Friday, August 31, 2007
Faith in God through Jesus Christ may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques - whereas the only true way to wholeness is by yoga. No, that is just ridiculous.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Remarkably perhaps, nobody has yet asked me to apologise for any of the content in this blog. Give it time.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
There was no post yesterday, got home late, went for a drink after football as it was the last game here for an old friend. He was a client manager on a project with me a few years ago and we have continued to meet each week. Now he's off to another job.
But as I periodically emphasise, despite the consistent format, this is not a diary, it is more an offbeat look at business, management, economics and marketing. For example, if we can find unlikely parallels to office management style in the fictional world of Jake Bullett, House MD or Edmund Blackadder, then we can surely find some in The Office.
In many respects, David B of the office was a fine manager (the writers used different names outside the UK). He did not seem too involved with details but tried to focus on the necessary higher level strategising. However he knew it was important to motivate and enthuse his team. And he genuinely cared for them, not just around their day to day tasks but also by encouraging them to develop and grow. But despite his qualities, it seemed that some faceless bureaucrats in the corporation never really appreciated him.
Of course that was only a fictional character from a television show.
Monday, August 27, 2007
I have read more than a few of them, but I will not quote from business books here. They tend to either be obvious platitudes on working harder or more efficiently, self-help style psychology lessons, pleadings for unfettered capitalism, or biographies of people who have run out of new ideas. Scott Adams is a glorious exception. But the notes here are my personal ideas.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Let's pull the recent strands together. The house detective had a team of three classic muses, it worked for him. It is too soon for me to talk about my current team.
But I have managed many in the past. What is the ideal composition for the small team?
I was one of five consultants managing a trade processing project for a global merchant bank. Five apparently random names. But remarkably, in order of seniority, the surnames of the five of us ended with the letters A (the managing partner), E (me), I (the lead technical analyst), O (the lead business analyst), and U (the lead programmer).
In my mind, it was the ideal management team for an IT project. What were the chances of five people having abilities that complemented so perfectly? What were the chances of our surnames ending with those letters in that particular order? Multiply up the probabilities and we get one in zillions. It can't be a coincidence that we all seemed to gel so well. It was pre-destiny that brought us all together. Same conditions apply.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Typical scam, point to a loose tile on the roof or a damp patch on the wall, warn about tremendous potential damage unless hundreds of pounds of remedial work is performed as soon as possible.
Today, after literally years of exchanging nothing more than an occasional "hello", the guy from the house opposite us knocked on our door, showed me outside, and pointed to my roof. I was shocked. I took a picture...
A couple of rows of tiles had somehow worked loose, and were only being stopped from falling onto my car (or anyone close to the house) by a bit of guttering. If they dropped and shattered then next door's windows would be smashed too. It was very dangerous. I agreed.
So I spent an hour trying to phone every local roofer in the book. Bank holiday weekend, all either busy or absent. So I eventually plucked up the courage, found a very long ladder that seemed far too light for the task, and slowly went up to fix it myself. Well it's not completely "fixed", but I lifted the broken tiles out of their precarious position and brought them down safely. They aren't half heavy when carried in one hand when you're hanging onto a ladder twenty feet up with the other hand. But I did it. It's safe now. At least until it rains.
But back to the start, I'd just written about this very event. It is too much of a coincidence. It would only need one more condition to prove that everything happens for a reason, that there is someone watching over us, that there is a god, that there is a purpose in life ...
Friday, August 24, 2007
Here in the UK, it was the season finale yesterday. Well done Channel Five.
I've indirectly referred to the protagonist a few times now. I don't aspire to be the guy, we know he is an asshole. We are so different. I can't imagine him striving for honesty and integrity. He has no life outside of work whereas most of my life is outside of work. I watched it for entertainment, not do draw parallels. But something resonates...
He is rational and sensible but seems incredibly radical. He is sometimes wrong, of course, but he is right more than anybody else. He is right partially because he has far more experience and much greater breadth and depth of knowledge than the rest of the team. But mainly because he seems to be the only one who can make the necessary decisions without prejudice or superstition. The only one who seems able to resolve the myriad conflict pressures without freezing. It is a demonstration of management decisionmaking under pressure.
