Monday, 15 July 2019

Staircases and Highwalks - London Wall

Last year I was Mr Highwalks. Then I got tired of them, and now walk along the pavements along with the ordinary people. Every now and then, I have to have some fresh air and sunshine, because the office is dull and the aircon is, wait, we have aircon? Anyway, this fell in front of my lens, so here it is.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The X-Bow

This is the Polarcus Nadia, an oceanographic ship currently laid up at Amsterdam. That weird bow - roughly the reverse of the shape the bow "should" be - is called an Ulstein X-Bow. It's supposed to make the vessel much more stable, stop it hammering up and down in heavier seas, and thus let the crew get more rest. I thought it was an icebreaker at first, but what the frak do I know about ships?

Monday, 8 July 2019

What A Suburban Railway Station Should Look LIke

This is what a suburban railway station should look like. Notice that the track and the trackside are clear of weeds. Nor has it any litter. The surfaces are clean. There are no tacky advertisements - though there are a couple of small covered billboards by the entrance.

It's in the Netherlands, outside Utrecht. It belongs to the Dutch national railway company.

Why can't UK railway companies keep their tracks clean and weed-free?

No profit in cleanliness. And no pride to do it just because.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

St Pauls From Watling Street

Watling Street is a narrow alley between St Paul's and Bank. I go there for cooked meaty goodness from Porterford Butchers where at lunchtime there is always a queue of other men also wanting cooked meaty goodness for £5 a shot. Stand in the line and look up and directly in front, and this is the view. St Pauls dominates your visual field. From other angles it's big, or noticeable and dome-y, but from Watling Street it dominates. This was the first time I really got a sense of how BIG it is.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Why Jo Ellison Is Wrong About Why I Wear Noise-Cancelling Headphones

I went in to the gym Saturday morning and picked up a complementary copy of the FT. I read it Sunday. This bit of improvised twaddle from Jo Ellison caught my attention...
While the presentational parent [reading loudly to her child on the train] assumes herself to be worthy of an audience, to shut out the world around you assumes a different kind of arrogance - the kind that suggests nothing worthy of attention. The noisy adult on the train is a violation of one kind of social contract, the one in which we consider out impact on other people’s lives. But the widespread use of [noise-cancelling] headphones symbolises another social ill. The death of the community - where you are attuned to the nuances of life around you and moderate your behaviour to fit in.
Noise-cancelling headphones are worn by commuters and people who work in open-plan offices. Why offices? A fully-loaded commuter train is quieter (around 40-50 dB) than an open-plan office (around 55 - 65 db when it fills up). I have a noise meter on my iPhone, so I know. Regular commuters know not to talk during the journey. The newbies who do talk, bursting with excitement at what may be their annual early morning trip to the Big City, are regarded as public nuisances, whom we hope will get out at Clapham Junction and take their wittering nonsense with them. I wear noise-cancelling headphones because I prefer the sound of my music to the sound of even a quiet train.

I can’t work with 65dB of multiple conference calls and miscellaneous chatter. Especially when it has nothing to do with anything I’m working on.

In a modern open-plan office, each of us works on our own tasks, related at best by being two different parts of a “process” which nobody can help us with, because we are all specialists.

There are no relevant nuances of life around us.

It’s not that I am arrogantly assuming that there is nothing worthy of my attention: there is actually nothing going on around me that needs my attention.

Everything comes in by e-mail or whichever IM service we’re using this year. That is how the modern workplace is designed.

And on some days, I may be entirely surrounded by day trippers from foreign lands like “Marketing” who chatter away until they disappear into a meeting, and then re-appear to chatter some more before packing up their roller-cases and departing for the 16:25 from Euston. Or wherever.

My noise-cancellers are a valuable productivity tool at work, and a means of keeping me from dozing off and missing my stop on the train.

And for the ten thousandth time… Just how disconnected from the real world can you get than to think that a commuter train, over- or under-ground, is any kind of freaking “community”? Or a Starbucks? Or any other public place where people go in the expectation of privacy from the strangers at the next stool at the counter? If a man in a cafe talked to Ms Ellison, she would Tweet a #MeToo in an instant. These are not “communities”. There are no freaking “communities” except in the rhetoric of social workers and architects.

Ms Ellison concludes by saying: for all the shouting, no-one’s listening anymore

They never were, Ms Ellison. They never were.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Burnout - June 2019

I ran across this video from Tony and Chelsea Northrup. It’s interesting if you want to hear two professional photographers talking about the frustrations and stresses of photography as a trade, even if you are not interested in what they have to say about burnout.

There are three things which, if I stop doing them for over a couple of weeks, feel like a warning: watching movies or a good box set; reading novels or textbooks; taking photographs.

