An Italian perspective on the British commuter

15 June 2018|

There are many things that I’ve long admired about British culture. As a young Italian teenager landing on these shores, I vividly remember being blown away (almost literally) by the music scene, not to mention realising that Benny Hill, a popular British export, might not have been the pinnacle of comedic genius. Political satire and debating were the most eye-opening discoveries of all, as I was mesmerised by programmes like ‘The Day Today’ or ‘The 11 O’clock Show’ and ‘Prime

On monkeys, typewriters and UK GDP statistics

8 June 2018|

The ‘infinite monkey theorem’ postulates that, given an infinite amount of time, a lowly monkey will eventually be able to reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare merely by jumping around on a keyboard. Used in this context, the monkey is effectively a metaphor for a machine capable of generating a random sequence of letters and characters. It’s what we might refer to today as a random number generator. This metaphor, sometimes credited to French mathematician Emile Borel writing in 1913,

Lies, damn lies and Irish statistics

1 June 2018|

In the film Mary Poppins, our heroine has a tape measure in her enormously capacious bag, which she uses to measure her charges, the children of the Banks family. She employs it in the usual way but instead of reporting their height it reports their character. The scene culminates with the children measuring her and finding her “practically perfect in every way”. However, for the rest of us, a tape measure wouldn’t be a sensible way to measure someone’s character.

Consultants of the world, unite!

25 May 2018|

Groucho Marx once stated indignantly, in a beautiful paraphrasing of Russell’s Paradox,[1] that: “I wouldn’t be a member of any club that would have me as a member.” It’s important not to confuse Groucho Marx with Karl Marx, the double centenary of whose birth is this year. They share little in common apart from the name and unconvincing facial hair. But there’s a nice application of Russell’s Paradox to what remains of Karl’s legacy. Marxism is bunk. The doctrine of

It’s a risky business being Donald Trump

18 May 2018|

“Not another article about Donald Trump” — said everyone. Since the election of Donald Trump, the media has been flooded with the trials and tribulations of his ‘stormy’ presidency. We at Fathom have always focused on the economics, such as his tax reforms. However, studying how Mr Trump presents information has led me to some interesting observations about how he exploits a particular branch of economics to influence opinion. The most effective targeted campaigns are those which connect with their

Time to “be excellent” to millennials?

11 May 2018|

It has been brought to my attention that Bill and Ted will be returning to our screens in the not too distant future and there’s a buzz in the office among the older generation. I must confess, that the names only rang very dim and distant bells for me, but my friend Google has kindly filled in the gaps in my education. In the film Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Keanu Reeves’ character, Theodore “Ted” Logan, says to his friend

Rating public ratings systems

4 May 2018|

In an increasing number of marketplaces, such as Airbnb and Uber, customers rate their service provider, and get rated in return. Potential downsides from this evolution were explored in a Black Mirror episode that described a future where personal ratings determined everything from which neighbourhood you lived in to the type of car you could rent. But this trend needn’t be scary. In theory, it should lead to efficiencies. Many transactions take place with asymmetries of information. Does this hotel

To work, or not to work, that is the question

27 April 2018|

A friend recently emailed me a link to a golf trolley advertised online. A golf trolley with a difference: in addition to the standard slot for the clubs and scorecard was space reserved for a baby! Apparently, the availability of this single product is key to my mate’s new-found willingness to become a ‘stay-at-home dad’. “Yet another example of new gadgets driving able-bodied folk out of the workforce”, I replied. On a more serious note, since the crisis we’ve seen

Two cheers for Donald Trump

20 April 2018|

It recently struck me that occasionally we use this blog to grind an axe on some particular topic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and I’ve done it myself: Shoreditch-based hairdressers; the drink-making habits of my colleagues; footballers in China. But today I thought it was time to make a positive argument about something, for a change. So, I’ve decided to praise Donald Trump. Now, I realise that this choice may raise a few eyebrows. To be clear, I’m not

Taking the Fathom tribe out to dinner

13 April 2018|

Tribes form and then ossify over time, but they aren’t stable forever. There are two forces in play: the tendency for individuals to associate with and feel loyalty towards one tribe; and the tendency to desire something different. Desire, according to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, is the desire of the Other.1 The tension between those two forces, loyalty and betrayal, is the dynamic source of evolution in human society, explored in ancient literature like the Iliad through to Romeo and