Who will challenge mighty Magnus?

March 6, 2018

 

 

Next Saturday, [March 10, 2018] eight top Grandmasters will start their Candidates Tournament in Berlin. The winner will gain the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship crown, in a match to be played in November in London.

Magnus is the successor to a line of great players, often childhood prodigies, to become world champion, While there are others of his own generation, and emerging wunderkind able to complete, will any be strong enough to wrest the crown from him?

It is possible, but would be a surprise. The long-established ranking system at chess works pretty well.

If you think chess is boring and time-consuming, so do some innovators inside the game, who are playing around with the rules to cope with the invasion of technology into the game (or sport, as it controversially likes to term itself). Gone are the matches in which after a day’s play,, one of the papers would seal and move, and spend much of the night analysing what next to do. A century ago, chess clocks were introduced. Then all-night study was carried out replaced by seconds doing the hard-lifting. Then with the advent of powerful chess computers, overnight play withered and died.

Now, if a game seems to be in danger of extending into the night, the speed of play is increased, leading to a survival of the most agile and intuitively gifted. Matches are increasingly tailored to audiences watching on the web.

Today, I came across a humorous account of ten rules for introducing morality into computers (whose programmes are already capable of beating even Magnus). One of the computer programmes did a silicon bladed destruction job on the great champion Gary Kasparov. One of the rules of morality was for the IT chess computers to ‘let Gary win from time to time’.

Don’t know if the computers are quite ready to appreciate the humour.img_08241

 

 

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Maplins and Toys R Us provide grim examples of creative destruction

March 3, 2018

 

In February 2018, the Beast from the East brings weather misery to much of the United Kingdom. There is economic misery too, as two high-profile retailers go into administration

Maplins, a major electronics retailer with over 200 stores and 2,300 staff in the UK has collapsed into administration. Attempts to find a buyer have so far failed.

Toys R Us, whose UK organisation is of similar scale, has around 100 stores and 3000 staff. The parent US company has filed for bankruptcy protection last September. The UK arm needed a deal with the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) in December [2017] to rescue its retirement scheme

Both firms provide examples of Creative Destruction, Schumpeter’s chilling term for the unintended consequences of major economic changes and technological ‘progress’.

 

The opening up of new markets and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as US Steel illustrate the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one … [The process] must be seen in its role in the perennial gale of creative destruction; it cannot be understood on the hypothesis that there is a perennial lull.

— Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942

Toys R Us appears to have failed to keep up with changes in the market, and particularly with the impact of the web-based suppliers, particularly the mighty Amazon. Maplin, appear to have been more vigorous in efforts to keep pace with technological developments. Nevertheless, the harsh trading environment since the economic turmoil of a decade ago eventually took its toll.

More detailed case analyses will probably identify missed opportunities for the two firms. Toys R Us appears to have been slow to appreciate the revolutionary impact of the web for retailers, and the benefits accruing to the mighty Amazon operation.

One commentator argued that Marlins failed to maintain stock levels in its stores. I am not convinced about that. The current concept of slimmed-down supply chains encourages Just In Time practices.


Red Glory. Manchester United and Me, by Martin Edwards

February 7, 2018

Red Glory. Manchester United and Me, by Martin Edwards

Book Review

I learned about this autobiographic story late last year  through an event organised through Simply Books of Bramhall. For personal reasons, I went along to meet the author. It had been nearly thirty years since we had last met. We had both attended a dinner at Manchester Business School. The main guest of the evening was Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister who was a life-long Huddersfield Town supporter. We both vaguely remembered the event.
In Red Glory, Martin Edwards writes as a former chairman of Manchester United Football Club over the golden period of the club’s sporting success. As Peter Schmeichel put it in his foreword to the book, it was the period when United ‘became the biggest and best club on the planet’.
The book covers ground much of which will be familiar to MUFC fans, as legendary in this footballing city. I already knew how Matt Busby escaped death in the Munich air disaster to go on and rebuild the broken team. But nuggets in the book are new. I did not know, for example, that Sir Matt was later granted rights to what became the famed Superstore at Old Trafford. Edward estimates Busby’s assets from these arrangements amounted to a hundred million pounds market value by 1998.

One anecdote describes the negotiation between the young Chairman of Manchester United and the chairman of Leeds United. The style was firm, but not blustering. Schmeichel confirms it matches Edwards’ typical approach to dealing with negotiations.  I like it as a counter illustration to the mythology of deal-making according to Donald Trump.

Without doubt, the book will appeal to fans and historians of Manchester United Football Club. I have no hesitation in recommending it to students of football for insights into how a seriously competent leader thanks and acts, written in such a readable fashion.

Acknowledgement: To Simply Books, for organising the book-signing event, and providing the image. [Your Editor is the somewhat shorter figure on the left.]


