Monday, 31 August 2009


Is a classic 1965 song by Tony Hatch sung by Petula Clark. Baby Spice – I'm sorry, Emma Bunton - did a version in 2006. (That's over forty years later: those songs were a darn sight stronger than we all thought at the time. Quick: name a song written in 1925 that was in the charts in 1965. No? Thought so.) It's about how you will shake off the blues so much better if you go to the heart of the Big City – even when I first heard it, I assumed it was about Manhattan, not London – and seek out entertainment there. One reason it's strong is that it has an six-line verse, a five-line verse and a chorus. The third three-line verse is:

And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to
Guide them along...
So, maybe I'll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares and go

Okay. Now, who is Petula singing as and to whom? Sometimes girls sing boys' songs just because that's how it worked out in the A&R meeting. Well, she must be singing as a woman to a man – right? In which case, she's waiting for you downtown, and in 1965 there weren't that many professional women drowning their sorrows after work. Of course, she could be a professional with an older profession.

The key words are: “Someone who is just like you”. Just like you (a boy) how? She's a girl in 1965 and back then girls weren't like men like they are now, in 1965 women were different. And if she was a girl meeting your boy, why would you need a "gentle hand to guide [you] along"? You're a boy, she's a girl, and back then boys and girls who were out late knew what they were out late for. It was a damn sight less coy than it became later. But if you're a boy and she's not a girl, but a boy, and it's 1965, well, then everyone needs a gentle hand to, err, guide them along.

Damn. Another great song that's actually about the gay life. Listen to it on You Tube anyway.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Brief Holiday

On Wednesday and Thursday I took a couple of days in north Somerset, where I stayed overnight in Dunster, walked on the sands of Blue Anchor and Dunster beaches, up to Dunkery Beacon and along the Quantocks. I broke the drive down to have lunch at Glencot House...

...and then took a walk on the Quantocks which started in an obscuring mist that cleared enough to see the reactor houses at Hinckley Point. (Click on the photos for a little more details)

The north Somerset area, between Bridgewater and the Devon border, is a time-warp: I've been going there since the late 80's and it hasn't changed in any way. If anything the fields and forests are lusher than they were twenty years ago: the hedges are certainly higher.

It's a very marked contrast to north Devon - for reasons that turned out to be bad, I thought it might be an idea to look at Ilfracombe, and was reminded of why I never go to English seaside resorts.

On the next visit I will work out some way of breaking up the drive back. Two and a half hours of on the A358 / A303 leaves me feeling a little hyped at the end. The trick is to avoid the M25 during the rush hour, which means you have to pass it before about four in the afternoon or after about eight in the evening, so you leave either just after an early lunch or have a very long day. I will also remember to stay for some time in one place on the return day – perhaps sit on the beach for a couple of hours – so that I don't spend the whole day driving. I will also remember to take the camera along when I'm on the beach.

I'm very bad at taking going-away-somewhere-holidays and this was the first this year. I thought that if I kept it short and simple, it would give me some encouragement to take a longer, foreign, jaunt later on.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Am I A Nerd?

I'm never really sure if I qualify as a techie person. I don't have a zillion computer manuals at home, I have a Mac but haven't been drawn to the rocks of the Unix command line (oh goody, I can practice my awk!) nor started to learn Ruby. On the other hand, my recent reading has included Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature, Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, Ashley Kahn's The House That Trane Built and I'm currently three-quarters through William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, plus I'm still working my way through Hartshorne's Algebraic Geometry and I check in with Daily Dose of Excel every day. I think that makes up for not getting down and dirty with Xcode yet. There's more to being a nerd than programming.

