Friday, April 24, 2015

The amusing never-knowing-ness of it all

I find it interesting how, from afar, something can appear totally foreign, nothing more than a label. Before I knew of the label I may not have known the thing even existed. Now it is there, floating all alone in the mists of my misunderstandings; a label, a label signifying the existence of a something, an anything e.g. a physical thing, a concept, an idea, a realisation. Now I know that I do not know. There is a hole.

The label becomes a something when a credible authority provides a description, definition, or explanation of what 'it' is or what 'it' means. The something is given mental form. Now it can take shape and act as a building block in my tower of knowledge, as it extends my understanding of the world. Now I think I know. The hole is filled in.

But then, one thing leads to another, and after a little digging and delving, and I am always digging and delving, I kind of start moving forward in reverse as I appreciate the 'greyness' of it all. It is never as clear as it first appeared, things never are. Now I know I do not know. The hole is both filled and not filled.

This is what I have experienced in so many domains, including economics, psychology, history and biology. It may not be the way in more concrete domains such as physics, maths (although they still have their puzzles), but for everything else it's endless rabbit holes of infinite wonderment. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

True Detective

True Detective is just eight episodes long but my oh my is it good. I'm loving the authentic, existential realism/pessimism of Cohle Rust, the detective played by Matthew McConaughey. I don't buy all of what he's selling, but I sure ain't walking out of that store empty handed.

Don't read the below quotes if you plan to watch the series.

Cohle Rust Quotes


Back then, the visions...most of the time I was convinced that I'd lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.


I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight - brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.


If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of s***. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality?


Just observation and deduction. I see a propensity for obesity, poverty, a yen for fairy tales. Folks putting what few bucks they do have in a little wicker basket that's being passed around. I think it's safe to say no one here's gonna be splitting the atom, Marty.


Nothing's ever fulfilled! Until the very end. And closure. No. No no. Nothing is ever over.


To realize that all your life—you know, all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain—it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream. A dream that you had inside a locked room. A dream about being a person.


Rust Cohle: Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking.
Marty Hart: Well, I don’t use ten dollar words as much as you, but for a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot; and you still sound panicked.
Rust Cohle: At least I’m not racing to a red light.


I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion. – Rust Cohle


I see a propensity for obesity. Poverty. A yen for fairy tales. Folks puttin’ what few bucks they do have into a little wicker basket being passed around. I think it’s safe to say nobody here’s gonna be splitting the atom, Marty. – Rust Cohle


Marty Hart: Your fucking attitude. Not everybody wants to sit alone in an empty room beating off to murder manuals. Some folks enjoy community. A common good.
Rust Cohle: Yeah, well if the common good’s gotta make up fairy tales then it’s not good for anybody.

1 If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality? – Rust Cohle 2 Rust Cohle: Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking. Marty Hart: Well, I don’t use ten dollar words as much as you, but for a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot; and you still sound panicked. Rust Cohle: At least I’m not racing to a red light. 3 I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion. – Rust Cohle 4 Been that way since one monkey looked at the sun and told the other monkey, “He said for you to give me your fucking share.” People… so god damn frail they’d rather put a coin in the wishing well than buy dinner. – Rust Cohle 5 I see a propensity for obesity. Poverty. A yen for fairy tales. Folks puttin’ what few bucks they do have into a little wicker basket being passed around. I think it’s safe to say nobody here’s gonna be splitting the atom, Marty. – Rust Cohle 6 Marty Hart: Your fucking attitude. Not everybody wants to sit alone in an empty room beating off to murder manuals. Some folks enjoy community. A common good. Rust Cohle: Yeah, well if the common good’s gotta make up fairy tales then it’s not good for anybody.

1 If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What’s that say about your reality? – Rust Cohle 2 Rust Cohle: Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking. Marty Hart: Well, I don’t use ten dollar words as much as you, but for a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot; and you still sound panicked. Rust Cohle: At least I’m not racing to a red light. 3 I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion. – Rust Cohle 4 Been that way since one monkey looked at the sun and told the other monkey, “He said for you to give me your fucking share.” People… so god damn frail they’d rather put a coin in the wishing well than buy dinner. – Rust Cohle 5 I see a propensity for obesity. Poverty. A yen for fairy tales. Folks puttin’ what few bucks they do have into a little wicker basket being passed around. I think it’s safe to say nobody here’s gonna be splitting the atom, Marty. – Rust Cohle 6 Marty Hart: Your fucking attitude. Not everybody wants to sit alone in an empty room beating off to murder manuals. Some folks enjoy community. A common good. Rust Cohle: Yeah, well if the common good’s gotta make up fairy tales then it’s not good for anybody.


The finale:

In an effort to connect, Marty reminds Rust that he used to make up stories about the stars when he grew up in Alaska.
Rust: It's just one story. The oldest.
Marty: What's that?
Rust: Light versus dark.
Marty: Well, I know we ain't in Alaska, but it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.
Rust asks Marty to carry him to his car, out of the hospital, leaving his things behind. There's that shot, of one man carrying the other. They've both saved each other's lives. And here's their final moment together:
Rust:You know, you're looking at it wrong, the sky thing.
Mary: How's that?
Rust: Well, once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning.

A few Kimmy Schmidt quotes

Dang this series had some good writing behind it. I can't recall my favourites so here are a few culled from the internet for posterity:

- Jacqueline: You’ll need to get here by 6:00 every morning to wake Buckley up for school, then get me up at 10:00, but don’t wake me up.

- In order to fix ourselves, we have to start right here. Find that small unbreakable you inside yourself.
- Be you. Be what you want. Then become unbreakable.

- Xanthippe: Kimmy Smith from Middletown, Ohio, I’ve been Googling you.
Kimmy: You have? I didn’t feel it.

- Jacqueline: I look so sad. What filter is this?
Kimmy: None. Hashbrown, no filter.

- Xanthippe: I don’t get you guys. You did all this for Kimmy? She’s the worst.
Lillian: Sure, she’s not perfect. She smiles too much, like a collie. And red hair, brown eyes? Guess God ran out of crayons.
Titus: But he wasn’t out of whatever makes people good.

- Xanthippe: Hey Kimmy. 1996 called. It wants its clothes back.
Kimmy: Hey, Xan. 2090 called. You’re dead, and you wasted your time on Earth.

- Xanthippe: I’ve been watching you, Kimmy.
Kimmy: I know. That’s why I picked my nose earlier… to gross you out. Yeah, BURNT!

- Titus: I envy you. I’ve never been able to meet me.

