Hobart and Randomicity

Mona, lower case, is a great 50’s song by Bo Diddely, covered a few years later by the Rolling Stones on their first album.

MONA, upper case, standing for Museum of Old and New Art, is an amazing underground (literally) art gallery in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the island state of Australia.

Hobart is the second oldest state capital in Australia (after Sydney), was liked by both Mark Twain and Agatha Christie, and is the birthplace of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn (1909-1959), as well as the final resting place of the last thylacine or ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ a carnivorous mammal, the last of which died in captivity in 1936. Hobart is also the setting for the development, in the mid 1930’s,  of Edward James George Pitman’s (1897-1993) development of randomization or permutation tests, which Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher had also worked on. Permutation tests rely (these days) on computers, and don’t require reference to statistical arcana such as the Normal and Student’s T distributions, etc.

As shown by the late Julian Simon and more recently in that wonderful stats book that sounds like a law firm (Lock, Frazer Lock, Lock Morgan, Lock and Lock, 2012), permutation tests can also be easier to understand by students than the parametric alternatives.

MONA itself is currently showing the movie ‘David Bowie Is’, a segment of which talks about the London singer’s use of the William Burroughs / Brion Gysin cut-up technique and later a computer program called Verbasizer, to randomly suggest combinations of particular words to aid in the creative song-writing process.

While you may or may not be interested in randomicity, and the David Bowie movie may no longer be showing, but whether it’s out of the desire for adventure, curiosity, necessity or for purely random reasons, visit MONA and Hobart!!

Further reading:

Lock EH, Frazer Lock P, Lock Morgan K, Lock EF, Lock DF (2012). Statistics: unlocking the power of data. Wiley.

McKenzie D (2013). Chapter 14: Statistics and the Computer. In McKenzie S: Vital Statistics: an introduction for health science students. Elsevier.

Robinson ES (2011). Shift linguals: cut-up narratives from William S. Burroughs to the present. Rodopi.

Timms P (2012). Hobart. (revised edition). University of New South Wales Press.

A Probability Book your Gran & Grandad could read: David Hand’s “The Improbability Principle”

Most people have heard of, or have actually experienced, ‘strange coincidences’, of the ‘losing wedding ring on honeymoon in coastal village and then years later, when fishing, finding the ring in the belly of a trout’ variety. Sometimes, the story is helped along a little over the years, such as the 1911 demise of Green, Berry and Hill who’d murdered Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey on *Greenberry* Hill, as used in the opening sequence of the 1999 Magnolia movie featuring the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. The murder, however actually took place in the 17th century, and on *Primrose* Hill, which was later renamed to Greenberry Hill.

Still, odd things do happen, leading many to wonder ‘wow and what’s the probability of that!’. Strange events can however occur without the need for ghostly Theremin music to suddenly play in the background, in that they’re actually merely examples of coincidence, helped along by human foibles.

Coincidences and foibles are entertainingly and educationally examined in Professor David Hand’s excellent new 2014 book ‘The Improbability Principle: why coincidences, miracles and rare events happen every day’.


Prof Hand is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College London, who like fellow British Statistician Brian ‘Chance Rules OK’ Everitt, has been writing instructive as well as readable texts and general books for nigh on forty years.

The book is not scarily mathematical at all, and illustrates using cards, dice, marbles in urns etc, although it might have been fun in the book, or at least the book’s website, to have some actual exercises that more active readers could have undertaken, using dice, cards or electronic versions thereof, such as the free Java version of Simon and Bruce’s classic Resampling Stats software, known as Stats 101 http://www.statistics101.net/ (commercial Excel version available at http://www.resample.com/excel/)


All in all though, The Improbability Principle is not only highly readable, entertaining and inexpensive, it is an absolute snorter of a book, for a wide audience, including Uncles, Aunties, Grandmama’s and Grandpapa’s, and is thoroughly recommended!