Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book review: The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and The Sea, which I first read ten years ago, is just as good on the second visit. The style of writing is unique. It grabs you from the get-go and never lets up, taking the reader on the journey of a life-time with a tired old fisherman who is locked in a 'to the death' battle with a giant marlin.



...he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

No one would steal from the old man but it was better to take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local people would steal from him, the old man thought that a gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in a boat.

The old man opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from a long way away. Then he smiled.

 I can always come in on the glow from Havana. There are two more hours before the sun sets and maybe he will come up before that. If he doesn’t maybe he will come up with the moon. If he does not do that maybe he will come up with the sunrise. I have no cramps and I feel strong. It is he that has the hook in his mouth. But what a fish to pull like that. He must have his mouth shut tight on the wire. I wish I could see him. I wish I could see him only once to know what I have against me.

He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush.

'Fish,' he said softly, aloud, 'I'll stay with you until I am dead.'

'Fish,' he said, 'I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you before this day ends.'

I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.

He settled comfortably against the wood and took the suffering as it came and the fish swan steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water.

“But you have not slept yet, old man,” he said aloud. “It is half a day and a night and now another day and you have not slept. You must devise a way so that you sleep a little if he is quiet and steady. If you do not sleep you might become unclear in the head.” I’m clear enough in the head, he thought. Too clear. I am as clear as the stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and even the ocean sleeps sometimes on certain days when there is no current and a flat calm.

... I could go without sleeping, he told himself. But it would be too dangerous.

But the fish kep on circling slowly and the old mand was wet with sweat and tired deep into his bones...

I must hold the pain where it is, he though. Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad.

He saw him first as a dark shadow that took so long to pass under that boat that he could not believe its length.

But I must get him close, close, close, he thought. I mustn't try for the head. I must get the heart.

“Fish,” the old man said. “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too?” That way nothing is accomplished, he thought. His mouth was too dry to speak but he could not reach for the water now. I must get him alongside this time, he thought. I am not good for many more turns. Yes you are, he told himself. You’re good for ever. On the next turn, he nearly had him. But again the fish righted himself and swam slowly away. You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.

He felt the iron go in and he leaned on it and drove it further and then pushed all his weight after it. Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.

He’s over fifteen hundred pounds the way he is, he thought. Maybe much more. If he dresses out two-thirds of that at thirty cents a pound?

It was an hour before the first shark hit him.

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have the harpoon. The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not, he thought. Perhaps I was only better armed.

The old man knew a very bad time was coming.

“I shouldn’t have gone out so far, fish,” he said. “Neither for you nor for me. I’m sorry, fish.”

“Half fish,” he said. “Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both. But we have killed many sharks, you and I, and ruined many others. How many did you ever kill, old fish? You do not have that spear on your head for nothing.” He liked to think of the fish and what he could do to a shark if he were swimming free. I should have chopped the bill off to fight them with, he thought. But there was no hatchet and then there was no knife.

I should have some luck. No, he said. You violated your luck when you when too far outside.

The wind is our friend, anyway, he thought. Then he added, sometimes. And the great sea with our friends and our enemies. And bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing. It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought. “Nothing,” he said aloud. “I went out too far.”

The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying. Many fishermen were around the skiff looking at what was lashed beside it and one was in the water, his trousers rolled up, measuring the skeleton with a length of line. The boy did not go down. He had been there before and one of the fishermen was looking after the skiff for him.
“How is he?” one of the fishermen shouted.
“Sleeping,” the boy called. He did not care that they saw him crying.
“Let no one disturb him.”
“He was eighteen feet from nose to tail,” the fisherman who was measuring him called.
“I believe it,” the boy said.

Finally the old man woke.
“Don’t sit up,” the boy said.
“Drink this.” He poured some of the coffee in a glass. The old man took it and drank it.
“They beat me, Manolin,” he said.
“They truly beat me.”
“He didn’t beat you. Not the fish.”
“No. Truly. It was afterwards.”

Idea for comments

When I read interesting articles, I like to see what other readers are thinking by perusing the comments section. The problem is the default is for the comments to be sorted by 'date order' and you have to click on 'reader recommended' to view the comments that have been voted up by the crowd.

Why not reduce the font size by a few points and split the comments into two columns, with the most recommended comments in the left column and a river of the the latest comments in the right column. Simple.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Book review: A Christmas Momeory by Truman Capote

My edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's (pictured above) includes a short story titled 'A Christmas Memory'. This proved to be the true prize of the book, turning it in to a keeper.

I hope to return to this tale every year. It's just fifteen pages long and is perfect in every way.