- Kimmy: I’m so sorry! I was up all night. All my money got stolen, and I haven’t had a clock since my Tamagotchi died.

- Kimmy: Troll the respawn, Jeremy!

Book: Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done is a popular book about being more efficient. I found it overly elaborate and laboured, and thought it was more daunting than liberating. It would perhaps have been better as a short pamphlet that focused on the key concepts.

After reading this book, I have contemplated creating an efficiency system along the lines of GTD's recommendations, but one that is sufficiently reduced so as to keep the task of organisation as simple as possible. It would start with the basic the todo list and then I imagine it would evolve into something along these lines:

Precursor: Collection bucket (a dumping ground of stuff to be sorted, to be cleared each week)

(1). Maybe-Someday list: A list of things I would like to do one day, or consider doing (e.g. learn a new skill, take up a hobby, plan a trip, buy a car, clean old bookmarks, learn a language, watch movie [sublist], books [sublist], etc).
(2). Back-burner list: Things to either come back to when time or interests allow. E.g. Have I started a course of learning but am short of time at present?
(3). To do list: Actionable items.
(4). Project list: Live projects
(5). Completed log

The collection bucket, and (1) and (5) would be kept electronically but (2), (3) and (4) would need to be physical, kept not in a file but somewhere in view. I can see this level of organisation being helpful.

The key development for me would be not putting everything into one messy list, which I have a tendency to do. 

I would have to be careful about not treating the lists like wish lists or shopping baskets, that is to say, feeling like they need to have stuff in them. An empty list is also just fine. For me, it is not about doing more, just doing better. Also, the system wouldn't be a catch all for anything and everything, but would instead act as more of a facilitator to be used as appropriate. it's more suited to discrete tasks.



- New demands, insufficient resources: Work no longer has clear 'edges', which means it isn't clear when a piece of work has finished. Likewise for projects, the lack of edges make them potentially infinite.
- The 'Ready State' of the Martial Artist: martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation. Clearing the mind and being flexible are key. 'If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything' - Shunryu Suzuki.
- Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve.
-' Life is denied by lack of attention.'
- Consider how many things you feel even the smallest responsibility to change, finish, handle or do something about.
- If your mind isn't clear, your mind isn't clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a collection bucket (otherwise it keeps popping up in your mind at random points, creating anxiety). Then you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to progress toward fulfilling it. Once you have decided on the required actions, you must keep reminders of them and review them regularly (what is the next physical action required, and when you are going to do it).
- Getting everything out into the system frees mindspace.
- 'Rule your mind or it will rule you' - Horace.
- Much of the time, we haven't defined the next action steps, which keeps thought swimming in our minds. Think deeply about the required steps i.e. don't focus on the things, focus on the process and the actions.
- 'Vision is not enough it must be combined with venture. It is enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the steps.' - Vaclav Havel.
- Gather 100% of the 'incompletes' and process them in the system. Get them out of your head.
- You must have as few collection buckets as you can get away with (electronic, in-tray, folders, notepads, etc). You must empty them regularly.
- Review the system once a week.
- Think about the why's, the values driving the decisions.
- 'Only he who handles his ideas lightly is master of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them.' - Lin Yutang.
- Plan next actions only as much as you need to get the ideas out of your mind.
- Merely having the ability to be highly productive, relaxed and in control doesn't make you that way.
- Go for simplicity, speed and fun.
- Low tech may be better, to avoid out sight, out of mind. 
- 'Those who make the worst of their time are the first to complain of its shortness.' - Jean de La Bruyere.
- The system aims to give you a greater sense of control.
- Make it a living document by looking at it for a few seconds each day.
- How do you prevent broken agreements with yourself? (i) Don't make the agreement. (ii) Complete the agreement. (iii) Renegotiate the agreement.
- Use your mind to think 'about' things rather than 'of' things.
- The secret of getting ahead is getting started, and the secret of getting started is to break down your task into smaller tasks.
- Ask: 'So, what's the next action?'
- Keep your todo list action focused, e.g. not x's birthday, but 'buy x present'
- Talk does not cook rice - Chinese proverb
- 'Don't just do something. Stand there.'

Book: Confidence by Rob Yeung

This book is unadulterated self-help. The cover and tag line are strikingly naff but the content of the book is actually quite handy. It's all common sense, but as Yeung reminds the reader, 'understanding the principles is not the same as using them.' 



- 'Every man is the architect of his own fortune.' - proverb
- Being scared can't kill you. Think of some scary things that you have done and how they turned out.
- 'Do, Think, Feel'. If you let your feelings get the better of you, it creates a vicious loop that reinforces the negative and drains your confidence.
- Most of us live at such a furious pace that we don't get to ask how we're doing and what we want from life.
- Beliefs are not reality.
- Kick out the inner critic and replace it with an inner coach, a positive inner language.
- ANTs are automatic negative thoughts e.g. I can't do this, I'll never change, etc. When these pop into your head, they influence the 'Do, Think, Feel' cycle.
- "The greatest discovery of my generation is that people can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind." - William James, philosopher.
- Decide what you want in life, your values and goals, rather than what seems socially acceptable. True confidence comes from pursuing your own dreams, not those of the people around you.
- This above all else: to thine own self be true. - William Shakespeare
- To help uncover your values, think about how you have felt and acted in different situations. For me, values include challenge, learning, freedom, control, solitude, health, honesty, integrity, kindness, autonomy, personal growth, peace.
- Values drive behaviour. People in history have died for their values; you can at least learn to make better decisions and occasionally say no to people because of yours.
- Action before confidence. Your confidence grows as a result of your actions, not intentions. You have to 'start', in order to become confident.