Incidentally the doctor had a team of three. A gentle young lady who seemed pure niceness but she hid a turbulent past. And two very different young men, one of whom at first appeared to be a mini-clone of the boss, but actually turned out to be a very different character. But the team has broken up now ...
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The GCSE results were released today. We got the annual predictable complaints, linguists say that not enough people are learning languages, chemists say that not enough people are learning chemistry, historians say that not enough people are learning history, and the same for every other subject. With whom do I agree? All of them! Maybe kids should never be allowed to leave school until they pass?
But I agree with the modernisers too. In the age of the internet, there is no need to learn so many facts by rote. What is important, regardless of subject, is the scientific method. Being able to analyse increasing numbers of apparently contradictory facts, opinions, trends, facts, customs, superstitions, developments in a critical manner, then being able to draw sensible conclusions.
But sometimes even the archetypal creative ends up doing fairly routine office tasks … maybe there should be special training just for bengalis to learn british bureaucracy … there used to be!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
On a smaller scale, there are plenty of televsion programmes in which fraudsters and con artists are exposed. Often it's a cross between extortion and theft, so a harsher term than hustler is probably needed. These people exploit victims who are confused and vulnerable.
Typical scam, point to a loose tile on the roof or a damp patch on the wall, warn about tremendous potential damage unless hundreds of pounds of remedial work is performed as soon as possible. The victim is initially scared, but the problem is fixed, the money is paid, and the victim feels better. We see even swifter results if the initial diagnosis was ridiculously overblown or maybe just a simple lie, then no real work at all needs to be done, but the victim can still pay their money and then be reassured that the house is structurally safe (again). The hustler gets his money and the victim feels better. Great?
But those cowboys practise theft and extortion. They should be locked up.
Swap victim's house for victim's health in this story. Would you care for some "alternative" medicine or "complementary" therapy?
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
At least it wasn't too hot. In fact it was cold, damp, windy, a typical autumn evening.
Hell. It's August.
Monday, August 20, 2007
A few years ago I was speaking outside work with a senior manager in a large consulting firm and the subject somehow came round to organ donation after death. He genuinely said that he would not allow anyone in his family do it, even to save another life, because his religion had prohibited it. Was he pious or stupid?
Anyway, there are other kinds of madness...Welcome to a dangerous new era - the Unlightenment - in which centuries of rational thought are overturned by idiots. Superstitious idiots. They're everywhere - reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about "chakras" and "healing energies", praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favour of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We've got to respect their beliefs, apparently.
Well I don't. "Spirituality" is what cretins have in place of imagination. If you've ever described yourself as "quite spiritual", do civilisation a favour and punch yourself in the throat until you're incapable of speaking aloud ever again. Why should your outmoded codswallop be treated with anything other than the contemptuous mockery it deserves?
That was Charlie Brooker previewing tonight's TV. Hmmmm.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Facebook is reaching critical mass in my generation. Once the majority of us have it, once it becomes the obvious place to see if someone has gone away on holiday, then the rest of us will be dragged in. Good.
Facebook is being corrupted. Too many loud pictures. Too many random things being thrown. Just too much activity. It will go the way of myspace. Bad.
So my blog notes stay in my blog.
But I brought this one here from Facebook.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
A lot of curry is eaten in the English-speaking world.
Completely obvious - English is adept at incorporating words from other languages, a fact that is splashed all over every one of the books listed here and surely in many more besides.
Slightly obvious - even if English is your mother tongue, there are moments when a word or phrase that is still technically "foreign" is the most obvious and most precise label for a particular thought. The more other languages you know, and the better you know them, the more often this happens.
So this is my suggestion for the OED. We really need this word. The word hot is the one usually used. But it is open to confusion almost every time it is spoken. Chilli is the other common adjective. But that doesn't seem right either. It's a very broad category of vegetable, and the sensation from a jalapeno is very different to that from an Indian pepper (perhaps only to the native, but I think it's fact).
The word should be used on restaurant menus. Then it would take off. It's the particular kind of hot caused by a particular kind of chilli. A madras is more jhal than a korma. It's a Bengali word, but most "Indian" restaurants are owned by people who speak a derivative of Bengali anyway. If tikka masala can enter the English dictionary, why not jhal?
