area with a restricted vocabulary and range of grammatical constructions automatic translation might be good enough though I’m not sure how you would get the text in from a hard-copy original. If you can get the text in electronic form, try a sample on one of the free online translators and see how useful the result is.

However, I can’t help feeling that what you want to know is common currency among women of a certain age and background–for instance, anyone who was a young woman in the UK in the 1940s or 1950s will know how to make her own clothes and have spent many, many evenings doing so…It’s just a case of making contact.

If I think about cooking, which unlike dressmaking I do know about, I find it quite hard to cook from an American recipe–not only are the measures different, but some common implements and procedures are described differently and some of the ingredients are just different.  Still more with a recipe in French…My point here being again that you really need a person rather than a text…

Meanwhile, a translator (retired) has kindly commented as follows:

I agree with all the comments. And even in leafy Leamington you can get group or private sewing lessons really easily.

Why the questioner has ended up with Russian sources only I can’t imagine. It’s likely that there are still more people dress-making in Russia than UK/US, but there are older books giving this sort of information in English. Re the translation – it’s the sort of comment that makes my blood boil. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. I bet she doesn’t do her own job for less than the minimum wage. I doubt if she’d get a proper translation for less than the lower quote though the upper one sounds relatively high. Obviously a freelance might be cheaper than an agency. The free translations are pretty good these days, so I don’t know why she’s even looked at purchasing software.



DHL Express UK waste my time, with different excuses

March 18, 2016
I saw this a few times

I saw this a few times


I order a book from Ozon.ru at 277 roubles plus 925 roubles for delivery via DHL.  So delivery costs more than three times the thing itself. But it’s 100 roubles to the pound, so whatever…


DHL send a text saying they will deliver on the 16th, and giving a link to follow on the Internet.


I stay in and wait for the delivery.

No delivery.  No notification.  The link gives the results above.

Evening:  I ring.  They say the thing is being held for payment of VAT and duty.  I say that there is no VAT or anything else to pay on a book costing less than £ 3-00.  They say I can ring tomorrow.  I say that I will not be at home tomorrow.


Morning (1):  I ring.  After consulting the depot, they say that the duty thing has been sorted.  I say that I am not at home.  They say I can arrange delivery on the Internet.  That gives the same results as before.

Morning (2):  I ring to arrange delivery. They say that it is being held because of VAT and duty.  I explain the difference in value between roubles and pounds sterling. They take my phone number and say they will ring back.  I point out that I am not at home today.

Afternoon(1):  I have a text to say that the thing is out for delivery.

Afternoon(2): I ring to enquire.  They say the thing is out for delivery.

Afternoon(3):  The website says that I have signed for the thing at home when I thought I was in the office and I took the first initial from my surname and used my first name as surname as well.  Gosh, I must have been confused…

Evening:  The package has arrived–it was easy enough to put it through the letterbox–with the value clearly marked as 277 RUB.

Who is the Conservative candidate for London Mayor?

March 16, 2016


A flyer I was sent from 'CCHQ'

A flyer I was sent from ‘CCHQ’

Tory flyers for London Mayor campaign leave me in the dark as to who their candidate is–though one could make a pretty good guess as to sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation  school attended.  Especially the school.

‘No sex in the Soviet Union’, Rich Mix 17 February

February 18, 2016
Picture from Dash Arts Twitter feed

Picture from Dash Arts Twitter feed


Not very good weather for the latest edition of Dash Cafe, which is my excuse for losing my flyer with the details of the discussants in the storm outside.

The first thing to notice was the audience, with I think rather more girls and gays and rather fewer lads squiring lasses than the normal.

So we had some stills and clips courtesy of Obskura (including Little Vera, which I remembered more as a lorry in the rain), after which Tim Supple tried tom start a discussion of sex and sexuality in the Soviet Union and after, and ran into some resistance especially from Irina Brown, who felt that in the conditions of the Soviet Union sex was part of the web of social and economic relations rather than something on its own.  Also the various demographic catastrophes–civil war, gulag, war–that killed more men than women had their effect.

Peter Pomerantsev, somewhat in opposition, felt that sex nowadays was healthily instrumental in Moscow like in Los Angeles, it was the British who had got it all wrong.

As often happens, discussion of sex turned into discussion of the position of women.  Olga from Leeds U [apologies!] was keen to point out that there was not and never had been feminism in the Soviet Union (Russia…) in the sense of women acquiring rights for themselves by concerted action.  There Bolshevik Revolution had given women the possibility of working for a living and of producing new citizens and receiving support without the need for a man, but that had been a loss for men rather than a gai for women.

That led to some discussion of damaged masculinity compensated by exaggerated machismo–Putin barechested on a bear–and linked with fear of anal rape in prison or the Army, becoming the lowest of the low as a passive homosexual.

Peter Pomerantsev was keen to point out that Putin’s culture war with the LGBT community as represented by Pussy Riot, and on a State-run TV channel near you, hadn’t helped his popularity but of course annexing Crimea had done the trick.  I think that Susan Larsen made the same point about the culture wars lacking traction.

Somebody–it may have been Irina Brown–made the point about needing to have bee married by the age of 20 if you wanted to be anybody as a woman.  A female speaker from the floor had a story about sharing a flat in Moscow with another (male) English student and when she went away for the weekend a local girl moved in on him, but she didn’t mind because the native girl did the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning.

Men of course never needed to be liberated from domestic labour because they’d never done any…

At the end, sad agreement on the self-mutilation of a society and a people, something magnificent going to waste.