- Rut busting: Ask what are the advantages of starting x now, what are the disadvantages. What are the excuses, what do you have to lose, and what can you reward yourself with afterwards.
- William James approach: Use positive body language to trigger retrospective rationality and give yourself a confidence boost. Trick your brain into thinking you are a confident person.
- Observe the body language of other confident people.  Think of Superman vs Clark Kent.
- Practice deep belly breathing to relax yourself when needed.
- We all get lazy with our postures. Try to be more conscious.
- Standing tall is not the same as tensing the muscles in your body.
- Smile
- It's easy to laugh when things are going well but it's important to laugh when things are going wrong. ]
- The clothes you wear affect your confidence.
- Eye contact: you typically look at someone for at least 80 to 90 per cent of the time when you're listening, dropping your gaze to around 50 per cent when you are talking.
- Speak slow, low and loud. Think about how others speak.
- Changes feel unnatural at first - you are trying to overcome habits of a lifetime.
- Use more positive language.
- Changing your behaviour is incredibly simple to understand and tough to practice.
- Work on a few things at a time only.
-' If you are going through hell, keep going' - Winston Churchill
- Think STRAIN when you are stressed: Scale (how big a deal), Time (how much of an issue will it be in six months), Response (has it been appropriate so far?), Action (what could you do to improve the situation?), Implications (what could you do differently next time?), Nourishing thought (what positive can you find in the situation?). These questions help you to look forward.
- Make of list of things that make you feel good and boost your confidence (walk outside, gym, music, talk to x, exercise, meditate, etc).  Use these are confidence boosting resources.
- Some people boost your confidence, others sap it.
- Help your work and home space to boost your confidence: e.g. ban sugary snack foods from your cupboards. Your environment is yours to shape.
- Invest in a confidence bank, a work-in-progress repository of your past successes and happy times - use it to fuel your mood and confidence. These are easily forgotten without deliberate refreshing. (consider, Feats, Achievements, Challenges, Triumphs).
- Practice mindfulness to focus on the here and now.
- Adopt positive versus negative views on success. E.g. I deserved to get the job vs none of the other candidates were any good, I did a good job vs I could have done better, etc.
- Be an active listener: most people like to talk about themselves. It can be handy to have a few questions ready to life conversations out of lulls. Have something to say! Give an answer that encourages further questions and discussion vs one word answers. Combine self-disclosure with facts. Don't pretend to be interested. You are there to enjoy yourself as well!
- When you feel nervous you tend to look inward, so focus your attention outwards, on what's going on, to help to diffuse some of the nervous energy.
-  Celebrate milestones.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book: The Business of America by John Steele Gordon

The author of this collection of entrepreneurial histories, John Steele Gordon, knows how to tell an exciting tale, and his passionate interest in business history is evident on every page. With sparky enthusiasm, Gordon admirably succeeds in turning a subject that could so easily be dry and boring into something fascinating, and he gets extra marks for extolling the virtues of the free market along the way. Also, there are clear hints of a libertarian bias in his writing, which for this reader is a rare but welcome breath of fresh air.


  • The author highlights the importance of organisation as a driving force. The full rigged ship of Colombus' era was extraordinarily expensive and new ways of financing were required to support full scale commercial exploration (beyond appeals to royalty).  Spain didn't develop these ways and soon stagnated while England and Holland developed the joint-stock company. This enabled investors to pool together resources and diversify their investments, limiting liability to the value of the stock (compared to the individuals full net worth in the case of partnerships).
  • The joint-stock company and the pursuit of profit was a key component in the settlement of New England. The investors who stayed at home in (Old) England were known as 'adventurers', which echoes today in the term 'venture capitalist'.
  • 1666: The first market 'corner' in New York. Frederick Philipse corners the wampum market. Wampum = beads made from clam shells that were traded with the Indians for furs. Philipse trained in carpentry and helped to build the wall that gave Wall St its name. In 1659 wampum inflation set in. Governor tried various measures that failed. Philipse bought up wampum and took much out it of circulation = value increased. Philipse was effectively acting as a one man central bank and he became the colony's richest citizen. 
  • 'Cornering' became prevalent in the early days of Wall St. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt twice cornered Harlem railroad stock and once Hudson railroad stock. In 1869 Jay Gould and Jim Fisk almost cornered the gold market.
  • Cornering reduced as size of stock increased and not various regulations are in place.
  • That said, when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market in the late 70's, they suffered greatly. In 1979 they had accumulated all the floating silver supply. But US Treasury had stocks and at the new high prices mines opened up. Even the metal value of some coins was worth more than the face value. The Hunts found themselves the only buyers left, and prices fell. The Hunts were margin-called and the price of silver lost more than half its value in a single day. By 1987 they had to file for protection.
  • In the 'Woolworth's Cathedral', Gordon starts off with Shelley's 'Ozymandias' poem and notes that men of power seek often seek immortality in stone, hoping that tombs, statues and palaces will remind the world of their greatness [Carnegie Hall, the Cooper Union, Rockefeller University, Paley Park, Whitney and Guggenheim Museums, etc.], even though, as Shelley highlights, the exercise is essentially barren.
  • Cod story and the Tragedy of the Commons: Cod can be over six feet long and weight over 200 pounds, and is quite sluggish and terrible for sports, but it is great for commercial fishing. It is also relatively boneless and easy to prepare (dried cod is crucial in a time without refrigeration), and is about 80 per cent protein. From Newfoundland to Massachusetts, there are a series of banks which provide the ideal conditions for the cod fish. When the secret became widespread, a cod rush followed and soon 60 per cent of the fish being eaten in Europe was cod, most if caught in North American waters.  Unlike gold and silver, cod is a renewable resource, but as new technologies were developed and exploited (new nets, higher powered engine boats, onboard freezing and eventually sonar), the rate of catching exceeded the rate of reproduction. The fish that were caught were first smaller than those caught previously, and then they became fewer and fewer.
  • The US has only produced three unique cheeses: Monterey Jack, Brick and Liderkranz. Adolph Tode, who owned a popular deli in New York, asked his cheesemakers to duplicate the German Scholosskaese cheese. 22 year old Emile Frey inadvertently came up with a new cheese which they tried on the members of the German singing club in New York called the Liederkranz society, who were enthusiastic. Demand eventually took off but when the company moved location, they couldn't replicate the cheese. The facilities were too clean. Frey bought the wooden parts of the old factory, which had the right microorganisms embedded in them, and installed them in the new factory . Voila. The cheese was back. In late 1980s, the decision was made to stop making the cheese (but it seems to have returned). 
  • The field of nutrition in the early days left plenty of room for cranks. 'There appears to be a nearly bottomless market for nutritional nonsense, just as there is for astrological advice. Hundreds of diet books are published every year in this country. Their authors crisscross the land on lecture tours to feed this longing for a Rosetta stone to the secret of good health and longevity and to make very tidy incomes in the process. The man who first discovered this market, and exploited it profitably, was an American named Sylvester Graham. He was an eloquent and forceful speaker and became a lecturer for a temperance society. He promoted abstinence from alcohol and sex, and plagiarised books on medicine, which was just turning into a science. When the cholera epidemic of 1832 hit the map, people flocked to hear anyone spouting advice (he ascribed cholera to 'excessive lewdness' and chicken pie. He went on to lecture widely, the underlying message being that anything stimulating was detrimental, including warm baths, meat, sweets, and alcohol, and stated that vegetables and bread should be the primary component of the diet. Legacy: The Kellogg brothers were influenced by him. Invented Graham crackers and Graham bread. Helped found the American Vegetarian Society. Insisted on frequent bathing. He was also known as 'philosopher of sawdust pudding'.
  • Oliver Evans' contributions have been overlooked due to his unsociable personality (he was bitter and combative). He died in 1819 but he is widely seen as the founding father of the American Industrial Revolution. Evans foresaw rail travel, which truly began in America 1828. "The time will come when people move in stages (stagecoaches) moved by steam engines, from one city to another, almost as fast as birds fly". He described how refrigerators would work, designed a solar boiler, a machine gun, a gas lighting system, and central heating systems. He also invented the high-pressure steam engine - in England, a similar engine was developed independently by Richard Trevithick. Evans created the first truly integrated industrial process in America, Evan's mill was the factory as a machine. Grain is poured in one end, and flour came out of the other. The manual input was just adjusting, maintaining and monitoring. But his contemporaries paid little attention. He patented the technology and over time it was taken up, aided by a how-to book written by Evans. He also built a steam dredge for Philadelphia harbour, which he converted into the first non-muscle powered car for the purpose of transporting it to the harbour.
  • Owing to the poor state of many roads, freight would often move by water of not at all. The US government granted monopolies to the early steam operators (prior to steam, freight flowed downstream on rafts etc and was dragged upstream along the shoreline by human effort.) The monopolies became hated by the public and potential competitors. When the New York monopoly was ruled against in 1824, the number of steamboats operating went from six to  forty-three.
  • While the first Atlantic passenger service was in sailing ships, steam quickly replaced sail. But the steam passenger business was rarely profitable, and mostly depending on government subsidies to stay viable. The names of British liner were often preceded by the letters RMS, standing for Royal Mail Ship (i.e. big subsidies hidden in mail contracts). 
  • Henry Ford: 'I invented nothing new.' 'I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work..So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.'
  • Nathan Strauss: Born in 1848. Moved into the family retail business in 1881. Would wander around the store whistling popular tunes, provided a lunchroom with food at cost. The Strausses would invent bargain sales and exhibitions. They introduced odd pricing (e.g. $3.95 vs $4.00). Moneymaking had never been his sole concern and he dabbled in politics and philanthropy (in the terrible winter of 1893-94, he provided meal tickets to fully 1.5 million people), and worked tirelessly to secure a safe milk supply for children, setting up pasteurised milk stations in the poor areas of New York, giving away free milk. His national efforts are estimated to have saved the lives of 445,800 children. He left not a penny of his estate, worth around $1m, to charity, stating: 'What you give for the cause of charity in health is gold, what you give in sickness is silver, and what you give in death is lead.'