Book quotes - Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Here are some more quotes from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
"... An agent could ask for more? Then wham! The Story of Dr. Wassell. You see that picture? Cecil B. DeMille. Gary Cooper. Jesus. I kill myself, it's all set: they're going to test her for the part of Dr. Wassell's nurse. One of his nurses, anyway. Then wham! The phone rings." He picked a telephone out of the air and held it to his ear. "She says, this is Holly, I say honey, you sound far away, she says I'm in New York, I say what the hell are you doing in New York when it's Sunday and you got the test tomorrow? She says I'm in New York cause I've never been to New York. I say get your ass on a plane and get back here, she says I don't want it. I say what's your angle, doll? She says you got to want it to be good and I don't want it, I say well, what the hell do you want, and she says when I find out you'll be the first to know."  
"She (Mag Wildwood) was a triumph over ugliness, so often more beguiling than real beauty, if only because it contains paradox. In this case, as opposed to the scrupulous method of plain good taste and scientific grooming, the trick had been worked by exaggerating defects; she'd made them ornamental by admitting them boldly. Heels that emphasized her height, so steep her ankles trembled; a flat tight bodice that indicated she could go to a beach in bathing trunks; hair that was pulled straight back, accentuating the spareness, the starvation of her fashion-model face. Even the stutter, certainly genuine but still a bit laid on, had been turned to advantage. It was the master stroke, that stutter; for it contrived to make her banalities sound somehow original, and secondly, despite her tallness, her assurance, it served to inspire in male listeners a protective feeling."

Book review - Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

My expectation of 'Breakfast at Tiffany’s' by Truman Capote was similar to my expectation of the film (still unseen); that it would be a breezy piece of enjoyable froth. I was far off the mark. Capote's famous short story is richly put together and the central character, Miss Holly Golightly, is far more complex than I had anticipated. This is a memorable piece of writing about the human condition and a great story to boot. Fantastic.

**** 1/2


‘I don’t want to own anything until I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.’ - Holly Golightly

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Video - How Olive Oil is Made

This short video explains the difference between traditional and modern olive oil manufacturing techniques: 

TV series: God of Noodles / Master of Revenge (South Korean)

The God of Noodles (aka The Master of Revenge) is an exquisite South Korean revenge drama series. The story starts of in a straight forward enough manner but quickly adds convolutions and twists to keep the viewer glued to the screen, anticipating where it will go next. The masterly villain Kim Gil-Do is played menacingly well by Cho Jae-Hyun.

It's the best drama I've seen so far in 2016. Seek it out and enjoy.


A nice summary video on Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy

Viktor Frankl: Logotherapy and Man's Search for Meaning

Book: Hitman Anders And The Meaning Of It All by Jonas Jonasson

Having greatly enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, I had high hopes for Hitman Anders. Unfortunately, this book didn't come close to Jonasson's debut novel. It was sufficiently interesting to keep me going through to the end but not in a good way...I was constantly hoping for the story to switch into a more gripping phase, but instead it just carried on as it started. The lack of endearing characters didn't help the case.

** 1/2 (if I knew what I know now I wouldn't have read this one)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Uses for WD40

I recently discovered that this oil-type spray is not the best for losening hinges and locks - you're better off using a thicker machine oil for those purposes. However, WD40 does work wonders in many other areas:

  • I just used permanent marker on my white board and it dried super fast. I sprayed on a little WD40 and it completely dissolved the ink in seconds. 
  • I've also used the spray to remove sticker residue from a CD case and from a washing worked a little miracle.
I'll be adding to this list as I try and test other uses.

It's a good thing I don't have a house

Otherwise I might have bought a manikin, which was on sale at BHS for a mere £40. It could have made for an excellent conversation piece, or possible garden statue.

BHS is in its final phases of administration, is even selling it's fixtures and fittings.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Car insurance - it pays to shop around

Having recently switched out my dinky 1.2 litre Vauxhall Corsa for a 2.0 litre Audi A3 with a modified exhaust (not my choice!), I was expecting my car insurance to really sting me this year. When I ran my details through two insurance search engines, they gave a best price of £520 for the year. Not too bad, I thought. Then I tried a third search engine, which enabled me to be a bit more accurate with my details, and this yielded a quote of just £430. I called my insurance company, who I've been with for a decade or so and said it was time to call an end to our beautiful relationship, or something to that effect. Well, the kind person on the other end of the line used their special powers (i.e. delegated discounting capability) to bring in a quote of around £353, which is even cheaper than what I'm paying for the Corsa.

Not a bad result for less than an hours worth of searching.

: )

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Brexit - changing of the guard..could've been worse

Theresa May is our new prime minister. It's too early to form a meaningful opinion but the fact that a 'remainer' is at the helm is surely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, from an economic transactional perspective we are in a much, much worse position than we were before. It's just that it could have been much, much worse.

