Monday, 31 December 2012

Resolutions for 2013

I am not going to review my 2012 resolutions. 2012 was awful in so many ways, and I don't want to re-live it here. Let's just move on.

Apparently making a list of resolutions is a set-up for failure: we make too many and can't find the time or energy to do them all. Instead we should set a single objective and then just carry on with the rest of our life. We tend to forget that our employers make us do New Year's Resolutions in the form of "Objectives" for the year and that soaks up a lot of our energy.

Which leads me to this thought: maybe we're not supposed to run our personal lives like our work lives. I can remember how cool I thought it was back in my junior executive days to apply time management and management-by-objectives to my life. It didn't work, but it made me feel like I was making some kind of progress, even though what I was really doing was waiting for the dice to roll my way.

I've made a better fist of my life than I give myself credit for. It is, however, an utilitarian life that gets the bills paid, puts savings in the bank, keeps me employed, washed, fed, exercised and cultured. I've let myself fall into a fairly minimal routine  - and anyone who wants to exercise regularly has to have a fairly minimal routine - that is dominated by the need to get to bed by around 21:30 so I can get a decent night's sleep to wake up at 05:45. Or, as a couple of people shared back to me after a short chair at the DA/UA meeting I'm attending at the moment, it's just monotonous and tedious. It is lacking in sparkle, pixie dust, glamour, illumination, fairy-lights and all-round magic. You may think that a man with my vast experience of life and all-round sophistication would regard twinkle and sparkle as beneath his vast dignity, but actually, those things are important. If I was very rich, I would collect art and visit biennales, and that would be the sparkle, but I'm not, so it can't be. So there's a thing about sparkle and magic. It kinda fits in with what's really on my mind.

I keep thinking that I want to do is change where I work and the company I work for. I want to do that because working in Bishopsgate and for The Bank leaves me feeling lifeless an hour after I arrive. By midday, never mind by the time I leave work, I just want to crawl back home, maybe via the gym. I have no zip let for anything. If I could keep the job and location, and get the zip back, I would be just fine with it. So that's a thing: I'm going to keep changing stuff around until the zip comes back. 

I have a Gym Target - but then you should always have one of those: one unsupported pull-up / chin-up. Hey, I weigh 92 kilos. That's a serious heft. Check out the guys knocking out pull-ups in your gym: I'm guessing none are six-footers much over 80 kilos.

My culture target is to read Musil's The Man Without Qualities. That would make the Big Three: Proust, Joyce and Musil. I have my tickets for Sadlers Wells' Flamenco season in March already and I'm marching through Ezra Pound's Cantos right now.

There are things I think I should do (catch up with distant friends, go to the beach one weekend, take a Street Art tour, decorate the house, see all the new art movies and art shows) and I'm not going to do those. Every year I tell myself I should do those and every year I don't. This year I'm going to assume there's a good reason that I'm not aware of why I don't. Instead I'll do the things that occur to me out of nowhere. Unless it threatens the waistline, of course.

1. One unsupported pull-up by the year end
2. Read Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities
3. Experiment with changes to the daily/weekly routine, diet, entertainment and whatever else until the zip, twinkle and sparkle comes back
4. Do stuff that just occurs to me

A Prosperous New Year To You!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Back To Work In The Between-Days

And you can bet I would rather be here...

If I had a favourite place in the world, this would come joint first.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas 2012

Though I would rather be here...

... and in summer.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bah! Humbug! Office Christmas Decorations

I have no idea what overcame the otherwise sensible, conservative people who work around me, but last week one of the senior managers decorated her sections with a few tinsels, a small tree and this gingerbread house...

and after a day, all hell broke loose.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Weight Train: You Won't Get Musclebound

Weight training separates the serious from the merely energetic gym attendee. Every athlete in any sport includes some carefully-designed weight training in their routines. It helps with core strength and maintains a good tone to your muscles. The only way to prevent chicken wings is by doing tricep curls, dips or similar. After you get the initial aches out of the way, you will like the way your body feels after it's pushed and pulled a bit of weight around. 

You don't have to heft big weights, but you may want to push yourself just a little more than you are. You don't have to develop a hard body: you can do arm curls and still have biceps that are "soft to the touch". Soft, not flabby. If you're a girl, remember that Jessica Ennis makes being well-toned look very hot. If you're a guy, remember that a lot of girls don't actually like a hard-bodied man. Hard bodies are like whisky: an acquired taste. If you want to feel a hard body, hold a female dancer. No spare flesh and not a soft muscle on her.

The first gym I went to was the locally legendary Riverside Gym in Hampton Court, run by the equally legendary Myles Irvine. Every now and then a potential lady customer would be shown round, take a look at the dumb-bell rack and make a remark like "I don't want to get muscle-bound". This would cause a quiet snort of "as if" from the male clients there, all of whom had been pushing heavy iron for many, many months without getting in the slightest over-muscled. If only we could even approach being muscle-bound.

Add some weights to your training. You won't get musclebound.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Don't Give Up Your Home

"This sense of being at home is important to everyone’s well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease … Being at home feels safe; you have a sense of relief whenever you come home and close the door behind you … Home is the one place in the world … where you belong … Coming home is your major restorative in life. These are formidably good things, which you cannot get merely by finding true love or getting married or having children or landing the best job in the world—or even by moving into the house of your dreams." (Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts)

Many people have never known this feeling. They moved from the family house, to university hall or flat, to a flat/house share to a live-in to a marriage to having a child crying 24/7/52. 

To know the feeling of home-as-sanctuary, you need to have lived on your own for a couple of years and coped with the shopping, housework, cleaning, ironing and cooking, without resorting to take-away food, a cleaner and getting your shirts ironed at the dry cleaners. You need to have made wherever you're living your own, as much as the lease will let you, by painting, shelving, smaller items of furniture and decorations. Otherwise you're just living in someone else's space for a while. 

Once known, the feeling of home-as-sanctuary is not willingly given up. When you have a place of comfort and safety, why would you let in a terrorist who can at random make your life a mess and a misery?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Albert Bridge, Tuesday Evening

My activities on a Tuesday bring me, about 21:30, to the Albert Bridge bus stop for the 170 to Clapham Junction. It's one of the quiet, private, pleasant moments of my week, however cold and dark it may be.

iPhone again. Its reaction to light makes for the right atmosphere.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Don't Give Up Mathematics

A long time ago when I was an impressionable young lad doing my first industrial work experience at Pembroke Power Station, I asked one of the engineers there if doing a degree in electrical engineering meant he could understand the huge circuit diagram he was unfolding. He said that it didn't, but it gave him the confidence to believe he could understand it.

That's one reason to do an undergraduate degree: the other is that, as Karl Popper suggested, it should give you the confidence and background knowledge to distinguish a fraud from the real thing.

You need to choose your subject to get either of these benefits. Any of the hard subjects - the ones where there are answers or clear standards of rigorous argument - will do, and outside the law and philosophy, that means it has to have some mathematics in it. (The presence of mathematics is necessary but not sufficient, as witness economics.) Also, philosophers tend to get a dose of formal logic thrown at them, and that's a branch of mathematics.

The real benefit of doing undergraduate mathematics is so you can study some post-graduate maths in your spare time when you enter into what's laughably known as the "real world". Remember the jolt you had moving from GCSE maths to A-level? That's what moving from undergraduate to post-graduate is like. All the abstract subjects you studied - especially topology, group theory and commutative algebra - become taken-as-read background knowledge.

The other casual remark I'll never forget in this regard was from John Bell at the LSE, at the start of his Boolean Algebras / Model Theory course. A light smattering of topology is required to understand the Stone Representation Theorem. If you didn't know any, he suggested, "just read the first three chapters of Kelly for next week". That's a one-term undergraduate course in point-set topology - in a week. Along with the day job.

Come on! Get with the program! Step up your game!

This doesn't work so well with the arts. People read Ulysses for an English Literature degree fer Gawd's Sake. And besides, reading Musil isn't hard because he writes badly, but because you need a lot of experience of the Worldly World before you can really grok it. Same goes for C P Snow's Strangers and Brothers. The more you get about in the world, the easier some of its great literature becomes to read - except Clarissa. 

The other great advantage of keeping up your maths is that lots of subjects are much easier for mathematicians to pick up than regular mortals - because they already have much of the background knowledge anyway. A mathematician reads an exposition of, say, cluster analysis in a very different way than someone who's still struggling with root-mean-square distances. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Courtyard Inside Bishopsgate

I pass this view almost every lunchtime on my way to lunch in Hoxton or Shoreditch, since I can't abide the theme-park fakery of Spitalfields. That Friday the light was just darn right, so I finally shot the place. With the iPhone.

That's Liverpool Street station at lunchtime. It's the second-busiest in the UK, but compared to the constant madness that is Waterloo (the busiest by about another 60%), it looks like a midlands terminus. I have left out the awful kitsch sculture of a rounded fat woman lying on her side, though if you click on the bottom photo you may see it in the background.

It's all fake 1980's cookie-cutter imported-from-the-US design. That big building in the bottom photograph has pointless atriums on the outside walls, eight lifts which are always going in the other direction and the worst 3G reception inside any building I've ever not had.