Book: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

A hundred pages or so into Breakfast of Champions, I gave it a 'meh' and quit reading. The book is highly rated by the wider public and it has some nice paragraphs. However, it just didn't work for me as a whole. The unique style and format started to grate after a while I kept thinking 'there are better books to be reading', which is a sure sign to stop.


"The sea pirates were white. The people who were already on the continent when the pirates arrived were copper-colored. When slavery was introduced onto the continent, the slaves were black.
  Color was everything.

  Here is how the pirates were able to take whatever they wanted from anybody else: they had the best boats in the world, and they were meaner than anybody else, and they had gunpowder, which is a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulphur. They touched the seemingly listless powder with fire, and it turned violently into gas. This gas blew projectiles out of metal tubes at terrific velocities. The projectiles cut through meat and bone very easily; so the pirates could wreck the wiring or the bellows or the plumbing of a stubborn human being, even when he was far, far away.

  The chief weapon of the sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was much too late, how heartless and greedy they were."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Proustian terrorism

The Pen is Mightier Than the ... Laptop. Put in more effort for deeper learning.

A recent study finds that taking notes by hand leads to better retention of conceptual content compared against taking notes by laptop:

"Taking notes on laptops rather than in longhand is increasingly common. Many researchers have suggested that laptop note taking is less effective than longhand note taking for learning. Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning."

On a related note, TED lectures, tv documentaries, Coursera and Edx are all great content delivery mechanisms but they can sometimes create the illusion of learning because the knowledge is too cheaply acquired. Enjoying all this wonderful content is commendable, but to learn more deeply we need to engage with the material, make notes, discuss and ask and answer questions (i.e. increase the mental expenditure to increase the mental benefit). I know I spend too much time skimming information, and not enough time delving into the depths. I partly blame myself for this but also the fact that we live in a hyper-linked world, which makes skimming so easy.

The old trope

It may be that I've only started to notice, but it seems the words 'trope' is popping up everywhere. It's the 'trope trope'.

Below is a chart using Google's cool ngram tool, which delves into the legion of digitised, printed literature and plots the occurrence of user-selected words (to make year-on-year comparisons fair, ngram normalises the findings for the number of publications).The word 'cliche' put up a good fight to 'trope' and withstood the upstart's rise in the 1990s, but 'all good things must come to an end'.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Country music - Indian Outlaw

I have deleted a hip-hop station on my digital radio and replaced it with a country music station. It could just be due to the novelty value, but I'm enjoying the change way more than I should

This one's a cracker:

Book: The Knowledge-Value Revolution by Taichi Sakaiya (learnings from an out-dated book)

The 'business' section of any charity bookshop is a pretty depressing sight, being little more than a brief stopping point before the final destination: the recycling centre. It is from this nether-region that I plucked "The Knowledge-Value Revolution", an obscure futurist book written in 1991, well before the internet era.

The Knowledge-Value Revolution is sprawling in its thesis and it can be difficult to grasp exactly what the author is getting at. Broadly speaking, Sakaiya surveys the history of civilised man in an effort to pick out trends, to draw out how we got to the present day, and to predict what our future may look like based on the social paradigms that he expects to dominate. The central transition he sees underway is a move from an industrial society to a knowledge-value society, where knowledge is defined in a much broader sense than we see it (see quotes below for more). 

The book was was worth a scan read as it reminds us that even before information technology went into hyperdrive with the internet, a knowledge revolution of a sort was already underway, at least according to Sakaiya. Also, the book is a work of original thought and is littered with many interesting observations and ponderings that that act as a springboard for the reader's own thoughts, which is always a good thing.