Anyway, there are two wonderful essays about techie types. Peter Seebach's Care and Feeding of Your Hacker and Michael Lopp's (aka Rands) The Nerd Handbook. Both are well worth a read. Rands has a terrific line about the Nerd's “annoyingly efficient relevancy engine”: “your nerd’s insatiable quest for information and The High has tweaked his brain in an interesting way. For any given piece of incoming information, your nerd is making a lightning fast assessment: relevant or not relevant? Relevance means that the incoming information fits into the system of things your nerd currently cares about. Expect active involvement from your nerd when you trip the relevance flag. If you trip the irrelevance flag, look for verbal punctuation announcing his judgment of irrelevance. It’s the word your nerd says when he’s not listening and it’s always the same. My word is “Cool”, and when you hear “Cool”, I’m not listening.”

Of course, you understand, that's not me. I do not sit in meetings doodling over a problem while monitoring the blah-blah (excuse me, I mean, insightful discussion) for anything remotely connected with me or my job. I do not scan the conversations around me in cafes for anything cute, silly, interesting or memorably pretentious. I don't have problems keeping focussed on what someone is saying if I'm not interested – of course not. Nor do I take one look at a woman and decide a) what it is about her I find sexy and attractive, b) if I would sleep with her if I had the chance, c) if I have a remote chance, and if the answer to a) is “Nothing” or to b) or c) “No” then she vanishes from my world like a passing bus. I'm not that shallow. I'm looking for People Like Me (aren't we all looking for People Like Us?) and given how specific a description that is, my relevancy engine has a default setting of “Off”.

By the way, if you think this is a bad habit of nerds, you haven't been brushed off by a really top-notch networker at an industry event: those guys can be halfway to their next target before they've stopped shaking your hand because they realised you are way too low on the corporate tree to be useful to them. Watch Four Weddings and a Funeral and see the way Corin Redgrave seems to shake Hugh Grant's hand affably while utterly ignoring him (it's in wedding two).

What's interesting to me right now about this is the identity: am I really a Nerd? And if I am, how do I get to be a better Nerd? Because I've spent a lot of my life avoiding certain nerdhood things. For instance, Star Trek and general Trekiness no, Battlestar Galactica yes; tee-shirts with words on them, no, shirts from Jermyn St, yes. There is room here for the idea of a “gentleman nerd” and I'm going to elbow me some out.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Make sure the staff toilets work before you ask for excellence

"How dare you ask for excellence when the staff toilets are filthy!". This is in a Tom Peters book – Liberation Management, I think. Before he went new age on us in the late 90’s, Tom was more of a Good Guy in the same spirit as Robert (Up The Organisation) Townsend than all that big-company ass-kissing in Pursuit of Excellence suggested.

I have worked for a company (an FTSE-100 household name) that asked for excellence from its staff and gave them a building where the toilets backed up regularly. I saw the cisterns once when the maintenance door was open – you and I have better equipment at home.

How can the company ask for excellence from you and me and let the landlord get away with toilets that don’t work? Well, if they think they really are providing an environment where you and I can be excellent, then they are a) self-satisfied or b) not very well travelled. If they know they are not providing that environment, then they are either c) going through some PR motions or d) just trying it on, e) so dumb they don’t know what "excellent" means. How dare they be a) complaisant, b) provincial, c) devious, d) taking the Mickey or e) dumb and then ask you to be self-critical, experienced, honest, straightforward and smart?
That’s why the toilets have to work before you can ask your people for excellence.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Steal, Don’t Plagiarise

Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said that "second-rate artists plagiarise, first-rate artists steal". Plagiarising is passing off other peoples’ work as your own: it’s intellectual theft, it’s misrepresentation, it’s dishonest and you will never be allowed in the playpen again once you have been caught at it.

What Wilde meant by stealing is different: he meant that great artists take from the work of others. They take a character, a plot, or idea, a trick, a phrase, a colour, a shape, a technique, any damn thing they can get their hands on that helps them solve a problem in their own work. Visual artists and designers of all stripes sometimes call it "inspiration", but what they mean is that they took someone else’s idea and used it to develop their own ideas. Mathematicians and scientists put this at the core of their practice: they use other people’s results and techniques and give out credits in a footnote or the name of the theorem or algorithm.

