Last Brexmas (annual Christmas spoof)

Christmas was thrown into chaos yesterday as Santa Claus defied British children by confirming that his 2016 delivery would still go ahead despite 52% of kids being placed on the naughty list.enemies

His decision has aroused the wrath of the right-wing media who had been complaining for a long time about why we were accepting a foreigner breaking in to Brits’ houses in order to leave their children presents. It comes despite warnings from the childrens’ parents that naughtiness would result in no presents this year- causing leading naughty children to proclaim that children in this country had had “quite enough of grown-ups” before complaints that Newsround was biased towards the nice side in the run-up to December. Liza Mzimba was unavailable for comment.


The surprise findings from the list had further complicated the position in Scotland where Scottish children have long argued that their kind of niceness is a superior niceness to English niceness and that they should therefore be evaluated for niceness separately from English children, but the confirmation of delivery has eased the tension somewhat.

Father Christmas refused to comment on rumours the United States would also be put on the naughty list, only confirming that Turkey did not vote for Christmas.

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The Stothers Situation

It seems fitting that our pub quiz team “The Stothers Situation” reformed last night for the first time in over a year. “But how did it get its name?”, I hear you cry. Luckily, thanks to Facebook’s on this day feature, the answer came exactly five years ago today…

I woke up that day to a lot of Twitter notifications from academics asking me about my PhD thesis- confused, it emerged that a theoretical computer science lecturer had been writing about it. Fortunately, my twitter was private at the time and they were spared puns and inane ramblings about adverts (which might have killed this story stone dead).

It emerged that someone else had improved on the result of my PhD thesis ( you can read about it here and here ) and had cited me frequently. This was an important result, but so was mine: the question arose as to why my work wasn’t so well known. I was told frequently it was an extremely important result: I knew this, but the year prior, my first priority was to finish my studies. On finishing I felt so drained and upset by the whole experience that I sunk into a depression and couldn’t face writing a paper on it and publicising it. With the exception of doing a bit of tutoring to pay the bills, I stayed away from the academic side of things and, when I felt better again, concentrated on finding a job and spending time building on my fragile faith.

However, neither Prof Aaronson, nor the many commenters on his blog knew any of this. From their point of view, I had done this amazing thing and just not bothered to tell anyone, so the comments questioning my motives, analysing my blog posts, and accusing other academics of withholding information. I couldn’t let this slide, so I had to intervene.

Rather than wade into the discussion myself, I decided to email Prof Aaronson telling him what had happened- I didn’t mention everything (I didn’t want details of my being depressed put all over the internet) but I tried to be gracious to him as he was not aware of all the facts. He understood and promptly apologised for anything he said that could be interpreted as a slight against me.

As my LinkedIn profile was at that point essentially an online CV, many of the commentators were amused that the Matrix Multiplication achievement was written in the same paragraph as rather more mundane things like my Word and Excel skills being improved over the course of my PhD- I was told that this would have me go down in scientific folklore (someone made comparisons to somebody finding the value of π and learning Sanskrit verse along the way: such a thing was not a fair comparison but point taken).

Anyway, during the melee of comments on the blog, Henry Cohn, one of the researchers who I cited frequently in my thesis wrote this:


Someone brought it up in the Facebook comments, it stuck with the other team members (who deserve as much credit in this story for helping me get through the whole thesis ordeal), and that is the story of  how “The Stothers situation” got its name.

As an epilogue, along with his wife, he visited Edinburgh the following July (on my birthday, as it happens) and bought me the beer (actually a Diet Coke as I was driving later) he’d promised me for the “trouble” he caused me, and the paper has now been published. A fitting end.

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Protected: Praying for a Single Friend

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Posted in Theology

Thought on Leading Small Groups

A few weeks ago one of the guys in my small group took me to one side and asked if I was doing ok. At the time I wasn’t particularly, and while he was sympathetic, he gently rebuked me for not speaking up about it and plodding through on my own.

And he was right- when you are used to leading, you can often neglect to think that you too need to be discipled and supported, and might not ask for it. Or you might be reluctant to open up to your small group, thinking that you are there to serve them, but them serving you is not its purpose.

I know I was guilty of thinking I’m there to give and not to take, however I was convicted that this could be a source of pride and that it’s important to allow your small group to show you some grace and help you out.

On the other side, I found my friend’s concern invaluable and really appreciated it- I would really encourage you to just check in with your small group leader occasionally and ask how things are going. It’s kind, and I guarantee they will be grateful.