State of the Union address. Teleprompter Trump quietens Twitter Trump for the occasion.

January 31, 2018

Child's pram

I was awakened by a familiar voice from my bedside radio. It was that of the President of the United States (POTUS) who was half way through his State of the Union Speech (SOTU).

That’s at least one acronym too many  for an opening paragraph. It least it will remind me of what the acronyms stand for, in the various bits of news already filtering through the social media sites.

I listened as POTUS warmed to his task. After each sound bite (roughly, after each sentence ) he paused to tumultuous applause. I remembered. He is addressing the congregated masses of the Senate and House of Representatives in some pomp. Puzzled at the electrifying effect his words were having, I abandoned my security blankets and headed for a view of the proceedings courtesy of BBC news (presumably by courtesy of some US networking. Hey, that’s the special relationship for you, folks.)

On the screen, Donald is doing something rare and wonderful. He is stringing words together in a more than passable imitation of the English Language. He is, you might say, on message. This departure from his normal style has not appeared to weaken its rapturous reception. Before my eyes , I see the hypnotic state of the delighted audience as the promises fall from his lips.

There is a cornucopia of promises pouring forth. They are jostling for reality, each being another chunk of the American dream realised. Evil drug-masters will be caught. And imprisoned and never released. Guantanamo Bay will be rescued from closure. The Military will never be hamstrung for lack of funding. At home, Republicans and Democrats alike will work to gather the achieve these steps towards making America Great Again (MAGA, the third and greatest of parts of the Holy Triacronym ).

The desolated infrastructure will be rebuilt with American heart, American hands and American grit (as someone earlier also said) with a budget call of $1.5 trillion left over from walls and bombs.

And each offer was greeted by a vast multitude, more than anyone else’s multitude. But there is more to come. The POTUS has assembled heroes and victims of failed heroes to be honoured for the courage of their loved ones or themselves. A victim of North Korean torture was given special place, as he waved his crutches defiantly to even more thunderous applause.

A part of my sleep-befuddled brain was telling me this is not quite right. Why, persisted the thought, would his political opponents not baulk a little at coming across with permission to spend the odd $1.5 trillion to MAGA? After all, these near-treacherous Democrats were continuing to hold up progress with the possibility of crash and burn of a functioning administration in weeks.

A clue came from the post-mortem. It is one of the oldest theatrical tricks of all. Get your supporters in the front rows and their cheers around out the jeers of opponents. The unanimous admiration was confined the sectors of Republicans entrusted as cheerleaders. Elsewhere, as one reporter put it, ‘Democrats sat or stood in stony silence’. They appeared to have hissed as the retention of the infamous Guantanamo Bay complex.

Indeed this is much to reflect on. The absences as well as the presences. The enemies to be confounded were essentialized as North Korea, but no mention of Russia. The bid for internal harmony on Capital Hill, but no mention of steps which might be leading to a POTUS impeachment.

Culturally, I had trouble with the speech, but the man showed his skills as a consummate showman, yes, even one with the dangerous gift of charismatic impact. Of his predecessors, he reminded me most of the long-departed Billy Graham. I wanted him to heal that North Korean hero on the spot.

This was Teleprompter Trump, as a BBC reporter put it, who went on to speculate how long it will be, before Twitter Trump escapes again.


Uses for a Black Pudding

January 14, 2018

 

The big question

This week I was reminded of an old free-association exercise favoured in creativity workshops

Uses for a Brick

The old exercise was to list uses of a brick. According to research at the time, skill at generating multiple ideas of various kinds was an indicator of creative fluency and flexibility.

 

Uses for a Dead Cat

 

A darker version on Uses of a Dead Cat, was later turned into a book

 

Uses for a Piece of Black Pudding

 

And so to this week’ s news story, (about time, you may be thinking). It refers to an unexpected uses of a piece of Black Pudding, a delicacy in the North of England, as well as in other parts of Europe where the local gourmets have developed a taste for blood sausage.

 

If you did not catch the story, you may have trouble ‘brainstorming’ what happened, however many ideas you think up.  I leave it as a brain teaser. Suggestions from LWD subscribers (with moderate censorship according to editorial judgment) will be found in the comments section.

 

Uses of a Blogpost on Uses of a Piece of Black Pudding …

 

Now that’s a tougher challenge altogether.


