Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tennis: Kimiko Date-Krumm

Kimiko Date-Krumm yesterday suffered a beat-down at the hands of the undefeatable Serena Williams. However, the match made Kimiko the oldest woman to ever reach the third round at Wimbledon. More impressive still is the fact that the she returned to the professional game in 2008, following a 12-year retirement! Kimiko plays a beautiful game to boot, trading off power for finese and versatility, which makes for enjoyable viewing (quite rare in women's tennis, dare I say it!). Very admirable.

Hayfever - pollen attack

My hayfever defences were down yesterday and I welcomed the enemy grass pollens with open nostrils. I had  spent a good portion of the day outside, my bedroom had been left wide open for several days and I'd also forgotten to leave my door open for the cleaner to do her weekly clean, which meant I had two week's worth of pollen and dust circulating freely in my room. I've been taking regular antihistamines but the little tablets were no match against such an onslaught and the confluence of described factors culminated in an extreme hayfever attack, with well over a hundred sneezes in the day and every other minute spent blowing my nose, which was dripping like a leaky tap. Suffice to say, it was not a good day. In a hayfeverish daze in the evening I hot-footed it to Tescos and raided the hayfever shelf, purchasing the following:

- Beconase nasal spray
- Prevalin nasal spray
- Sudafed Blocked Nose tablets

I also followed one of my earlier advices and made my bedroom into a pollen-free safe zone, a time-consuming but critical activity.

Today, I have taken all of the above along with my regular generic Zirtec tablet, and all seems as well as can be. I have sneezed only three or four times, my nose isn't itchy and I've been outside for half an hour and have even briefly stepped onto a freshly mown lawn.

The question is which factor was the primary factor in the improvement. I know my cleaned room is having an impact but the question is how long can I last without opening the window? Also, the Beconase had a clear and immediate impact in reducing nose irritation and the dripping tap syndrome. I'll maintain the current regime for a week and then try dropping the Sudafed (while it's for blocked noses, it did seem to stop my runny nose a few years ago, although I think the original main active ingredient has since been outlawed in the EU), and then the Prevalin (this is not a medicine but a nostril coating like an advanced form of Vaseline) and I'm not sure it is very effective.

I'll report back with the finalised regimen in a week or so, more to keep a record for myself so I can prepare in advance next year.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More quotes from "Never Hit a Jellyfish With a Spade: How to Survive Life's Smaller Challenges" by Guy Browning

Never Hit A Jellyfish With A Spade
Here are some more quotes from "Never hit a Jellyfish with a Spade" (reviewed earlier):

How to... use a fork and knife
For those interested in advanced etiquette, it's the height of bad manners to stab someone with a fish knife unless they are a Pisces. ... Finally, beware of the fishcake: experts are still undecided whether it should be approached with a fish knife or a cake fork. If in doubt, don't approach it and edge quietly backwards until you are out of danger.

How to... get up really early
For most people, getting up is a process of going through the every stage of evolution from a lump of primordial slime to a hairy uncommunicative biped. The final bit of evolution to erect, tool-wielding Homo sapiens takes another hour in the bathroom.

Getting up in the summer is a cinch, as there's sun streaming through your window, larks singing on your window sill, and cornflakes gambolling in your bowl. In the winter, it's pitch black outside, your car is trapped in a block of ice, and you've go to cook porridge for yourself, which you don't even like. 

Getting up early for work on a winter weekday is such a cruel and unusual thing to do that you're probably infringing on your own human rights.

The only way of alleviating winter wake-ups is to have your underclothes simmering on the radiator. Getting dressed is then like getting back into bed, except now you're standing up.

How to... potter
Starting is the hardest part of pottering as it generally requires shifting down to a gear generally used only in old age or convalescence.

Men have traditionally been masters of pottering, which is basically constructive idleness. They even have a shrine to it called the potting shed. Men can spend hours, if not days, sorting screws into different sizes, labelling creosote tines, and fitting old carpet tiles to the floor. In fact, they get so absorbed in this that it's almost impossible for them to give up any time for trivial matters such as gas leaks in the house.

If you're not sure how to get your pottering under way, try the second drawer in the kitchen - not the ones with the cutlery, but the one with the fuses, Sellotape and instructions for the microwave. Make yourself a nice cup of tea and then tidy this drawer.

How to... have a shed
All sheds must have a miniature filing cabinet of screws and nails. No one knows where theses screws and nails have come from, and no one knows where they will go. Their purpose is simply to be meticulously filed and graded.

How to... grow up
Finally, you can test how grown-up you are by your position in a double-decker bus: kids at the top front; teenagers top back; grown-ups middle top; older adults bottom back; really old people bottom front. If you find yourself on the bottom right at the front, you have grown up to be a bus driver.