Friday, August 17, 2007
Today the front pages of the UK press splash age-old conservative proposals as though they were news.
People say that a tax of 40% on the dead is unfair. Yes, surely a tax rate of 100% would be more fair.
If you want to give money away when you are alive, fine, you should not be penalised for doing it. But if you are dead then you don't need money.
It's a line that's been used before in a different context, but how can you say that every child should have equal opportunity if you also say that some children should have privileged opportunity.
If someone's ancestors gathered a large amount of capital illegally, for example by leading a norman invasion of a largely anglo-saxon area or by conducting other illegal wars, then does that mean that the descendants of the invaders should forever have a better start in life compared to those who were here first?
There are countering arguments. No-one should have to move out of their home just because a loved one has died. But remember that what one generation thinks is perfectly moral wealth acquisition is not always considered the same way a hundred years later. So if you should not be punished for the sins of your forefathers, then the converse must also be true.
And I know you disagree with this. Everyone seems to. But these pages are for thinking about alternatives, not for parroting predictable political policies.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Our brains work differently as we get older. Not just in the obvious things, but also I think in the fundamental structure of neurological connections. I threw in a bit of German a few notes ago. I found it very easy at school and did the GCE after just two years. Perhaps it was the rules and the logical structure, after all maths and science were also very easy. Yet I struggled in French. I never knew why. If this post is wrong, then I still don't.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Imagine that you are a normal schoolkid. Imagine that you and your family have lived in the same neighbourhood for hundreds of years, in the same house for generations. Your parents have jobs. Your friends live nearby. Maybe you were once in that position. Maybe you are now.
Then imagine that you are suddenly told that because you are part of a "minority" (even if that minority is many millions of people) you must leave immediately. You are not told in so many words, but your house is burnt down by a mob, and if you are lucky then you are not beaten to death. You cannot take anything with you, you have no money and no food, and you will have to walk hundreds of miles to reach relative safety. As you walk for week after week, many of those who escape mob attacks will die of exhaustion or starvation.
If you make it over the border to safety, then what's left of your family has to start again from nothing. It has to battle with a million others in the same position. No job. No land. No home. No money. No support. No history.
I also spoke with my parents yesterday.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
One of those occasional random personal posts. Top five reasons why Highlander is the best film ever.
1. The story. Perhaps it is not just a great long fight, maybe it has a deep resonance with ancient Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, trying to escape from an endless cycle of rebirth to strive for nirvana.
2. The casting. Christopher Lambert carries this constant air of unworldly detachment, and you can never quite place his accent. But that is only what you'd expect for a five-hundred year old global wanderer.
3. The cinematography. Phenomenal. It never just fades normally from one scene to another. It fades, it flicks, it flashes, it astounds.
4. The action. No magic wands, no ugly guns, no fluffy lightsabres. These are heavy metal clashes, heads really roll.
5. The soundtrack. On top of everything else, one of my favourite bands ever did the music. You can't ask for more. Simply magic!
Monday, August 13, 2007
What I learned in economics class was that road taxes should contribute to not only the cost of resurfacing but also towards external costs such as pollution, congestion, noise, and in general any external disruption to those affected by the road.
And comparing lorries with cars, even if we assume that the relative weight on the tarmac is ten to one, the relative weight of knock-on disruption is much more than ten to one.
How often does a shed load from a car close off the entire motorway? How often does a jack-knifed car close all three lanes? There is a certain amount of revenue to be collected, there are arguments for raising or lowering that. But to reflect disruption effects, proportionately the lorry drivers should pay more. Car drivers and other taxpayers should pay proportionately less.
So I do not agree that we'd all end up paying more. It's just redistribution of society's charges to more accurately reflect society's costs.
If it's still unclear, then I can always bring in some maths ;)
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Maybe I need to change my name to get more recognition.
After playing football this morning, I settled into a convenient position where I could watch the first live games of the premiership season on TV while also following the cricket on the internet.
Apart from Cricinfo, the Guardian does the best updates. And what do I see as soon as I log in:
5th over: India 10-2 (Dravid 0 Tendulkar 0) You get some pretty glorious names coming through your inbox when you do an OBO, but there are none better than Shubs Golder. "Is Ian Howell the worst umpire you've ever seen? I personally haven't seen an umpire so bad in a long time..." He has indeed been consistently awful Shubs. I'm just going to type that again - Shubs Golder. Wow. A maiden from Anderson.