  • Sakaiya says that to search for the literal meaning of 'knoweldge-value' is to miss the point, that there is no strict equivalent to the Japanese word, 'chi'. In the context of the book is can mean 'knowledge', 'wisdom', 'intelligence', 'sophistication'. Context provide the pointers as to which meaning is being stressed. Me: Provides an important learning about communication and the importance of context, especially when direct translation is involved.
  • 'it is not enough to simply predict that there will be change. Those who live with the actuality of what society will become are naturally most anxious to know what sort of world will emerge in the wake of these changes. Me: There is an element of reflexivity at play here. Also, speaks to the futility of forecasting and the innate desire to know our future vs living with uncertainty.
  • 'The US as a culture possess a tremendous capacity of dispatching information throughout the world, but there are only a few routes that news travelling in the direction from Asia to America can take'. Me: Universality of English language has historically made the West a culture exporter not importer, let alone to speak of the other forces.
  • 'I can't help thinking that to take a wave theory derived from observations of industrial society and apply it to the medieval experience is a perilous enterprise.' Me: Brings to mind the adage that history may rhyme, but it rarely repeats.  
  • 'It is easy for the Japanese of my generation, who have known nothing but rapid economic growth their entire lives, to assume such growth is a natural state.' Me: It did all change for Japan, as they entered into a stagnation that has lasted several decades. There are lessons for house price growth and other economic and social characteristics that we experience and project to be the new norm. We are lulled into a false sense of security (or the opposite), as we anchor to the recent past and to our recent experience. 
  • Posits that rapid world economic growth kick started with cheap energy, as giant oil fields were discovered from the 1930s onwards. In real terms, the cost of oil fell and fell. Technologies developed to take advantage > synthetic fibres (nylon had been invented but became economical to mass produce) > led to surpluses of cotton, wool, etc > Farmers started growing crops such as soybeans instead. Combined with chemical fertilisers, agricultural production took off and food production grew at an even faster pace than population growth. Cheap energy shaped the modern world, affecting everything from transport to manufacturing to farming. 
  • A useful reminder on signalling of wealth: 'When it comes to labour intensive enterprises, nothing can compare with the Japanese garden. Each tree must be twisted and tortured into an exotic and entirely artificial shape every spring and every fall. Let nature take its course for even two years and the damage is irreversible. Therefore, large-scale gardens in impeccable condition presented irrefutable evidence of the property owners having maintained a formidable staff over decades.
  • Rapid economic growth reduced the need for labour and the changing environment was reflected in the Japanese aesthetic. 'Abuse and contempt are heaped on households that employ too many domestics.' The modern aesthetic is concrete, glass, air conditioning, and switching systems. Convenience dominates. Materials and energy are the name of the game when it comes to defining luxury. The shift went from conserving resources to reserving manpower. Americans arrived this consumerist ethic well before the Japanese.Using up a lot of 'stuff' became the spiritual core, a type of materialism or consumerist philosophy (influenced by cheap energy leading to cheap materials).
  • 'Anything that contributes to this purpose we have come to deem 'rational', while other activities tend to be dismissed as 'irrational and anachronistic' and worthy of bemused contempt.'
  • By the time the 18th century was over, the ascetic medieval philosophy that rejected greed and sought beauty in restraint and the repression of desire was on the way out. Me: a good lesson to not get caught up in the aesthetic of the time as a fixed, or an innately 'right' aesthetic, but as a choice.
  • 'The cultural values of today's advanced nations are based on ethic and aesthetics of industrialism.'
  • Discusses the 'empathetic impulse' to conserve energy, based on the pessimistic outlook for energy. Me - it was a misplaced forecast that we would see oil fields drying up ...yet, real or iluusory, the view affected the aesthetic. Based on the response to the recent oil price spike, it's safe to say that price is the biggest driver of this aesthetic Sakaiya goes on to discuss how the recession of the early 1980s led to a rise in demand for smaller car, and how the trend didn't fully reverse when the economy recovered.
  • As environment issues grew, the aesthetic changed: growing satiation with material goods and a yearning for 'spiritual riches' as well as greater 'quality of life'. Quality vs quantity.
  • Argues that in the future, the 'knowedge value' inherent in a product will be the key driver of its value. i.e. becomes about how much wisdom, self-worth, accumulated wisdom of the maker, etc is in the product?
  • 'What gives a society its identity, what makes it what it is or determines what it becomes, is not simply the sum of what it has or what exists in it, but what is has in it that it considers important.' Me: Catch 22? What is important is that which is scarce? Brings in ideas about self determination, the existential question of creating meaning when there is none, and imagined realities. 
  • Note, unlike underlying intrinsic commodity values, which may be cyclical, when a certain knowledge-value is no longer prized, Sakaiya says that it is unlikely to come back into fashion.
  • Talks about how computers became able to convert knowledge (data) in to wisdom (information judgement based on a comparison of situations). Foresees growth of knowledge and wisdom at home and in the workplace, leading to an abundance of wisdom. 'The creation of knowledge-value in and of itself will be the main source of economic growth and corporate profits.'
  • Knowledge-value permeates everything. It is not just about services but about embedding this value in products, in the design, image, etc. The aesthetic becomes one where there is more renunciation of material goods. Marketing becomes not about increasing awareness but about adding knowledge value, raising the utility curve of the consumer. The value created by marketing in a knowledge-value world has an independent subjective existence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

tsundoku just got a whole load worse

I got paid today and decided to spend a portion of the ill-gotten payola on some books at the local charity shop. Authors netted in the haul included the likes of Aldous Huxley, Nabokov, Khalil Gibran, Theodore Zeldin, Muriel Spark, Balzac, Primo Levi and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a great many great books for little money (£13.50). Several of the books are old and well worn, with yellowed pages and that wonderfully musty smell I find so appealing ... aah yes, that sweet, comforting 'book must' with hints of wood, grass and perhaps even vanilla.

I want to read these all these books, I really do, but I must recognise the futility of the task ahead and accept that these purchases will most likely serve as a feedstock for my stalagmites of unread books (picture below). The Japanese call this tsundoku.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cleaning out the Thinkpad X200 hard-drive ... it got bloated...eugh!


I have just spent the past hour cleaning up my hard-drive and am happy to report that the old laptop's sudden transition from Lightning Jack to Slothful Slug has been reversed. I'm not one for downloading endless bits and pieces, so was surprised to see that the machine only had a couple of gig of hard drive space left, of a 140 GB total.

Here are some lickety-quick steps to take to reclaim your ones and zeroes:

1) Run CCleaner (free) - I do this on a routine basis so it had little impact this time around.

2) Download a great little programme called Treesize. This allows you to see where the memory is  being eaten up. e.g.