Should you take voluntary redundancy?

February 13, 2016

I recently found myself called on to give advice on this topic, and I didn’t find anything very convincing on the Internet, so here is my attempt.

What is the alternative?

Clearly this is the main question, and it comes in two parts.

If you leave, what are you going to do?  If it’s another job, how long will it take to find and what will the pay, conditions, location, work be like compared to the present job?

If you stay, what will happen? Might you end up in compulsory redundancy, with probably less compensation but with extra earnings in the interim? How long can you drag it out for by way of appeals and legal challenges?  Might the management plan work and you end up with your job being better paid and more interesting?

Some special cases

If you really like your job or you really need the pay and you don’t think you would get the same elsewhere, then hanging on looks like the right answer.

If you are sure that you are marketable–would get the same or better elsewhere–then there’s no point in refusing free money and the chance of an extended holiday.

If it’s making you ill, you should go.

If you’ve started relatively recently, then while you won’t get much money there is an argument that the organisation may not have a great future and if they are offering you money to escape you should take it.

If you are nearing retirement, it may just be a case of doing the same thing a year or two early and it may not matter that much one way or the other.

If there’s something else you’ve been dreaming of doing, then that should be your lead option–look whether you can do it now (after VR) and if you can’t, then see how you can make it possible.

The main case

The main case would be where you’ve been there some time, you can’t afford not to work, you could reasonably expect to find another job and you feel some dissatisfaction in your current job.

OK.  The first thing to say is that there are probably things about the present job that are good but that you won’t notice until they’ve gone. The second is that other things being equal if you find another job that is broadly the same then the total reward (pay, pension etc) is likely to be less because they aren’t going to pay one-for-one for experience and skills gained in another setting; they’re simply not as valuable.

So we may be left with a decision tree something like the following.


A decision tree

In principle, you need to estimate the probabilities and utilities of the different outcomes and make a decision that way.  But the main use of such a diagram is often in forcing you to think explicitly about the alternatives and outcomes.

You can for instance think of the worst outcomes and whether you can live with them:

If I don’t take it and they make me redundant later anyway…

If I do take it and I don’t find a suitable alternative [for a long time]…

Or it may be useful to try to find a question that will settle it:

Can I turn down the offer of money to escape from this place?

Can I voluntarily give up a guaranteed income?

If you are lucky, you will be able to come up with a question that is more convincing than the others.

Some pieces of advice

Make sure you take some advice!

The tax treatment of redundancy payments and added pension is not easy to understand–best to get someone (Trade Union, IFA, accountant…) to work it through for you…

Be wary of a permanent solution to a temporary problem

If you feel you have reached the end of the line, try writing down what would make you stay and presenting it to the management–if there’s nothing you can think of that you can share with the outside world, it may be that the problem is not with the job/management but…somewhere else…

The choice is not between ‘the present situation’ and ‘change’ but between ‘the present situation’ and ‘your best guess of the alternative’.  You need a concrete alternative for comparison, otherwise you will end up trying to compare the present with some mush made out of ‘all the good/bad [according to temperament] things that could happen’–and even the minority that are not mutually exclusive are not all going to happen.

In the same way, it’s a bad idea to get hung up over whether your compensation payment reflects your hurt feelings, is larger/smaller than somebody else’s, and so on.  The question is about chosing between alternatives.

It’s a good idea to think about this kind of thing in the abstract, before it happens–that way your priorities are clearer and you don’t get confused by things like the size of the offered payout.

Remember that while pay is visible enough, conditions may not be–in particular, pension schemes have worsened over the years and may not be what you expect in a new job.

Alkestis, Greenwood Theatre 1900 10 February

February 11, 2016


We have been asked whether we would recommend a visit to the 2016 Greek Play, on the basis of the Wednesday evening performance–after all, Edith Hall did tweet 2016 King’s College London Greek play better than ever.

I think it would be worth seeing as a reasonably typical example of the KCL Greek Play, illustrating the difficulties one faces in staging such a thing and the way one might go about solving them.  One of these issues is that one does not have actors experienced in voice projection and dominating the stage.  So having them follow what I think was ancient performance practice by miming what the were talking about was a good idea, while having Alkestis deliver many of her lines at the stage rather than the audience was not.

It’s worthwhile noting that, in contrast to the Alkestis-derived Cocktail Party I recently saw in Notting Hill, none of the actors fluffed their lines–advanced electronic prompting may have been employed to this end.  But there was systematic underplaying, especially from Heracles, who may perhaps have been reading his lines from the label on his bottle of wine.

The dance passages were the most effective and some of the choreography was very good.  I’m not sure that the director ever came to a clear idea about what she was trying to do–the programme made great play of a contemporary setting, which in the event appeared only in the form of cocktail glasses and a wind-up gramophone–and she hadn’t established control over time, so that some important passages (such as Herakles asking who had died or indeed Admetos finding out who Heracles had brought to him) passed by quickly and some more routine passages didn’t.

It looked like the choral odes had been solved at the last moment by getting one person to read them via a recording over a musical backing, which may have been somewhat of a last-minute expedient.

We had certain technical problems on the night.  The scene changes lasted a long time, which may have been deliberate but if so that still wasn’t a good idea. There were also problems with the lighting cues, and especially with the surtitles, which were often a line or more early or late and ceased entirely towards the end, leaving the audience rather puzzled as to what if anything had happened to conclude the piece.

There was indeed a facility to buy tickets at the door, to answer another question…


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