I've known Shubs since he was a toddler. I still see him regularly. That is his real name. It seems a pretty ordinary name to me.
And he gets published, not because his comment was particularly witty or insightful (though it probably was) but because the person doing live text commentary liked his name!
That's all for today from me, Rayban Bannerboy.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Although the prompts for writing are only the humdrum daily stimuli received by a self-employed marketing consultant, this blog is an ongoing attempt to expose genuine original ideas, or at least to provide an original way of looking at things.
I expect that within a few seconds, a typical post may make you think "no bloody way!"
I hope that within another few seconds, you should think "actually, it's obvious!"
All within about a hundred words.
And I may throw in a bit of random personal stuff too.
Friday, August 10, 2007
The lorry drivers often complain about road and petrol taxes. Firstly, a point I have seen in print before, why shouldn't a forty ton trailer pay forty times as much as a one ton car, it causes forty times as much damage to the road.
The second point, I haven't yet seen in print. Not every lorry driver has accidents. But when one does, the disruption caused is orders of magnitude greater than the disruption caused by the typical car accident. Either we charge the unfortunate. Or we make the lorries pay more to compensate.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I don't usually talk about personal stuff here. This blog is mainly about common sense, not personal opinion.
It is obvious that I despise the fatuous meaningless platitudes that pass for all unscientific spiritualism and most scientific "counselling". But could even someone like me do a deep meaningful concise message of personal philosophy? I can try.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
But even a categorisation as broad as "Indian" is a bit ludicrous. India is much better compared to Europe than to any European country, each state has its own history, languages, cultures and communities. If you had to describe the people of each state in just a few words then you would have to resort to very broad strokes indeed.
Punjabis are the Germans. Hardworking. Efficient. They do like a drink. Yet they still maintain the largest farms and industrial production.
Those from the south of India are the Scandinavians. Civilised. Tolerant. Productive.
The Gujratis could be the Italians. Usually appear as a stylish, refined, united culture. But you feel there could be riots seething just under the surface.
And the Bengalis are the French. Birthplace of modern scientific enlightenment. Centre for the arts. They think they are the intellectual and spiritual centre of modern civilisation, most others think they are a bunch of talkative radicals who are always going on strike!
There is no match in today's Europe for Bihar. And of course those are all just outdated stereotypes, innit?
Monday, August 06, 2007
Yesterday I went to PC World and bought a printer for the business. £29.99. Perfectly reasonable. Looking around any shop or site these days, that's a fairly normal price for a mass-produced shoebox-sized block of shaped plastic and metal with a few electric motors, transistors, integrated circuits, some consumables and a small book of documentation. The costs of production, transport and marketing must be fairly close to that. So I don't bother hunting around online to save a few percent.
At the checkout, the cashier told me that I also needed to buy a cable to connect it to the PC. The cable probably has less than a thousandth of the materials and complexity of the printer. They said the only cable available was £14.99. Eventually, when I had finally stopped laughing, I walked next door to Currys Electrical. You can guess the price there.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
There were a lot of words yesterday, at least according to my own artificial target. Time for a picture. But I'll maintain my principles, only a picture where it is an original creation.
A friend from New York came to visit us in London recently. I know the two cities well, having lived for extended periods of time in both, so I drew up a little map that would help to orientate someone who knows one city but not the other.
There have been plenty of articles written in plenty of magazines comparing the two cities. But they tend to concentrate on the central tourist areas rather than the suburbs where most people actually live, and so far as I know nothing has been presented in quite this manner.
There is a remarkable coincidence in the geographical juxtaposition of corresponding demographic localities. Or to put it another way, if you turn one city on its side then you get the other one, as simple as that.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Each blog note could be a short review of something that I have seen or read, although that would not be very ambitious. However, a few days ago I quoted Melvyn Bragg, Bill Bryson, Robert Burchfield, Anthony Burgess, Lewis Carroll, David Crystal, George Orwell, Stephen Pinker, John Simpson and Lynne Truss all within one short note. I also said that I didn't entirely agree with them. That needs clarification, even correction.