3) What nonsense is this RRbackups's eating up half of my hard drive! I would never have found it without Treesize because the folder is cheekily hidden from view.

It turns out that RRbackupsis a folder that Thinkpads create to save backed up versions of the machine. My "ThinkVantage" system was set to create these back-ups each week, hence the massive file size. Solution: disable the back-up functionality and delete all the subfolders in RRbackups. Result: 50GB saved!

4) In windows, go to "View Advanced System Setting" > "Protection" and reduce the slider to about 10%. This means that Windows will only keep restored versions of the machine going back a few weeks, but that suits me fine. Saving: 10GB

5) Run DiskCleanup and run the Windows Update Cleanup (0.5GB). Annoyingly, when Windows Updates are installed, loads of patch 'sxs' files are saved to the WinSXS folder. Mine is over 12GB but I could only savely remove 0.5GB using the above tool. I'm wouldn't remove these manually unless you know what you are doing (in which care, I suspect you might decide to leave them put anyway).

That's the low hanging fruit and it's plenty sufficient to make my machine perform like a young buck again.

: )

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A lament: my room doesn't get any natural sunlight

And we all need natural sunlight.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Gym - tips and exercises

It's that time of the year when I dust off the old gym trainers, read up on the latest exercises (see above), and head on down to the local gymnasium, where I have paid good money to lift some stuff up and put it back down. 

I've learned that I work out best when I don't get involved in researching the latest ideas about optimum techniques or the latest work out crazes, don't buy health magazines, don't follow a set regime with strict targets ("Sinner!", I hear you cry out), don't pay attention to the latest studies. I try to keep it as simple as possible. I put my trainers on, am broadly mindful of getting enough protein, follow the general tips below, and choose random exercises from the menu I've put together over the years (also below), depending on my mood and what's available at the gym. That's it. The aim is general fitness and mood lifting, not to achieve a particular physical ideal beyond improved posture and slightly more mass.

Below are some general tips and exercises, copied out from my notebook:

One of the few neutral images I was able to find - most seem to be narcissistic or are signalling an ethos I don't find particularly appealing.

  • Keep the body tight and the core engaged
  • Train basic - act, enjoy
  • Squeeze the contraction and control the negative portion
  • Slow, controlled movements. Minimise momentum
  • Breathe
  • Progress progressively and don't 'work through the pain'
  • Watch for joint lock-outs and flaring of the joints
  • Growth comes from time-under-tension
  • Drop sets: Go to failure, reduce weights, repeat.
  • Pyramid sets: High reps, low weight up to low reps, high weight
  • Protein: RDA 0.8g per kg of bodyweight, or 1-2g/ per kg if training. (for me = approx 100-120g per day)
  • Possible split routine. Chest, Back, Triceps / Legs, Shoulders, biceps / Cardio and core. 2-3 exercises per body part. 45m to 1 hour max.
Abdominals and Core
  • Ab-wheel roll outs
  • Ab-wheel side rolls
  • Ab-wheel tips: Arch back and crunch abs at start like a cat > push hips out and wheel forward. > When hips are in a straight line, roll out to the max. Don't drop or engage the lower back.
  • Russian Twists - sit in a v-shape, exhale and rotate the body side to side either clasping hands or holding a plate.
  • Cable woodchops
  • Standing cable lifts (reverse of above)
  • Lying leg raise
  • Leg raise crunches
  • Hanging leg raise
  • Full rotation leg/knee raise
  • Crunches
  • Cross body crunches
  • Kneeling rope crunch
  • Hang from pull up bar
  • Farmer's walk
  • Wrist curls (palms up and palms down)
  • Hammer rotations
  • Reverse bicep curl
  • Wrist rolls (use barbell and roll up like a newspaper, keep arms stationary)
  • Standard curls
  • Alternating hammer curls
  • Alternating hammer and twist
  • E-Z curls
  • Cable curls
  • Concentration curls
  • Incline hammer curls
  • BB/DB curls lying face down on ncline bench
  • Overheard cable curls
  • Spider curls
  • Zottman curls
  • One arm kick-backs
  • Seated one-arms overhead extension
  • 2 handed o/h extension
  • Cable tricep press downs (normal and reverse grip)
  • Tricep overhead rope extension
  • Skull crushers
  • Bench dips
  •  Seated DB press
  • Cable/DB internal and external rotations
  • Arnold press
  • Side lateral raise
  • Cable face pulls 
  • Car drivers
  • Rear delt flyes/reverse flyes with ext.rotation
  • Front raises
  • Side laterals leading into front raise
  • Standing military press 
  • DB shrugs
  • Standing DB upright row
  • Smith machine shrugs
  • DB bench press (+ incline)
  • DB flyes (think you're hugging a tree)
  • Incline DB flyes
  • Push-ups
  • DB pull-overs 
  • Low cable cross-overs
  • Standard cable cross-overs
  • Chin ups
  • Reverse grip bent-over rows (DB/BB), palms in/out
  • Bent-over row with DB
  • Pull ups
  • One arm rows
  • Seated cable rows
  • Rack pull deadlifts (like the second portion of the deadlift)
Back/Legs Compound
  • Deadlift
  • Tips: Stand in front of BB (bar over feet but not quite touching the shins), push from heels up. As approach standing position, pull shoulder blades together (like a soldier standing to attention). Don't think of pulling the bar but of standing up (natural movement). Imagine a cord is pulling you up from the head. 
  • Farmers walk
  • Goblet squats
  • Dumbell calf raises
  • Leg press machine  (also use for calf extensions)
  • Stiff legged Romanian deadlift
  • DB lunges
  • DB squat

Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Sunday Sermon. "Shipwrecked" by Vincent Deary

A couple of Sundays back I went to a public lecture organised by "The School of Life". The talk was titled 'Shipwrecked' and the speaker was the health psychologist Vincent Deary, who has just published a book called "How to Live". I found the talk a bit meandering and lacking in substance. It seemed that Deary had spent some time contemplating life, made some observations about habit and change, and then embellished his thoughts with quotes from contemporary and ancient culture. The most valuable, indirect lesson from the talk is that we all walk our own journey and its up to each of us to make sense of it in our own, unique way...and perhaps for some people, their way is to write it all down and then send their thoughts off to the publishers.

I've just had a quick search and Deary's next books will be called 'How We Break' and 'How We Mend'. It feels a bit like the Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games movies, in that Deary's books are being stretched out unnecessarily. This would also explain why the talk seemed to lack substance.

As a side note, I used to like books with wise quotes pulled from here and there, but these days I am wary of the possibility that the author doesn't have enough original content, and that decoration with quotes may be a strategy to boost credibility.