The months I take photographs, even if just with the phone, are generally better than the months I don’t. If I’m taking photographs, it means I’m looking at the world around me and thinking that it’s worth recording. I do a lot of my reading on the train, so if I’m not reading, it’s because I’m dozing, hit by hay fever, can’t focus or preoccupied by nothing much. As for movies, those are the way I escape and relax - and I can relax to a Wim Wenders movie. So if I’m not watching movies a couple of times a week, I’m not resting properly. Sometimes I go through a couple of weeks when I don’t want other people’s stories in my head, and I never know what triggers that.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any of those things, and an age since I’ve taken any photographs. Well, Tony and Chelsea started talking about how they felt and I identified immediately. So I looked into the idea I might be burned out, or at least a little over-fried. One acronym is PAINT:

Pain – Multiple recurring physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, muscle ache
Anger – Feeling angry and irritable
Indifferent – Loss of motivation, drive, and interest
Negative – Feeling pessimistic, cynical
Tired – Physical and emotional fatigue

Pain. All damn June I’ve had lower back pain, I’ve been burping to the point of embarrassment, and I had to visit my Osteo to sort out a neck problem caused by doing face pulls incorrectly. Thanks to Athlean-X, I now do face-pulls correctly.

Anger. I can pass on that.

Indifference: that’s what I’ve been talking about. I’ve lost interest in stuff. I’m going through the motions.

Negative: what me? Cynical? How could you?

Tired: damn right. I can hardly stay awake after lunch.

The Mayo Clinic list these possible causes: Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.

Unclear job expectations. If you're unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you're not likely to feel comfortable at work.

Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.

Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.

Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.

Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don't have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.

Lack of control and unclear expectations - not really. Lack of resources? I work in retail banking, of course I don’t have really good tools to do my job. Of course my laptop takes ten minutes to get started. Of course we still use IE11 and they don’t even run ad-blockers. Of course the internet security blocks the user forum for the database software we use. Yeah, actually, now you ask...

Dysfunctional workplace dynamics - how long have I been going on about not liking the “new” office? It’s dark, no-one talks to each other, only half of us are in on any given day, and most of the time most people are on conference calls, which means they may as well not be there. You will never see two people working together on the same problem: everyone works alone and passes on the results to someone else.

Extremes of activity - so there is a sense in which my job is monotonous. I cut and run SQL all day in response to people’s needs for bits and pieces of data. To get the pace required, and to get the results as right as anyone ever can, takes a lot of focus. Inside my head, it’s a lot of hard work, but outside, I’m tapping-the-keyboard guy. At the same chair at the same desk with the same view all day every day. Monotony.

Lack of social support. Oh yeah. I am the only person in the team who does my job. I have no-one to talk to about it. There are a couple of people I can have a conversation with, maybe once a week, given our schedules. Outside work, all my friends moved away a long time ago. And as for *cough* intimate association *cough* - yeah, well, that ship sailed a long time ago.

Work-life balance. Easy. I have no life. Work takes all my energy. How many times have I gone on about my ridiculous sleep-wake schedule?

Yep. I reckon I qualify.

Next post or so I’m going to talk about what I might / can/ could do about it.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Probability, Events, and People

I ran across this remark in a dark corner of the Internet to which I will not leave a link:
What (my critics) do is attempt to apply GENERAL statistics derived from a population of millions to their own individual situation despite the fact that such statistics are totally meaningless when applied to ONE SPECIFIC individual.
So close, and yet so far.

Probabilities apply to events, and it is individual events to which we cannot apply probabilities. A horse-race is a one-time event in terms of course, condition of the ground, horses and jockeys. It won’t be repeated. Probability needs repetition. The odds a bookie gives at a racetrack are not probabilities, since the bookie needs to make a Dutch book in his favour in order to make a living. But that’s an aside.

A individual person is not an individual event. A person is the site of many thousands of different events, from heartbeats and muscle twitches to things like crossing roads, dealing with customers, and eating food.

The statistics on food poisoning apply to a person because they eat many meals, each one of which is an event that might involve eating something that disagrees with them.

The statistics on divorce apply to an individual man because he has many opportunities to displease or disappoint his wife.

The twist is that most people will look at socio-economic variables to judge their probability of divorce, missing the point that nobody gets divorced because they are a prospering accountant, or a struggling session musician. They get divorced against because they do something that upsets their partner, and nobody ever records or measures those things. I suspect the correlation between social class, occupation and other such macro-variables, and actual divorce-causing behaviours, is actually fairly weak.

Statistics is difficult. The mathematics is surely horrible, but the conceptual difficulty is right at the start, in understanding how to model something, and how to apply the ideas.