How to... love
The miracle of life is that, whoever you are, there really is somebody out there for you. The tragedy of life is that this person often lives in Swindon.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

SMBC reminds us of bounded rationality and the importance of satsficing

Money saving tip - Clarks Shoe Sale

Clarks are currently running a large promotion, with free delivery and free returns (by post or in-store). If you are in the shoe buying market right now, take a look and don't be put off by the "old man" brand. I managed to get a half decent pair of shoes for £30, with a possible further 12% off via Quidco. I've only just slipped them on but initial impressions are that they are pretty comfortable and well made. I doubt they'll measure up against my existing pair of Giorgio Brutini's (yes, I know, it's a dodgy, unknown name that sounds like a mongrel cross-breed between a cheap clothing brand and a bottom of the range men's aftershave, but these shoes have lasted over ten years and were comfortable all the way!).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

10 things to know about life

Written by a former police officer, posted to Quora:

1. Realize that nobody cares, and if they do, you shouldn't care that they care. Got a new car? Nobody cares. You'll get some gawkers for a couple of weeks—they don't care. They're curious. Three weeks in it'll be just another shiny blob among all the thousands of others crawling down the freeway and sitting in garages and driveways up and down your street. People will care about your car just as much as you care about all of those. Got a new gewgaw? New wardrobe? Went to a swanky restaurant? Exotic vacation? Nobody cares. Don't base your happiness on people caring, because they won't. And if they do, they either want your stuff or hate you for it.

Follow on for the other 9, they're all good.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book: Never Hit a Jellyfish With a Spade: How to Survive Life's Smaller Challenges by Guy Browning

Never Hit A Jellyfish With A Spade

Never Hit a Jellyfish With a Spade is a collection of short weekly articles that Guy Browning wrote for the Guardian several years ago. As is always the case with this type of compendium, you have hits and misses but there are much more of the former than the latter, making it a worthy read.

This book provides ideal relief for those morning and evenings when the hay fever blocks the nose and dulls the senses, making it difficult to read improving books and a criminal offence to read Wodehouse, since to do so would be like going to a top-notch restaurant when you've lost your sense of smell, i.e. an exercise in self-defeat.

*** 3/4 (tip: it's a book to dip in and out of, enjoying a few articles at a time)

A few choice quotes:

On how to ... make toast
 Cold toast is a very sad affair and gives a small insight into death - something you've known and loved, that was warm and comforting, but is now cold and stiff and destined for the bin.

On how to... make tea
Two sugars is the norm for working people. Tea without sugar is an admission  that what you do in life doesn't require that much effort. If someone else is making tea for you, it's best to ask for three sugars because people who don't take sugar can't stir tea properly (generally because they haven't got enough energy)

On how to... have a cold
Of all the nasty things you can pick up these days, a cold is relatively minor. However, the amateur dramatics it gives rise to are spectacular. Horrific wasting diseases that confine you to a bed mean that people have to actively seek you out in order to sympathize. A cold, on the other hand, is a portable complaint.
... Just about the only consolation for having a cold is the lovely deep husky voice that goes with it ....Interestingly, the voice is at its most husky on the telephone, especially when explaining your absence to colleagues at work.

On how to... do extreme sports
Extreme sports boil down to thinking up great new ways of killing yourself and then extracting the death part at the last moment.  ...It's vital if you're going to do any kind of extreme sport to dress like you're a surf dude and to shout 'Whoaaaaa!!!!' when you're doing it. Turning up in a comfortable tweed jacket and doing something extreme while whistling nonchalantly just makes everyone else feel as though they're wasting their time.

I'm still only part-way through this book and will post more quotes later...just needed to post something as it's been pretty quiet here recently!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nature article: The Big Fat Truth

Nature recently published a comprehensive article looking at what the data have to say about BMI and mortality risk. The conclusion is that the relationship is far less clear-cut than is commonly thought.

It's well worth taking the time out to read the whole piece.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Daniel Dennet quote

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

1. Attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: "Thanks, I wish I'd thought of putting it that way."

2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

(a quote from Daniel Dennet's latest book, via Kottke)

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The first time I have disagreed with John Kay ... (he's still the dude though)

The Companies Act has in recent years been revised to incorporate a broad stake-holder focus. The over-riding objective is still shareholder value, but now decision making must also give due consideration to wider stakeholders such as suppliers, employees and the environment.

In a recent article, John Kay refers to this broader stake-holder approach as a basis for arguing that aggressive tax avoidance strategies pursued by directors may not fit as an appropriate behaviour.

