The Saturday Miscellany: How to predict the unpredictable; René Redzepi; 'evil empires'

 

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How to: Predict the unpredictable

Faced with the seemingly impossible? Maybe it's not so hard to master, says David Hand, author of 'The Improbability Principle' (Bantam, £20), out now...

* "Keep going for long enough. The law of truly large numbers says that, given enough opportunities, the most unlikely of things will happen. I can't predict when 20 consecutive flips of a fair coin will come up heads, but I can predict that some 20 consecutive flips will be heads if I go on long enough."

* "Make sure you've covered all the bases. The law of inevitability says that, while I can't tell you which horse will win the race, I can predict that one will."

* "Don't be too specific. This is the law of near enough. I couldn't predict who would win a gold at Sochi, but I was confident someone in the UK team would win some medal."

improbability-principle.com

Rotating column: Sharing the load

By Archie Bland

My girlfriend has no interest in football, but I dragged her along to watch my team, Southampton, once before. I crossed my fingers for a 4-3 thriller. Instead, we crumpled to a 2-0 reverse against Wigan. At one point, she asked: "Is it the interval yet?" I didn't blame her.

In the intervening year, things have changed. She knows who Matt Le Tissier is; she knows we won the cup in '76; occasionally, if the mood takes her, she starts singing about Rickie Lambert, Southampton's goal machine. Somehow, I've persuaded her to come back.

It's ridiculous, I know. But all I want is for her to get a tiny dose of the rush that accompanies a late winner, an underdog victory, a 30-yard screamer. Fandom isn't necessary. A sense that I might not be a deluded moron would be more than enough.

Archie’s first saints game: West Ham (a) 14/4/92 L 0-1

Instant Ethics

By Ellen E Jones

Dear Ellen

Q. I've been asked to give a conference talk. It'd be great for my career, but I can't be bothered. What to do?

A. Never make the decision to attend a conference based on career considerations. Consider, instead, the opening hours of the breakfast buffet, the quality of any free booze and the potential for sexual liaisons with attractive overseas delegates.

@MsEllenEJones

Micro extract: Plain speaking

"The pronoun it is especially troublesome because the convenient English idiom of using it to anticipate the subject of a sentence tends to produce a plethora of its. As Cobbett said, 'When I see many its in a page, I always tremble for the writer'."

From 'Plain words: A Guide to the use of English' by Sir Ernest Gowers

Four play: 'Evil Empires'*

1. Soviet union (1983)

2. Rage Against the machine LP (1996)

3. Galactic empire (a long time ago)

4. British (1497-1997)**

* Reagan coined the term, today, 1983

** according to author Steven A Grasse

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