Football gets its Hawkeye

January 8, 2018
WG Grace
This week, football’s new video assessment system reaches cup competitions in England. Will we learn from experiences in other sports?
Technology was accepted for lines-calls in tennis some years ago. It has also been introduced into cricket, and Rugby (both codes). LWD followed the emergence of Hawkeye in tennis, and one post has been studied as a business leadership case.
The changes were mostly accepted, perhaps grudgingly from those with a yearning for the romance of earlier days. Football now seems likely to follow a similar trajectory of initial controversy followed by eventual acceptance. There will almost certainly be learning from experience.
The new football system has been tested in Italy for around a hundred matches. It seems that the video referee is called into action in about 25% of matches. This is in contrast to the approach followed by rugby, when the hold-ups are incessant, and where referees are now conditioned to check every possible infringement,or point-scoring opportunity.
Tennis and cricket have opted for a limited number of player appeals. The approaches has been linked to spectator involvement following the game on large viewing screens, and rather naff graphics in cricket.
The problem I see is a concern by official bodies to obtain the ‘technically correct’ decision. This may be influenced by the financial swings hanging on a single decision.  In tennis, this means the evidence for a ball being hit in (including on) the line, or outside the line. The technology tends to be trusted to a precision that is not possible for the human eye of even the best umpires. A similar state of affairs holds in cricket where the technology reveals the slightest of contact with ball on bat, which would influence a decision for caught or LBW (out for the ball striking the player’s pads according to complex rules known as leg before wicket).
The current systems reduce uncertainties of human error to plausible ‘right or wrong’ decisions.  We are not quite at the limits of uncertainty according to the scientific principle formulated by Heisenberg, but not precise enough to make practical debate futile.
A better way?
There is a modification to this approach which seems better to me. The technology could be used to avoid obvious errors, rather than resolve minuscule quibbles over the slightest of touches of a ball on a bat, or whether  a ball has gone beyond the line (of a football or tennis playing area , or marginally forward in a passing sequence in rugby (one of the game’s delights cut short too often at present.)
Will the new system being introduced resolve controversy about decisions by the officials? Not according to one Italian expert describing their footballing experience. Are the fans happy? Only if the decision is in their team’s favour, he replied with a sigh.

Donald Trump, Theresa May, and possibilities for leadership change

January 3, 2018

donad-trump

Donald Trump and Theresa May are examples of leaders whose critics have regularly predicted their downfall. Why are these predictions repeatedly found wanting?

Trump’s downfall has been widely anticipated rom the time he entered the Presidential race as a political novice. Such conventional wisdom from political observers persisted to the end of 2017 and continues now into the new year.

Extract from The New press Dec 31st 2017
National political punditry was certain he couldn’t be elected, remained sure he couldn’t accomplish anything and believes his personal unpopularity will secure tremendous losses for his party in the 2018 mid-terms. In the meantime, Trump won a sound Electoral College victory, became president and now has governed for almost a year.

In the UK there has been a similar suspicion of an imminent political downfall. Yet, Prime Minister May has confounded critics since her decision to call a general election which went seriously wrong. After the election in June, she was derided as moving from strong and stable (her election battle cry) to weak and wobbly (a cruel barb afterwards). Her Government survived narrowly by striking an uncomfortable deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party. Predictions of her imminent resignation persisted with senior members of her own inner circle openly disregarding her authority.

Three have ‘resigned’ recently. Boris Johnson, arguably the most blatantly disloyal and gaffe-prone has survived, seen as further evidence of the PM’s weakness and vulnerability.

In searching for an explanation, I turned to the work of Kurt Lewin, one of the pioneers of social psychology. Lewin asked the question ‘why is change in society and its social systems so difficult?’ He realised that there must be complex sets of forces holding any social system together in a state of stability. Not too stable, as that excludes the possibility of any change taking place. Nor too easy to be radically changed as that would lead to too much instability. In other words, there has to be a stable state, with potential for change.

Beckhard’s Change Factors

Lewin’s work was turned into a model for influencing change by Richard Beckhard and co-workers. Beckhard identifies three necessary components that together may help overcome resistance to change. They are:

Dissatisfaction (for example with a leader)
Easy first step (for example, speaking out without suppression of views)
Clear endpoint or vision (for example, replacement with a better leader)

If any of the three forces are absent or very weak, change is unlikely.

 Beckhard’s change model

Change is easiest where the three kinds of forces weakening a desired change are present. Take a soldier pinned down by enemy fire. There is:
dissatisfaction with the status quo
vision of escape to safety
but without an easy first step, the soldier may not act to initiate the change

A far more complex case is emerging in the violent and widespread protests taking place in Iran.

The dissatisfaction with the regime is evident.
There seem to have been first steps (if not easy, at least enacted). But is there a clear vision of a better future?

 

Applying the model, leads me to conclude that President Trump and Prime Minister have both survived considerable dissatisfaction with them and with their actions. Several first steps to have been initiated by those seeking change.  However, at very least, the replacement of either leader seems less imminent than commentators are predicting. At least one of the required factors (a clear vision of a better situation) seems nearly non-existent.

Discussion comments from LWD subscribers are welcomed.