Another FT tweet - income inequality

Macro: An eyebrow raising set of facts from BAML (via the FT's Twitterstream)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Pokemon Go!

What, I've only just learned about this?  Lord knows how distracted I would be if I owned a smart phone.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Brexit - how we decide things has changed

From Gillian Tett at the Financial Times:

"Before the referendum, British citizens were subjected to a blitz of advice about the potential costs of Brexit from “experts”: economists, central bankers, the International Monetary Fund and world leaders, among others. Indeed, the central strategy of the government (and other “Remainers”) appeared to revolve around wheeling out these experts, with their solemn speeches and statistics.

The pro-Brexit politician Michael Gove warned, “People in this country have had enough of experts,” and to some extent he was proved right: the country narrowly voted to ignore their advice and leave anyway. 

... citizens of the cyber world no longer have much faith in anything that experts say, not just in the political sphere but in numerous others too. At a time when we increasingly rely on crowd-sourced advice rather than official experts to choose a restaurant, healthcare and holidays, it seems strange to expect voters to listen to official experts when it comes to politics.

In our everyday lives, we are moving from a system based around vertical axes of trust, where we trust people who seem to have more authority than we do, to one predicated on horizontal axes of trust: we take advice from our peer group.

You can see this clearly if you look at the surveys conducted by groups such as the Pew Research Center...

What is even more interesting to look at, however, are the areas where trust remains high. In an annual survey conducted by the Edelman public relations firm, people in 20 countries are asked who they trust. They show rising confidence in the “a person like me” category, and surprisingly high trust in digital technology. We live in a world where we increasingly trust our Facebook friends and the Twitter crowd more than we do the IMF or the prime minister.

In some senses, this is good news. Relying on horizontal axes of trust should mean more democracy and empowerment for ordinary citizens. But the problem of this new world is that people can fall prey to social fads and tribalism - or groupthink.

“The rise of ‘a person like me’ has given birth to a ‘post-truth’ era, where comforting narratives and familiar messengers beat fact and argument,” points out Nick Barron, an Edelman executive. “Social echo chambers prevent effective scrutiny of individuals, organisations and campaigns that we think are on the ‘right side’ of an argument . . . ‘My truth’, ‘our truth’ and ‘the truth I feel’ beat ‘objective truth’.”

Either way, nobody is going to put this genie back into the bottle. So we all need to think about what creates the bonds of “trust” in today’s world. And recognise that the 20th-century model of politics, with its reverence for experts and fixed parties, may eventually seem as outdated as restaurant guides. We live in volatile times."

Brexit illustrated

Brexit - correlation is not causality

Listening to some interviews on the side of the Leave campaign, I hear some folk lament the 'good old days', you know, the days when you knew your neighbours etc. I've been focused more on the transactional aspects of Brexit but it sounds like the cultural aspect played a significant role in people's decisions. But there's a problem of attribution here. The sudden rise in immigration has been a cultural game changer in many areas but the rising trend of individualism was present regardless, and the good old days will not be coming back irrespective of our immigration policy. These trends are happening globally and are unavoidable. Similarly, the decline of the nuclear family, the rise in government paternalism, etc, these are all issues outside of Brexit.

I do buy a lot of the points the Leave campaign are selling, but my argument is that there is an element of bias in overweighting the emotionally evoking, visible negatives versus the invisible positives (e.g. benefits of free trade, principles of toleration and inclusiveness, encouraging foreign investment, wealth in terms of GDP, capital markets, housing wealth, job prospects, lower prices due to terms of trade, lower inflation and on and on and on).

In addition, when it comes to decisions of importance, I'm an advocate of minds ruling hearts, of rationality having the final say over emotions. The problem here is that emotions always come first, with self-justifying reasons following hot on the trail.

I do find all of this all terribly interesting. It is giving me a chance to apply some Stoicism and positive thinking, challenging the reactionary part of my brain that screams we are 'going to hell in a handbasket. It's also a bit of a spur to form a coherent view on some of the topics of the day instead of just spouting the received wisdom from the various camps I have a foot in.

Brexit observation - equity and bond markets so far

It's interesting to observe that the FTSE has recovered strongly since the initial Brexit shock, while the bond market rally (due to a flight to safety) has sent global bond yields tumbling even lower. The government can currently borrow money on a 10-year duration at just 0.86%.

It seems a bit odd that when the future economic outlook for a country's is pretty much rubbed out and replaced with a big question mark, when it's currency is decimated, when it's government creates the worse political vacuum seen in decades, and that when a country's credit rating is downgraded, that it's cost of borrowing plummets. This is how distorted the capital market has become. It is in no way a sign of faith in the plans of a country but reflects a shortage of safe assets globally. It is, nevertheless, very odd.