It's probably best if I go one author at a time. Conveniently enough, my list was alphabetical.
Melvyn Bragg wrote The Adventure of English. An excellent book, and an excellent TV series to go with it. Very erudite and very entertaining. Facts. Nothing to disagree with.
Bill Bryson is probably more famous for his travel writing and his countryside campaigns, but I know him best for writing a book called Mother Tongue. Absolutely fantastic writing. Not only informative, funny and educational, but also very easy to read. And I completely agree with him.
Robert Burchfield has written wrote more scholarly accounts of English. I have found them tough going, but they are probably written to be reference guides rather than leisurely reads.
Anthony Burgess, better known for mangling futurespeak in his Clockwork Orange, wrote an awesome book called A Mouthful of Air. It has a very different tack from the others mentioned here as it concentrates on how words developed, how they are spoken instead of how they are written.
I leafed through David Crystal's books expecting a very prescriptive approach, and instead got a refreshing emphasis on clarity and precision of meaning, not an edict on grammar. Excellent.
Lewis Carroll was in the list on behalf of his alter ego, the legendary Humpty Dumpty. Jabberwocky is perfect poetry. Words can mean exactly what you want them to mean. A genius. The Douglas Adams of his generation.
A very different kind of genius, George Orwell is a true inspiration. Keep it simple. Never use a long word or a long sentence when a short one will do. Every journalist and politician and management consultant should pass a test in this before any public pronouncement.
And so to the books of Steven Pinker. In my opinion simply the best non-fiction written in America since 1792. The pages are fairly dense but the ideas, like all great ideas, are blindingly obvious. They are not specifically about English. But they are about grammar, about language, about communication, about what it really means to be human.
So we have had the clarification, what about the correction? Lost for Words echoes George Orwell in its hatred of deliberate obfuscation, but it also has a load of grumpy old moaning thrown in. It was written by John Humphrys. Did I really say John Simpson? How could I have confused the two? One is a highly-respected deep-voiced silver-haired BBC journalist …
It's almost lunchtime and I have a busy Saturday. I need to eat, post and leave. So I will conclude this little note by quoting some Pinker: Most of the prescriptive rules of the language mavens make no sense on any level. They are bits of folklore that originated for screwball reasons several hundred years ago and have perpetuated themselves ever since ...
Friday, August 03, 2007
I've been there before. I've been on projects where the shortage of skilled people meant that the whole team had to work until ten every night. And every weekend. I've been on projects where the physical shortage of equipment (basically just PCs and desks within a secure environment) meant that the entire project had to operate in shifts, some people starting before sunrise and handing over to the second batch in the afternoon. I've worked all night to meet deadlines.
But that was with previous clients, those were big infrastructure projects, the teams were large, and everybody seemed to be fully in it together. The whole team worked those stupid hours. Teams split up. Times change. Demographics change. Interests change. Remuneration changes. So it doesn't happen any more.
But the budgets and deadlines just keep coming.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
In French, a consumer is a consommateur and to consume is consommer. However the same verb can have another meaning.
We work with the London office of an international marketing agency. Leaving the agency today is a young lady from France, and her leaving drinks are this evening. In the note she sent out yesterday inviting us to them, she mentioned the alcohol and encouraged us all to "consummate" in moderation … hmmmm.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
But I do not like traffic lights. To be more precise, I do not like the fascist implementation of traffic lights currently prevalent in the UK.
Except at peak time, they slow traffic and cause congestion, they do not relieve it. If you come to a junction and there is no-one there, why shouldn't you cross it? If you wait, traffic just stacks up behind you.
I hope this blog is never only a complaint, there should always be a positive suggestion. Every light-regulated junction should be more like the flashing yellows in the US - of course you must be careful, at some points you may have priority, at others you may need to pause briefly to enforce a look around. But if there is no-one crossing, then surely it is better to move on rather than let traffic stack up behind you.
It's hard to be objective about this. My wife got a hefty fine and a quarter of her driving license was removed because she did not wait unnecessarily at an empty crossing. A few months later, perhaps overconcerned about this, she braked hard at another traffic light where it would have safe to continue, and a heavy 4x4 ploughed into the back of her. Unfair? Dangerous? Criminal?