And now I am wary of my growing cynicism.

: S

A few random notes for the eternal repository:

- It is the encroachment or disruption to our lives and our habits that makes life interesting.
- 'be careful what you get good at' - (Rust from the series True Detective)
- The idea of liminality: no longer/not yet
- On habits: We are homeostasis machines in that we strive to maintain the status quo.
- There seems to be a pervasive cultural discourse of brokenness i.e. broken society, we are not sitting properly, eating properly, etc. It's a 'we are not quite right' message. There is a message about being your true self, but the self is fluid in nature.
- "To live is to feel oneself lost." - Jose Ortega y Gasset

Book: Adventures in Stationery by James Ward

In this book about the history of stationery, James Ward has managed to the make the boring fascinating. Each chapter tells the story of a different piece stationery (e.g. the pencil, the stapler, the post-it note). Ward has clearly done his research. The book is fact filled but not at the expense of narrative, which is a good thing too as it seems every item on our desk has an interesting story to tell.
While the final chapter ('Tomorrow's World') notes that the ability to record information digitally reduces the need for pen and paper, Ward concludes with the message that the pen is not dead. I agree that the pen will be with us for the foreseeable future, but it's pretty clear that we have passed the point of 'peak stationery'. This makes Ward's book all the more important as a social document. It comes at an interesting time when stationery is still with us but it's decline is at the point where we view it with a romantic lens. Remember the smell of wood shavings when you sharpening a pencil. The reassuring sound of the wood being shaved and the lead being ground back to a sharp point, the peelings slowly furling up off the sharpener and falling away into the waste paper basket? I'll stop now before this turns into a surreal Mills & Boon story.


  • The common paper clip is known as the 'gem', named after the British company that successfully marketed the design. 
  • Herbert Spencer claims to have invented the paperclip in 1846 ('binding pin'), but his design was only a modest success in the first year of production. Spencer blamed his business partner and also the 'insane desire' of the public for novelty.
  • Drawing pin design was advanced upon by an American, who created the push pin (like a drawing pin but with a cylindrical head). The push pin falls flat when it falls to the ground, didn't corrode with photographic paper, and is easy to remove.
  • BIC crystal pen - released in 1951. Even back then it was in the hexagonal design. Other ball pens existed but the BIC didn't dry up or leak so readily.  25m pens shipped in the first year alone. Aggressive marketing followed and by 1958, BIC were producing a million pens a day.
  • To advertise the 0.8mm tip, Ryamond Savignoc created the BIC mascot.
  • Lazlo Biro is the inventor of the ballpoint pen. The story runs that he was sitting in a cafe watching children play marbles, and he a marble leave a trail of water as it rolled through a puddle. Biro sued Bich for patent infringement but over time Bic bought the majority of shares in Biro.
  • Cai Lun is credited with inventing paper as we know it, in the 1st century AD. The process was known before Cai Lun so it's difficult to say whether he only refined it, or whether he discovered it and refined it. The process involved boiling cloth and bark, beating it to a pulp to produce fibres, leaving the paper to dry and then polishing it smooth with a stone. The process spread to the Arab world and across to Europe.
  • In the 1800s in Europe, the wood based method of paper production that we know today was invented. Note, the Bank Of England still uses cotton fibre in its notes, which is more durable.
  • The yellowing of paper is due to the lignen - this is removed by a chemical process in some processes but lignen is still present in cheaper papers (e.g. newspapers).
  • The paper sizes of A4, A3 etc are used widely although North America hasn't adopted the format and still uses 'letter format', 'tabloid', etc.
  • Steinbeck: "You know I am really stupid. For years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not the pencils but me. A pencil that is all right some days is no good another day. For example, yesterday, I used a special pencil soft and fine and it floated over the paper just wonderfully. So this morning I try the same kind. And they crack on me. Points break and all hell is let loose. This is the day when I am stabbing the paper. ....It is always well to be prepared. Pencils are a great expense to me and I hope you know it. I buy them four dozen at a time. When in my normal writing position the metal of the pencil eraser touches my hand, I retire that pencil. ....I have fine prejudices, lazy ones and enjoyable ones. It occurs to me that everyone likes or wants to be an eccentric and this is my eccentricity, my pencil trifling."
  • When France declared was on England in 1793, the French Minister of War instructed Jacques Conte to create a design that didn't rely on imported graphite from the Borrowdale mines (near Keswick). Conte developed a technique to combine powdered graphite with clay (and then firing in a kiln) to produce the pencils we use today.
  • Nuremberg was a major trading centre and merchants traded in the graphite from the Borrowdale mines. The region gave birth to Staedler and Faber-Castell (just outside Nuermberg).
  • The different pencil grades are achieved by varying the ratio of clay to graphite. Harder leads produce lighter lines. H = Hard. B = Blacker.
  • The Japanese technology company 'Sharp' used to be called the 'Ever Ready Sharp Pencil', named after it's product, the first popular mechanical pencil.
  • Erasers: Stale bread used to be used. This was replaced by milky tree sap, or gum elastic. Early rubbers would degrade severely with temperature changes. Charles Goodyear invented the process of vulcanisation but he sent sample to British companies before patenting the idea. The product was reverse engineered and Goodyear died in debt.
  • In 1888 the pencil and eraser became one. 
  • Liquid paper (US version of Tip-Ex) was created by Bette McMurrary, a secretary who saw artists painting sign board and going over errors with white paint. 
  • Helix invented the compass in 1894. Over 100m stationery kits have been sold to date.
  • Highlighters: Yukio Horie invented the first fibre tip that gave birth to the highlighter. The fibres make the nib act like a brush, soaking up the liquid from the body of the brush. Horio's pen, called a 'Sign Pen' was named Time magazine's product of the year in 1963. 
  • In the 1960s Schwan introduced two fibre-tipped pens in the market. The shape of the Stabilo BOSS highlighter is the result of a frustrated designer slamming his fist on a clay model design. The product was so successful that in 1976 the company changed its name to Schwan-STABILO.
  •  Pritt-Stck history credits a woman on the same flight as a research was on; when she started using a lipstick, it gave the researcher the idea.
  • Scotch tape is named so after a complaint that the makers were being too stingy, or "Scotch (Scottish)" with the adhesive. 
  • Hole-punch: ISO 838 determines that the distance between the holes should be 80mm and the holes should have a diameter of 6mm, and the centre of the holes should be 12mm from the edge of the paper. The US uses a different system, adopting a three hole approach which is incompatible with the rest of the world.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Coca cola, HTC and advertising associations

Coca Cola have launched a 250ml sized can, a savvy move as the 330ml sized can pose a bit of a challenge to this humble blogger's digestive system. And with my local store selling three of the new smaller sized cans for a pound, they could well have a new customer. Black poison, I welcome you back in to the fold with open arms.