Steal, don’t plagiarise. Look at the work of other people and take whatever techniques and ideas from them that you need to get your own work done.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Know what you’re going to do when it doesn’t work

Confidence is not believing that your plans will work out or that the worst won’t happen: that’s optimism. Confidence is knowing that you can recover when things go wrong. The military have a saying about plans: "no plan survives its first contact with the enemy". Contingency planning is essential: working out what might go wrong and how you are going to cope with it.
This is why you read the manual, hire good people and train the rest: good people will have the knowledge to fix it when it goes wrong. To put the same thing another way: you don’t hire a professional builder to chase in a water pipe, you hire them because they know what to do when the bricks fall out of your wall. (This actually happened during some work I had done on my bathroom.)

Some things aren’t supposed to have another door: marriage, children, joining the Mafia, ageing and taxes. Which is why people invented divorce, adoption and the Netherlands Antilles, and continue to look for something to slow or reverse ageing. (You can’t get out of the Mafia.)

"Never enter a room with only one door" should be a Russian proverb if it isn’t already. Always have a way out, a Plan B. That way you don’t have to worry about what happens if something goes wrong.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Twelve Promises

If you want to see how well your recovery is doing, the Twelve Promises make a good check. I thought it was time I did this.

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. I'm not sure about “half-way through”, but I'm amazed now.

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. Not so much. I've definitely lost the old misery, but I'm not sure I really do happiness. There's always something else I want to be doing and somewhere else I'd like to be – I just don't get upset or sad about it anymore.

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. Okay. Signed up to this one.

We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. Yes. I'm still a fidgit, I can't keep mentally still either and I have no idea if this is what you mean by “serenity”, but compared to what I used to feel like, this will do.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. Now I have a thing with this. I'm not sure my experience is of any benefit to anyone else. Or maybe I don't know how to share it so it is. I hardly ever share, unless it's round-robin, because I can never think of anything I need to say.

That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. Okay. Signed up to this one as well.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Not so much on this one. I used to be interested in other people in an unhealthy co-dependent way and I've stopped that. I'm not sure I know how to relate to people in a healthy way. And I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with people when I've got them. Well, I am, but I'm quite happy going to the movies or on holiday or out for a meal on my own. I always feel I have to “deal” with people when I'm with them socially.

Self-seeking will slip away. Okay. Signed up to this one.

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Not so much on this one. I'm outwardly more upbeat and socially-skilled, but inwardly nothing has changed much.

Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. For a long time I misunderstood this one: I thought it said “economic insecurity will leave us”. It doesn't. It says the fear of it will leave us. It has. I always forget that fear of people is supposed to leave me. I don't think I ever was afraid of people – see previous comments.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. Yes, I handle things a lot better these days. But if someone kicks in the emotional dynamic of my father, I'm off the rails.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. I'm going to pass on this one. God is a metaphor for me, and this promise needs him/her/it to be real.

It's not all supposed to happen at once anyway. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Monty Hall Problem Explained

The Monty Hall Problem is this: you're on a game show and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car and behind the other are goats. You choose, say, door A and the host, who knows where the car is, opens another door, B, behind which is a goat. He now gives you the choice of sticking with door A or switching to door C. Which should you do?

This problem appears almost whenever people are talking about counter-intuitive examples in probability. I got it wrong, the only reason you haven't is because you already knew the answer, but don't worry, we're all in good company: even Paul Erdos didn't get it first time, didn't like the answer when he did hear it and couldn't come up with a decent proof when he had.

What you and I and everyone except Marilyn vos Savant said was something like this: now you know there is a goat behind door B, there is a car and a goat left behind two doors, so there is a 50% chance the car is behind door A and a 50% chance it is behind door C, so it makes no difference if you switch doors. Two outcomes, two doors, it must be 50:50. Right?

Wrong. Computer simulation and complicated decision-trees shows that switching to door C is your best choice as it doubles your chances of winning. So far no-one has come up with a neat argument, let alone one “from the Book”, as Erdos would say, to explain why. Here's my attempt.