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Did the Europa League hurt Spurs?

It’s one of many footballing myths I’ve been wanting to investigate, but not found the time or means to do so.

Another thing I’d love to investigate are “is a player more likely to score when he is playing against his old club?” (this is often referred to as “the immutable law of the ex”, and the answer, I suspect, is no as this has a heavy dose of confirmation bias thrown in), but I’m not sure how I would go about this.

Anyway, it’s often claimed that the long away trips and the Thursday-Sunday playing pattern experienced in the Europa League cause clubs (ok, Spurs) to lose focus in the Premier League.

Having checked the numbers, I do not believe this is true, at least for games immediately following Europa League matches. There may be a case for arguing that it takes its toll over the course of a season, but I’m not investigating that (for now). As other clubs don’t qualify as consistently as Spurs do, European competition being something of a novelty for the likes of Southampton, I haven’t considered them for now.

TL;DR figures:

League games played following Europa League matches: 73
Points in League games after Europa League matches, scaled to 38 games: 66
Points in League games after Europa League away matches, scaled to 38 games: 69
Average points in a League season (38 games) when Spurs have been in the EL: 62
The figures suggest that there is no drop in results after Europa League games.

Longer explanation:

They have played in the Europa League for 8 seasons, playing 80 games in the process. Following these 80 games, 73 league games were played the following weekend, 3 League Cup finals, and 1 FA Cup tie. There was no game the weekend following 3 games (due to being knocked out of the FA Cup).

The FA Cup tie was a draw with Chelsea, and the three League Cup finals were a win against Chelsea, a defeat against Chelsea and a draw (losing on penalties with Man Utd). Due to the cup-tie nature of these games, I didn’t include them in this analysis.

The 73 Premier League games yielded 39 wins, 12 draws, and 22 defeats for Spurs. If we scale these figures and weight them so that away games and home games are roughly even, we end up with Spurs obtaining 66 points over 38 games in a Premier League season, which, predictably, is about how many you’d expect to finish 5th or 6th. Remarkably, though, this is more than Spurs’ average Premier League points total (62) in each of the seasons they’ve played in the Europa League.

This suggests that, in general, Spurs tended to get better results in games following Europa League matches than in other games.

What if we only look at games following away fixtures?

There were 36 of them, which yielded 66 Premier League points: scaling this up to 38 games 70 points, which is more than if we consider all the games, which suggests that the record in games following Europa League home games could be better.

As for away League games after away European games (something Arsene Wenger has frequently complained about in the past even though there is no way the Premier League can know Arsenal will be playing away in Europe when compiling the fixtures), there were 14 of those, with 26 points gained: while we’re getting into shaky territory with not enough data to draw any firm conclusions, that’s a pretty decent away total in anyone’s book (it’s championship winning away form).

The conclusion to draw here is that playing in the Europa League, home or away, doesn’t cause results in the next games that are massively out of character with the results in the League. So whatever caused Spurs to miss out on the Champions League in past seasons, it wasn’t hangovers from Europa League games.

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Psalm 130

This is a song of ascents, meaning that it would have been sung on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem.

They would have been going with a view to offer sacrifices at the temple according to the law of Moses, and it seems that the Psalm is a lament from someone who knows they have sinned and are in urgent need of forgiveness.

Their situation seems dire.  They are at rock bottom, yet they appeal to God’s merciful nature as it has manifested itself to them so many times. This is the Pslamist’s only hope to get into God’s presence.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” says Jesus, and I think this is what he means: becoming aware of sin and being convicted by it. The comfort comes from knowing that there is forgiveness in the Lord.

The Psalmist is desperate to hear God’s word, which he is on his way to hear: given his current state, it’s likely that he’s keen to hear that he’s been forgiven when his sacrifice has been accepted at the temple.

The waiting becomes a certainty in the last as he encourages everyone to trust in the Lord’s certain redemption of his people.

I think this Psalm is a great pattern for a confessional prayer: we start with a conviction of sin, a confession, but then we can turn to God’s mercy, and to that only, to ask for forgiveness. The Psalmist knew he would hear God’s mercy after his sacrifice: we know that through Jesus’ sacrifice we can receive it by faith.

Praise God.


A Song of Ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
    O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.

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World Cup Qualifying Explained

With the FIFA World Cup qualifiers starting this weekend, I thought it would be worth outlining how the whole process works.

Currently, there are 111 teams still in the competition across the six zones, and this needs to be whittled down to 32.