It's interesting how large corporation use marketing to create emotional associations with their products. In one marketing drive, Coca Cola associate their drink with happiness ("open happiness"). Philosophers have been searching for happiness for eons, if only Coca Cola had told them sooner. But this is not just any happiness, no, this is a special kind of happiness, the kind that decays your teeth and leaves you unable to sleep. Still, three cans for a pound.

Also, note how companies such as the mobile tech giant hTc (it does look like they have an upper case T in the middle of their logo) are appealing directly to our baser instincts. The adverts below are from hTc's latest product launch. They say buy the phone so the 'Others' will stare and drool over your status symbol. Of course, the truth is that the 'Others' won't care after an initial 'hey, so you got a new phone, neat'. The real learning for people who buy the phone on the back of the marketing will be that other people are too busy being focused on themselves, and that any attention they pay to you will be fleeting. Each person is the center of their own world and a new phone ain't gonna change that. It is a useful lesson to learn. hTc, I may have underestimated your subversive intentions!

In contrast, L'Oreal's long running 'because you're worth it' campaign appeals to the ego and the vanity of the individual but at least it's appealing to an inner self worth, although it's a bit ironic that the product is one that 'improves' how you look, largely to make the consumer more attractive in the eyes of others. 

Perhaps L'Oreal and hTC could benefit from a slogan swap?

Poem: Darkling by P.G. Wodehouse

Thanks to Plumptopia, I have rediscovered this gem of a poem by the great P.G. Wodehouse, or more accurately by the fictional Lancelot Mulliner in "Meet Mr Mulliner". Mulliner pens the piece when his Uncle asks for a poem to promote 'Brigg's Breakfast Pickle'.

My favourite line is 'I am a worm that wriggles in a swamp of Disillusionment'.

Just wonderful.

DARKLING (A Threnody)
(Copyright in all languages, including the Scandinavian)

Black branches,
Like a corpse’s withered hands,
Waving against the blacker sky:
Chill winds,
Bitter like the tang of half-remembered sins;
Bats wheeling mournfully through the air,
And on the ground
And nameless creeping things;
And all around
And Despair.
I am a bat that wheels through the air of Fate;
I am a worm that wriggles in a swamp of Disillusionment;
I am a despairing toad;
I have got dyspepsia.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Poems for 2015

Last year I challenged my terrible memory to memorise the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling. It's just about the right length to mumble to myself when I'm having a shower or when I'm walking to the gym. This year I am putting it to the squidgy, grey matter to memorise another poem. I wouldn't mind learning "Ozymandias"- if this proves too much, here are some simpler poems I've got in reserve:

Tourists by D.H Lawrence
There is nothing left to look at,
Everything has been seen to death.

There was young woman name Bright,
Who travelled at the speed of light.
She started one day,
In a relative way,
And returned the following night.

My Own Epitaph by John Gay
Life is a jest; and all things show it.
I thought so once; and now I know it.

And here are three haiku style poems by the Japanese monk Taigu Ryoken:

My Legacy
My legacy,
What will it be?
Flowers in the Spring,
The cuckoo in the Summer
And the crimson maples
Of Autumn...

The Thief Left it Behind
The thief left it behind,
the moon,
at my window.

Untitled melancholy reflection
I sit quietly, listening to the falling leaves.
A lonely hut, a life of renunciation.
The past has faded, things no longer remembered.
My sleeve is wet with tears.

Friday, April 03, 2015

30 Rock

I am not-so-slowly but surely enjoying my way through 30 Rock, the best work-place comedy since The Office. Tina Fey is the primary star of this long-running show; she came up with the concept and it's got her mental paw-prints all over it (30 Rock is tonally very similar to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, another horse that emerged from the Fey stable). The central character, played by Fey, is Liz Lemon, a lead writer of a fictional comedy series who is nerdy and socially inept, and who is constantly struggling to keep things together. Soon after her boss Jack Donaghy meets her, he sums her up as a 'New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says 'healthy body image' on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for...a week'. Donaghy is the 'Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric', and is nailed by Alec Baldwin. Unlike some company bosses in comedies who are cruelly funny (think The Office or The I.T Crowd), Donaghy not only plays the corporate game but he believes in the game so much it's a kind of worship. However, Donaghy is also good hearted enough that you want to see him succeed. The most surprising character is Jenna Maroney, the singer-actress played by Jane Krakowski. At first, I didn't think much of the character but her lines are great and and the comedic acting of Krakowski is top-notch.

Wikipedia describes the comedy as absurdist, defined as ' form of humour predicated on deliberate violations of causal reasoning, producing events and behaviours that are obviously illogical. Constructions of surreal humour tend to involve bizarre juxtapositions, non-sequiturs, irrational or absurd situations and expressions of nonsense. The humour arises from a subversion of audience's expectations, so that amusement is founded on unpredictability, separate from a logical analysis of the situation.' 

Absurdism, artfully balanced so that it isn't outright surreal, lands in or near my sweet spot and ties in quite nicely with with my philosophical outlook on life. Talking of philosophy, I figured 30 Rock has been around long enough that somebody, somewhere must have posted some philosophical ramblings on the series. Well, 'Lo and behold!', a quick Google search later and I discover that an entire book written on the subject (and somebody has posted the entire thing to the net). I also discovered this wonderful site, which is the epitome of commitment ... bordering on scarily obsessive. Here are some choice gifs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


This BBC report on the ending of the EU milk quota system is unduly negative. It's true that small operators will suffer when prices come down and supply goes up, but the decision will be a great net benefit to consumers and efficient producers across the EU. For example, the Irish agricultural minister is very happy to see the change enacted as Ireland, a big dairy exporter, will finally be able to ramp up production.

In the 1980s the EU would guarantee prices to dairy producers, effectively removing market risk by being a buyer of last resort. Of course, supply sky rocketed and the EU had to buy up the surpluses (in 1986 the EU bought a whopping 1.23 million tons of unwanted butter). After this debacle, the EU moved to a system of quotas to restrict supply, which has the opposite effect; wine lakes and butter mountains are avoided but the market impediment also kept prices artificially high.

Finally, they have seen sense. Hue and Cry provide a most appropriate music video to celebrate: