Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

This blogroll classification amused me:
  • Those that belong to the emperor 
  • Embalmed ones 
  • Those that are trained 
  • Suckling pigs 
  • Mermaids (or Sirens) 
  • Fabulous ones 
  • Stray dogs 
  • Those that are included in this classification 
  • Those that tremble as if they were mad 
  • Innumerable ones 
  • Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  • Those that have just broken the flower vase 
  • Those that, at a distance, resemble flies
Taken from 'Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge' (Spanish: Emporio celestial de conocimientos benévolos), a fictitious taxonomy of animals described by the writer Jorge Luis Borges in his 1942 essay "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" (El idioma analítico de John Wilkins).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The story of our new path

Alex has been put to work this week on his 'staycation' with us: project 'pathfinder'.

The laying of the edging

The excavation of the rubble

The caching of the surplus aggregate (as dug up)

The gravel awaiting (one ton!)

The finished product

The mission pathfinder complete!

Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

The worker refuels
We have a path!

Goodbye Marissal Road

We moved into our council house in Henbury, Bristol in 1954 when I was three. The three children grew up in it and one by one we all left. My mother was the last to vacate the property, after more than fifty years, and so today the house was cleared. I was there before 8 am this morning and took this video tour while waiting for the house clearance team from the British Heart Foundation.

The BHF team were efficient and were done by lunchtime. On my return to lock up, I took these final pictures.

The master bedroom

The back bedroom - most of us occupied it one time or another

The 'box' room - mine while at secondary school

The hall and front door

The kitchen leading to back garden

The living room, looking to the back garden

The living room at the front
It all looks rather forlorn. Pathos turned to bathos when I turned up at the Lawrence Weston 'Citizen Service Point' to hand in the keys. The council employee checked the address on the computer and could unearth no evidence that Bristol Council was aware the property had been vacated. Yes, they had lost my 'notice to quit' letter of three weeks ago.

I am wise in the Kafkaesque ways of public bureaucracies. Calm, calm, calm. Under instruction I wrote a lengthy, handwritten letter outlining all the facts of the case with dates and events, and ended by pleading with the anonymous council recipient to please accept the original termination date despite the absence of said 'quit notice' in their filing system.

We shall see whether such grovelling saves some gratuitous rent payments.

A late birthday present

I went to see my mother today (with Elaine) in Wroughton while the BHF team were house-clearing. We visited the park, fed the homicidal seagulls and watched kids trying to fend off dinghy collisions on the lake. At the end there was a late birthday present for Clare.

We were baffled as to what the heavy cylinder was. I speculated variously on pickled onions and manuka honey. The reality was considerably more wonderful.

A scented candle

It's currently brightening up the hall in olfactory mode - it almost feels wrong to light it.

The English summer and its sunbather

Clare sunbathing in the West Country summer

That jet stream has a lot of explaining to do!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A psychological assessment (1994)

Twenty one years ago, in 1994, I moved from the Bell-Northern Research (BNR) Systems Engineering Division in Harlow to their main offices in Maidenhead, where I would be working in a new telecoms consultancy group under its director, Ken E.

Ken was an interesting person. He had been a founder member of the Maidenhead organisation back when Northern Telecom had set it up. Unlike his colleagues though, he had never been promoted. The reason, I think, was his personality: in Myers-Briggs terms I would guess he was ENFJ and what this meant in practice was that he was driven more by moral imperatives than by utilitarian pragmatism. Unfortunately, it is the latter which works best in business.

Ken was initially pleased with his new recruit, but couldn't figure me out at all. He arranged for me to be evaluated by a psychologist so off I went one morning to a local business centre where I was interviewed at length, and underwent multiple tests. The creativity test was the pretty useless 'how many uses can you think of for a brick?' though to be fair, creativity testing has hardly advanced since then.

I was given a copy of the psychologist's report, which I include below (I already published this ages ago). Before you conclude I'm just blowing my own trumpet, I hasten to add that the psychologist would have known that BNR did not commission expensive psychological evaluations for absolute dummies - he was obviously going to write a pretty positive report.

One conclusion the expert came to was that I was not altogether brilliant at interpersonal relationships. I proved him entirely correct in the most devastating way. Soon after the test I complained to Ken that I was underpaid and under-promoted for the tasks he had asked me to do. Ken agreed, and behind the scenes moved heaven and earth to get me a sizeable pay award and increase in status.

Soon I was called into his office where he was pleased to tell me of his success. I took the news with considerable equanimity. Ken was highly affronted, mentioning that the least I could have done was to thank him. I seem to recall replying that I believed I was finally being paid at the correct level and that it was surely his job to arrange things like that - I didn't believe that he had done me a favour as such. Given Ken's personality type, I suppose it was inevitable that he never forgave me, and in fact pretty much refused to speak with me after that.

Luckily, around that time I moved (or was moved) out of his group, initially to the 'Multimedia Carrier Switch' new product development and then to the Cable & Wireless account team as technical architect for the Network 2000 project. I still cringe at the memory, however. It was very far from my finest hour.


Psychological Assessment

Name Nigel Richard SEEL
Date of Birth 1951
Age 43


1962-68 Bristol Grammar School
A(S) level passes in: Pure Maths A(1) Applied Maths B(1) Physics A

1969-71 University of Warwick
Completed 1st year (Maths/Physics/Engineering) and 2nd year (Philosophy/Politics)

1972-74 University of London Teaching Certificate

1978-84 Open University BA Hons (1st) Maths & Computing

1985-89 University of Surrey PhD


1971-72 ILEA Clerical work
1974-77 Various schools Maths teacher in London & Liverpool
1977-82 Software Houses, Programming etc
1982-91 STL Researcher, project manager, department manager
1991-94 BNR Manager, Network Planning, Europe Systems Engineering Division


Dr Seel, as his later academic record might suggest, has exceptional intellectual ability. Compared to senior managers as a group, he is outstanding on numerical, logical thinking, verbal and imaginative thinking abilities. Not only does he possess great power of intellect, he can apply it effectively at considerable speed.

Numerical Ability

His score on the test of his ability to make correct decisions and inferences from numerical and statistical data was outstanding and places him in the top 5% of senior managers. He worked with great speed and a high level of accuracy.

Verbal Ability

He attained an outstanding score, in the top 10%, on the test of vocabulary and verbal reasoning. In conversation, he chooses his words quite carefully, and communicates his ideas clearly and succinctly.

Logical Thinking

His performance on the test of critical thinking, covering the dispassionate analysis of information, arguments, inferences and deductions, was outstanding and puts him in the top 15% of senior managers. He has exceptional analytical ability and can apply it rapidly to problems.

Imaginative Thinking

The test of the quantity and quality of his ideas showed him to be above average on the former and outstanding on the latter. He can see aspects of problems or situations that few other people would think of; he has considerable imagination and a capacity for lateral thinking. Indeed, his responses on this test hardly overlapped at all with the kind of answers given by most managers.


General Approach

Dr Seel has a balanced and effective approach to his work, combining ample energy with a sensible amount of planning. He is very logical and systematic, and will apply himself with great diligence to the task in hand. He is meticulous and probably expects others to be likewise. He has the ability to deal with several different projects simultaneously and to respond to changing circumstances in a flexible manner.


He has an average level of drive and will pursue his objectives in a single-minded fashion. He will apply himself in an economical and well-organised manner, and should achieve good productivity.

Quality of Work

He is quite thoughtful and will take the wider strategic picture into account when making plans. His excellent intellectual ability will be evident in most of what he does, though there may be times when his more imaginative and wide-ranging perspective could make him appear to be slightly out of step with those around him.

Mastery of Detail

He has a good eye for detail and will give it the attention it deserves, without letting the broader view get obscured. He is able to trust subordinates enough to delegate to them.

Decision Making

He will err on the side of caution, though not to an extreme degree. In most instances, he will evaluate the evidence quickly and dispassionately before coming to a decision. His excellent analytical powers should help him to arrive at sound and reliable judgment

Tolerance of Pressure

Dr Seel is emotionally stable and usually well-controlled, though on those rare occasions when he does lose his temper there will be no mistaking it. He does worry about his work and may lose sleep over difficult problems, but this is unlikely to affect him. He has the resources of drive and - especially - of intellect to cope with pressure.


Whilst he will make plans and try to stick to them, not least where they relate to hitting deadlines, he is sufficiently flexible to be able to adapt to new circumstances, and to do so with unusual speed and clarity of thought. His capacity for imaginative thinking will help him to respond innovatively to new challenges.


After what might be seen as a rather slow start to his career, he is ambitious and clearly aspires to reach the top levels. He has the intellectual confidence to believe that he can make a contribution at a strategic level, and the motivation to do so; he has a strong need to achieve. At present, he feels frustrated by the position he is in compared to what he feels is his potential.


General Impact

Dr Seel has a slightly unorthodox style that might initially be slightly off-putting for some people. He has a reasonably friendly manner, but he is not inclined to let what he would see as loose assertions or superficial thinking go unchallenged. He is quite careful in choosing his words, and perhaps wants others to be similarly precise. He does not like to be neatly pigeon- holed by those he meets, and indeed they may find it hard to classify him. His slight shyness may also detract from the first impression he makes.

Relationships with Superiors

Superiors will find that he is his own man; he is independent minded and very confident of his own intellectual ability. For some bosses, he could be a rather threatening subordinate. Whilst he is supportive and keen to try to achieve the goals set, he is not someone who will just keep his views to himself. He will want to say what he thinks, and he will put over his ideas with both logical argument and conviction. However, he is sufficiently open-minded to take on board alternative ideas if they are good, and he will try to see the viewpoint of those above him.

Bosses will find that he expects to be given his objectives but little more - he does not welcome hands-on management. He has plenty of initiative and is keen to take on more responsibilities. He will be reasonably honest in the way he communicates with his superiors, and will want them to be straight with him. He is not inclined to give respect to individuals simply on the grounds of rank; he wants to see evidence of commitment and ability.

Relationships with Peers

He is a trifle introverted and not all that socially outgoing by nature. However, peers will find that he is strongly team- oriented and keen to facilitate their efforts to achieve the objectives set. He is reasonably patient and tolerant, though he will tend to come down fairly quickly on what he sees as sloppy thinking. Peers will appreciate the quality of his intellect and his capacity for ideas. He will influence them through his expertise and competence rather than dominating by force of personality. At times, he may not be all that good at reading the motivations and reactions of those around him, but he will try to respond positively to his colleagues' needs.

Peers will find that he does not identify in an emotional way with his own ideas, and that he is objective in assessing them against differing viewpoints; however, he is likely to be right more often than are most people. Peers will find that he is quite serious-minded and very conscientious in his attitude to his work.

Relationships with Subordinates

Subordinates will find that he starts off with them on the basis of trust, and that he will give them a good deal of autonomy until or unless they prove that they are not capable of handling it. He will delegate sensibly and organise the work of those under him in a thoughtful manner, giving due consideration to their own development and need to learn. He will be a fair and usually patient boss, though his intellectual ability and confidence may sometimes have a more over-powering effect on those under him than he imagines.

Although he will try to operate a consultative style most of the time, he is capable of taking a tougher and more directive approach where necessary. He will set high standards and expect his subordinates to show the same commitment as he himself does. Staff will find that whilst he allows freedom and scope for initiative, he will monitor progress quite carefully.


Dr Seel is a little unusual in various ways, which has some positive and negative consequences. He is exceptionally intelligent and shows outstanding intellectual abilities across the board. He possesses the capacity to see beyond the more obvious aspects of a situation and to think in a more lateral way. Despite these attributes, and to some extent because of them, he has not followed an altogether normal education and career path. After a slow start, he is making up for lost time, and is clearly ambitious. He has a need to achieve and to work to the limit of his considerable potential.

His approach to his work is a serious-minded and committed one, and he expects much the same from others. He has a reasonable level of energy and drive, but his style rests more upon his intellectual powers and his ability to analyse logically and quickly. His decisions on technical matters will be well-judged and he will show a good grasp of detail. He is meticulous and careful, and will strive to be precise. Although emotionally stable and usually well- controlled, he can lose his temper and his restraint on rare occasions.

Dr Seel does not like to be put into a category or "typed" in any way, and it is probably quite difficult for people to feel they have an understanding of him on first meeting. He has a tendency to question and to probe in a moderately sceptical style, and whilst this is not done in an aggressive way, it is possible that he could be perceived in a more threatening manner than he realises. This is not helped by his intellectual confidence which, while well-founded, may be seen as challenging by some superiors. He could be viewed as intellectually arrogant, but this would be somewhat unfair to him; he is quite objective and open-minded, and strongly team-oriented.

His own ambitions are not pursued at the expense of others, and he will try hard to facilitate the success of his colleagues. He is quite a friendly and patient man, but he will be quick to identify what he sees as sloppy thinking and lack of precision. Subordinates will find that he is willing to delegate and to trust them enough to give them scope for initiative, though he will monitor their progress quite carefully. They will find that he is demanding but fair. He will want to be given as much freedom as possible by his own boss; he does not like hands-on management. He is not inclined to respect superiors simply on the grounds of their position; they have to be highly competent and committed as well.


Main Assets

- Exceptional intellectual ability on all domains tested
- Likely to achieve work of high technical quality; meticulous
- Plans ahead sensibly and is able to see the strategic picture
- Emotionally stable and can cope with normal pressures
- Confident in his ability and well motivated; has a strong need to achieve
- Likely to be imaginative and innovative in approach, without taking undue risks
- Generally positive in his attitude to others; quite friendly
- Strongly team-oriented; cooperative and constructive in trying to work with peers and subordinates
- Quite objective and fair-minded
- Willing to trust those under him and to delegate accordingly Main Limitations
- A trifle shy and may not make the best impression on first meeting
- Could be perceived as too challenging and threatening by colleagues who lack his intellectual confidence
- Not especially good at anticipating the reactions and motives of those around him


Dr Seel has considerable potential, though precisely which direction it should be developed in is not completely clear. The problem is that he is capable of making at least a reasonable job of almost anything; he has a balanced and quite flexible style, and a conscientious attitude to his work, along with his outstanding intellectual powers. If he has limitations, they are probably in the interpersonal realm, and they relate more to the impression some colleagues may form of him than to any fundamental problems. His intellectual level and his ability to take an independent and possibly even unorthodox perspective on an issue may make him seem out of step and perhaps awkward to deal with at times.

He is not sufficiently outgoing and socially confident to be very adept at dealing with people; his approach is rather honest and straightforward, which could work against him on occasion. It may be that he does not "sell" himself all that well. Longer exposure to him should convince colleagues of his basically very positive attitude to them, however.

He clearly feels considerable frustration at his present level of work, and believes - with justification - that he can contribute at a higher and more strategic level of the business. His powers of analysis and his capacity for lateral thinking suggest that he has a lot to offer in the areas of planning and strategy. For the future, however, he should perhaps seek to get some more feedback on the impression he makes on people and on his style of communicating with them; formal training inputs may be useful here. It may be that he will not be able to exert the influence he deserves until he has developed further in this respect.


So how did the psychologist's predictions work out over the next twenty years? Check my CV.

Clare at 64

Clare's birthday. And here she opens her present and I check out her cards.

We celebrated Clare's birthday with lunch at the Queen Vic, Priddy. Adrian drove us there and Alex got the drinks and paid the bill. At last a return on our investment.

During the meal, which we ate outside in the sunshine and which was very pleasant, one of the table umbrellas was caught by a gust of wind and ended up on the roof. A little later, there was a sound of breaking glass as a barmaid tripped on the step and dropped the pints she was carrying. She was not badly hurt.

Pretty exciting, Priddy.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Interesting puzzle

I'm still working through Prolog, mainly using Sterling and Shapiro's book and also 'AI Algorithms, Data Structures, and Idioms in Prolog, Lisp and Java'.

And then I came across this puzzle:
A certain question has the following possible answers.
  1. All of the below
  2. None of the below
  3. All of the above
  4. One of the above
  5. None of the above
  6. None of the above
Which answer is correct?

The answer is (e) - see the comments for why - and there is even a Prolog derivation with query x(A,B,C,D,E,F) which proves it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Litter in the park

Deborah Ross wrote in yesterday's Times:
Litter is a class issue, but why? 

I live an equal distance from two London parks. One is in a well-to-do, middle-class area and one is not. (To give you some idea of how different these parks are, when it last snowed, in the well-to-do park someone built not a snowman, but a snow-flautist, complete with twig for flute, while in the other it was a huge snow-penis, complete with huge snow balls.).

Since I'm often in both parks, what with the dog and all, one thing I have noticed is this: whereas the well-to-do middle-class park (OK, Highgate Wood) does not have a litter problem, the other (OK, Finsbury Park) seriously does.

That is, say I go in the morning: while Finsbury Park is covered in yesterday’s picnic debris, Highgate Wood is not. Different staffing levels? Highgate Wood employs more people to clear up? I don’t think so. Even while I'm walking, I see people chucking drink cans, burger wrappers, crisp packets and chicken bones all over the place in Finsbury Park in a way I never see in the wood.

So, is litter a class issue? If so, why? Particularly when it seems counterintuitive. Wouldn't the middle classes, with their cleaners and gardeners and pond hooverers — I know someone who has a man come in to hoover her pond — be more likely to think that others will step in to do their dirty work?

I have asked around and the following explanations have been offered: paying higher taxes means a higher sense of ownership of public spaces; the less well-off are more disaffected and have less interest in maintaining society’s infrastructure; middle-class culture simply pays more respect to the environment; the middle classes are restrained by social shaming (but shouldn't everyone be ashamed of dropping litter, and if not, why not?). I don’t know. You tell me . .

Once one has recovered from amazement that a Times columnist would be puzzled over so obvious a question, one feels inclined to frame an answer.

The simplest possible response is something like this:
Tidy parks are the result of tidy people, people with prosocial personality traits such as agreeableness, intelligence and empathy. Such people tend to get on in our imperfect meritocracy and thrive in the middle class. The lower classes include many who haven't got on, people who tend disproportionately to the 'dark triad' - lack of empathy, disregard for others, selfishness. For good or ill, these qualities are rather heritable which accounts for their persistence across the social classes. Hence your differential litter phenomenon.
The distinction between the prosocial and antisocial personality type is not well captured in the five-factor model. The newer HEXACO model apparently shows a greater ability to discriminate with its six dimensions of personality:
  • Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous.
  • Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable.
  • Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved.
  • Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric.
  • Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded.
  • Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional.
You can see how pro- and antisocial personality types are going to map onto this - you can seek confirmation here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An honest epitaph

I'm not sure that human beings are intrinsically selfish except in the 'selfish gene' concept, where genes (alleles) inhabit multiple related individuals (and this). But the rest seems spot on. Click on the image to make it larger.

Some variant might work on  my headstone, I'm thinking.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Unsettled days

Our pleasantly humdrum routine has been profoundly destabilized by Alex staycationing with us: many long-deferred, if not completely-ignored tasks are being addressed with Alex's characteristic whirlwind of energy.

Item: there was a curious ammonia-like smell in the kitchen, eventually tracked down to the tumble dryer. In an instant, Alex had disassembled it, exposing innards lined with five years accumulated dross which included a small colony of maggots. No doubt a small and lethally-injured vole had recently ventured that way. My mind sheers away from the unpleasant process by which the machine was eventually cleared out - fingers were used, and not mine - and the reconstituted machine sits currently in the naughty corner of the kitchen on probation.

Cleaned up, but is it truly sterile?

Item: Clare wants a path round the back of the house - the current stepping-stone-like flags no longer cut it. After much cogitation and deprecation of boardwalk possibilities (slippery when wet) she settled on gravel. An orgy of computation on Alex's part has followed with refinements including planks cut to length and endless discussions with tradespeople.
Alex's plan for the garden path

The planks for edging - to be cut tomorrow
The gravel was meant to arrive today (it didn't).

Alex has also managed to fit into today two tennis coaching sessions at the local club and has ordered a new racquet on the coach's suggestion.

We still don't really know what's hit us.

I have not managed to find a sanctuary in our house to resume my engagement with Professor Susskind (lecture 6 beckons) but Clare has fled the house,and now wanders lonely as a cloud in the garden.

Clare in the roses
In other news: Pluto has been imaged in unimaginable detail, the pentaquark has been discovered and the Eurozone is splintering as German dominance becomes impossible to cloak ...

Saturday, July 11, 2015

General Relativity

My first thought was that Professor Susskind lacked empathy. He'd be asked a question, plainly a little off the plot. It was clear to me and to half the audience what mistaken assumption the student was making but Susskind never seemed to put himself in the student's mind. He just filtered the question through his own, correct, understanding and seemed not to understand the questioner's context. It reminded me of the many stories of Paul Dirac - how autistic!
Prof. Leonard Susskind
But as I've worked through the lectures I understand the man more. His style is immensely attractive. Very casual in sweatshirt and and cords, he ambles around behind the bench snacking on shortbreads and taking swigs of coffee from a cardboard cup. He makes 'mistakes' all the time, 'forgetting' constants and exponents. Students often pick him up on these.

I get him now. He never looks stressed during questions because he knows everything. He makes the 'mistakes' because it keeps the audience awake and involved: those little cognitive dissonances. He stresses the big picture because that's the narrative which conveys the underlying concepts.

He is the perfect complement to the textbook.

His genius is even deeper. In early lectures he covers enough differential geometry for General Relativity. Differential geometry is hard: as I absorbed his lecture I kept thinking Riemann was a genius. And yet he conveyed the key concepts of generalised coordinates, the metric tensor, connections, curvature and geodesics perfectly. Ditto for tensor algebra and calculus. Truly the theoretical minimum!

Here are the ten lectures I'm referring to (YouTube playlist).

Yesterday Susskind told me about falling into a black hole using the Schwarzschild metric and coordinates. We started from the metric, integrated over a trajectory to get a distance, looked at the conditions under which this trajectory would be a geodesic (it's stationary) and then did some algebra to get velocity at various distances from the black hole from the viewpoint of a distant observer. We derived the well-known weird results that the object appears to stop at the event horizon and takes an infinite amount of time to get there. This is not the view of the freely-falling observer: the formal resolution of this puzzle is to come.

Karl Schwarzschild
At the end of lecture 5, a student asks how Karl Schwarzschild was able to derive his eponymous solution to Einstein's field equations for a non-rotating black hole while serving in the hell of the first world war (he later tragically died). Susskind shakes his head in reverential awe and says only that sometimes, when things get tough, he himself finds peace just thinking through the equations.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A rant about Garmin + face recognition everywhere?

I paid £75 for lifetime update of my Garmin SatNav's maps. Has there every been a more unfriendly website than Garmin's? Like other people's nightmares, no-one cares about the chapter and verse of bad website experiences, so in short:
  • You can't update the maps with Chrome, and Internet Explorer just hung - it only works with Firefox.
  • You can't get started without downloading 'Garmin Communicator' - which is different to 'Garmin Express' (which I ended up downloading about seven times).
  • Nothing is explained: the process is totally opaque.
  • The process hangs at many points: it's not clear if it's working or whether it's stopped working (bet on the latter).
  • Technical support, after 15 minutes hanging on, was minimally helpful.
I keep reading about how computer AI systems, are going to replace vast swathes of white collar workers. Yet I keep meeting websites with IQs south of 40. Keep the human help or commerce will grind to a halt.

I was struck by this article (via Marginal Revolution) which both explains the current state-of-the-art in automated facial recognition (scarily good) and describes negotiations in the States between developers and privacy advocates. The talks have broken down.

Initially my sympathies were with the developers, then I began to reflect on daily cold-calling on my phone, chuggers in the town and junk mail. So I want to be accosted by name every fifty yards on the high street by AI mannequins who know my name, interests and way too much about my personal history? I would become a recluse.

Trust me, there's an issue brewing here.

Monday, July 06, 2015

'The Martian' - interview with the author

If you have a few moments, an interview with Andy Weir, author of 'The Martian'.

My sister found this sufficiently gripping that she abandoned both Andy Murray and the Tour de France to watch it. It's good stuff.

Free-riding in Greece

OK, I admit it, I was wrong. I really thought that the Greeks would vote yes and we could resume the long habit of kicking the can down the road. But here we are instead, in a strange but very familiar place.

The Greek situation is a special case of the welfare dilemma, a form of moral blackmail. What do you do when the feckless shirker refuses to act responsibly and demands you continue supporting him and his family? If you don't, he says, my partner and kids will starve and it will be your fault.

My 'partner', Clare, wondered how ISIS would respond to this dilemma. Briskly, I would have thought.

Anyway, the leaders of the EU now have to decide:
  1. Tough it out and turn off the taps. The Greek economy will implode and those tender of heart (there are many) will blame the rich EU in general and the Germans in particular.

  2. Carry on transferring cash to the corrupt and incompetent Greek state, in which case other 'Club Med' dysfunctional states may well give up on paying their way .. and the Germans get to continue to transfer their gold to feckless others in perpetuity.

  3. Kick the can down the road somehow.
How the EU hopes that the general theorem - if something cannot continue for ever then it will stop - does not apply in this case!

There is another option. One which would naturally happen within the borders of a functional state. The authorities would turf out the incompetents and crooks and put in place an efficient administration to sort things out. But somehow, no-one seems to want the Germans to do that.

We were down at Bristol Harbour this morning, a propos of nothing much. It was too rainy for the mini-cruise we had been contemplating.

The SS Great Britain at Bristol Harbour