UEFA (Europe)– 13 places (9 automatic, 4 playoff)

UEFA has 55 members*, all of which are entering the World Cup, include Kosovo and Gibraltar for the first time.

The hosts, Russia, qualify automatically leaving 54 countries to take part in the qualification process for the 13 World Cup spots UEFA is given.

Last year, 52 teams were drawn into nine groups, seven of which had six teams, and the remaining two had five. Earlier this year, Kosovo and Gibraltar were both admitted as FIFA members, meaning they could take part in the qualification process. They filled the gaps in the five-team groups (no draw was made- Kosovo was placed in a particular group to avoid a politically-charged clash with Bosnia). Each team in the group plays every other team twice over the next 13 months (once at home, and once away, and who plays who when was decided by a drawing of lots), meaning each team plays 10 games each.

The groups are below (I’ve shamelessly screenshoted it from Wikipedia).

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.13.10

The team that has the most points in the group qualifies directly for the World Cup and can look forward to eight months of preparation.

The nine second-placed teams are then ranked according to their records against the teams that finish first to fifth in their groups (i.e. the results against the sixth-placed team are discounted). The reason for this is that, when the groups were drawn, not all the groups had six teams- the late entries of Kosovo and Gibraltar meant that this was no longer the case, but it still makes sense in that it discounts results against very weak teams that can make goal difference and points totals look better than the team’s performance warranted.

The second-placed team with the worst record is knocked out (as happened to Denmark in 2014 and Norway in 2010- maybe it’s a Scandinavian thing) and the remaining eight teams contest the playoffs.

The four teams with the highest FIFA ranking are seeded, and the rest unseeded. One seeded team is drawn against one unseeded team, and they will play each other over two legs in November 2017, with the winner proceeding to the World Cup in Russia.

Obviously, this means the process will be harder (and, hopefully more exciting) than for the recent Euros. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a stretch for NI to get there, but Scotland have a better chance than many recent campaigns in qualifying. Likewise, England could well face a rough ride. It’s also entirely possible that one of Spain, France, Italy, and the Netherlands might miss out due to being the worst second-placed team.

CONMEBOL (South America)– 4 automatic places, 0.5 playoff

Easily the most competitive qualifying competition, CONMEBOL’s 10 members play each other twice over two years in a single qualifying group. The top four teams qualify directly, while the fifth placed team faces a playoff against New Zealand a team from Oceania.

It’s already well underway, with Argentina leading the way, but just four points ahead of seventh-placed Chile, so everything to play for.

CONCACAF (North America, Central America, and the Carribbean)– 3 automatic places, 0.5 playoff

Again, this is well underway, with the semi-final stage drawing to a close. Mexico, Trinidad, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Panama have already made it to the final stage with the US likely to join, as well as one of Honduras and Canada. The final six teams play in a home-end-away round robin (known as the “hex”), with the top three going on to the World Cup, and the fourth placed team going on to a playoff with an Asian team.

AFC (Asia)– four automatic places, 0.5 playoff

We’ve just started the final round where twelve teams remain- they have been drawn into two groups of six teams each, playing each other twice. The top two teams in each group qualify for the World Cup, while the two third-placed teams enter a playoff. The winner of this playoff enters another playoff versus the fourth-placed CONCACAF team for the right to enter the World Cup.

The remaining teams are Australia, China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria, Thailand, Uzebkistan, and UAE.

OFC (Oceania)– 0.5 playoff

There are six teams left, and they have been drawn into two groups of three. They play each other twice in each group, with the two group winners playing a two leg final, the winner of which faces the daunting task of playing the fifth place CONMEBOL team for a place in Russia.

CAF (Africa)– five automatic places

The final round consists of twenty teams, which are drawn into five groups of four teams each. They play each other twice in each group, and the group winner goes to Russia. All the continent’s big guns are still in the competition (the only vaguely notable absentee is Togo who qualified in 2006), though one of the groups does contain regular qualifiers Cameroon, Nigeria, and Algeria, and 2012 African champs Zambia. This stage will start in October.


*I’ve used the word “members” as opposed to “countries” or “nations” as different people will have different definitions as to what constitutes a country, nation etc..  As a side note, the number is so high because UEFA includes a number of members that are not recognised as sovereign countries by the UN (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Kosovo), a number of microstates (San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein) and a few countries whose place in “European” football is geographically dubious (Kazakhstan, Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan). There are two recognised countries in Europe without a football team, namely Monaco and the Vatican- it’s unlikely either of these will be contesting a World Cup campaign any time soon.

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