I am probably missing several pieces of the puzzle but my instinct tells me that since our tax regime operates not on a principles based approach but on a rules based approach (as do all tax regimes, I imagine), it is the rules that need to be tightened, not the behaviours or companies. I believe the modus operandi for companies remains and should remain profit maximisation. By all means give a nod to all the stakeholders in this context, but it is a nonsense to pander to them at the expense of profit. Paying less tax enables the company to distribute more wealth to shareholders or to reinvest more capital into the business. It's true that if you were the only entity aggressively avoiding tax the ramifications on profitability could be severe if there was a massive public backlash. However, so long as multiple conglomerates are in on the wheeze, the damage to reputation is likely to be negligible.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Nadal vs Djokovic - Roland Garros Semi-Finals.

Some highlights from the Nadal vs Djokovic semi-final at Roland Garros. Great tennis.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Taleb's inventory

The spiky, Nicholas Nasim Taleb gives some nice responses in the Weekend FT's Inventory:

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Both concepts are modernist nonsense. Success is about honour, feeling morally calibrated, absence of shame, not what some newspaper defines from an external metric.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

What’s your biggest extravagance?
Books, books and books.

Adam Smith quote - 10 of 10

"The natural advantages which one country has over another, in producing particular commodities, are sometimes so great, that it is acknowledged by all the world to be in vain to struggle with them. By means of glasses, hot-beds, and hot-walls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine, too, can be made of them, at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries. Would it be a reasonable law to prohibit the importation of all foreign wines, merely to encourage the making of claret and Burgundy in Scotland? But if there would be a manifest absurdity in turning towards any employment thirty times more of the capital and industry of the country than would be necessary to purchase from foreign countries an equal quantity of the commodities wanted, there must be an absurdity, though not altogether so glaring, yet exactly of the same kind, in turning towards any such employment a thirtieth, or even a three hundredth part more of either. Whether the advantages which one country has over another be natural or acquired, is in this respect of no consequence."

- Quote from The Invisible Hand by Adam Smith (Penguin Great Ideas series)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Another boring Bernanke speech...not this time

"If your uniform isn't dirty, you haven't been in the game."

From a great commencement speech given by Ben Bernanke

Saturday, June 01, 2013

New video from Lev Yilmaz - Waiting for Life to Begin

In reference to my earlier post, maybe life begins when you buy a Jaguar sports car?

Firefox unresponsive scripts? Problem solved...block 'em!

If you are running Firefox and are suffering from "Unresponsive Script" messages which freeze your browser for an inordinate amount of time, I recommend installing the No Script Add-on.

Thanks to this and the highly popular Ad-Block, my browsings remain fast and uncluttered, despite using an 8 year old laptop with just 512MB of ram.

Jaguar advertisement

Just watched a Jaguar advert which closes with the question "How Alive are You?". I don't know how I'm supposed to respond to this.

Book: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson


"The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared" is a wonderful book. The story relates the present day adventures of Allan Karlsson, with alternate chapters telling of Karlsson's amazing travels and central influences on key political events of the past hundred years. We are taken from Sweden to lands afar including Moscow, Los Alamos, Stalingrad, Vladivostock, Bali, Paris and North Korea. On his adventures, Allan Karlsson has meetings and run-ins with the likes of Truman, Oppenheimer, Francos, Lenin, Stalin, Nixon, Churchill and Mao Tse Tung along the way. All this for a man with no interest in politics!

Jonas Jonasson's plain style of writing takes a chapter or two of getting used to but it fits the absurd, darkly comic nature of story very well and lends a fitting layer of innocence to the book. It also makes for a breezy read: after three of four days, I was half-way through this 400 page book and was already thinking about rationing out the remaining pages. Unfortunately for me, the stories pace picked up pace and got funnier and more exciting in the second half, and I couldn't help but to speed through to the end.

Jonasson has surpassed himself with this first book. It has sold some 4m copies so far and deserves an even wider audience.

 ****1/2 (don't read the quotes below if you are planning to read the book)

"Hello? Is that Bali Airport?" he said in English, and received the answer that they should immediately identify themselves of face the Indonesian Air Force.
"My name is Dollars," said Allan. "One Hundred Thousand Dollars"
 ...."Excuse me, Mr Dollars. The sound is very poor. Could you be so kind as to repeat your first name once more?"
...."My first name is Two Hundred Thousand," said Mr Karlsson.

Every day, Allan and Amanda went on suitably long walks along the glowing white beach outside the hotel. They always had lots to talk about, and they felt better in each other's company. They didn't go very fast, because she was eighty-four years old and he was now in his hundred and first year. After a while, they decided to hold each others hand, for balance.

He (Benny, a great character with a brilliant back-story) couldn't remember everything, he said, but you can cover a lot if you sit at a school desk for three decades, and do your homeork once in a while. Benny was an almost-vet, almost-doctor, almost-srchitect, almost-engineer, almost-botanist, almost-language-teacher, almost-sports-coach, almost-historian and almost quite a few other things. And for a bit of variety he had taken some shorter courses of varying quality and importance.