Your choose door A, with 1/3 probability of getting the car, leaving the doors (B or C) with 2/3 probability of getting the car. If you could somehow say “I'll choose (B or C)” you would have a 2/3 chance of getting the car. You cannot do that directly – but the host does something that makes it possible. He opens the losing door (B) in (B or C). This is guaranteed by the rules of the game. So by switching and choosing C you have effectively picked '(B or C)' with one choice and so benefited from the 2/3 probability.

If that sounds a little odd, look at what happens with four doors. You choose A and the host opens D. The car has probability ¾ of being in the set (B or C or D) but this time you have only a 50:50 chance of choosing the winning door for that set, because the odds are ¼ each that the car is behind B or behind C. So if you switch, your chances are 1/2x ¾ = 3/8 and you still have a 50% better chance of winning if you switch. The general formula is pretty obvious: with N doors, the probability of winning if you switch is: p = (1-1/N) / (N-2).

For N =3 this 2/3, N = 4 it is 3/8 and for 10 about 1/9. The benefit from switching never disappears but does get small fairly quickly.

We should put in an argument from Bayes' Theorem, just to prove we can. You open door A, with a 1/3 probability of getting the car. We want to know the posterior probability of P(Car behind B) after the host opens door C. We have: P(Car behind B given host opened C) = P(Host opened C given Car behind B)P(Car behind B) / P(Host opens C).

The prior probability of P(Car behind B) = 1/3 and P(Host opened C given Car behind B) = 1 by the rules of the game. What's not obvious is the prior probability of P(Host opens C). Since the host can only open B or C and since you don't know either way, the indifference principle says you should put P(Host opens C) = ½. Hence: P(Car behind B given host opened C) = (1/3) / (½) = 2/3.

So why did those professors (and me) fall into what trap? Our argument runs something like this: there are three doors and there's a goat behind C, so the car must be behind A or B. There's an equal chance it's either so there's no benefit in switching. Why is it an equal chance? Well, because there's one goat left and one car: two doors, two objects. What's wrong with that?

Nothing, because it's a correct calculation of the conditional subjective probability of the probability of P(Car behind A given Goat behind C).

Everything, because that's not the probability you need to make the decision. Why not? Because it's not what you know. You know much more than that and you haven't put it into your model. What you know is that the host either chose C at random (probability ½) or had to choose it because the car was behind B. The probability of that is 1/3*1/2 (at random) + 1*1/3 (car behind B) = ½ . So P(Car behind B given host opened C and you chose A) = 1/3*2/1 = 2/3. Voila! The 50:50 answer is the result of arguing correctly from the wrong model of the probabilities.

One final thought. If it's this hard to model a simple game show correctly, how confident are you about any other argument or mathematical model using probabilities?

(I wrote this back in 2003 or so and lately I've seen one or two other arguments using this approach.)

Monday, 10 August 2009

Why I Don't Watch TV

(I used to have a website – no-one read that either. Ah the freedom of anonymity! This was on there and written in about 2003 or so)

I don't watch TV. I do watch DVD's on a television and I watch box sets of certain TV series, but I don't watch broadcast television. You can use a television set to watch DVD's if you have the aerial unplugged and any receivers de-tuned so nothing happens if you press the channel buttons. I don't even sneak a peek at home. I watch zero hours of television programming every week. How did this happen?

Every spring here in the UK, the BBC sends out its demand that you pay your Licence Fee for the coming year. The world-famous BBC is not financed by the Government-controlled taxes: it's financed by a tax on watching television called the Television Licence. This name is confusing, because it sounds as if it's a licence to own or operate a TV set, but it is not. It's a licence to watch so-called "terrestrial" television. In 1998 I got my demand through the post - for £105. I am a professional pricing guy, I know all about margins, volume vs profit payoff and above all about what retailers call 'price points'. One 'price point' is a number above which you'll say "Damn that's expensive" and another is the price at which you'll think it "My heavens, that's cheap". Price points are about people's tastes, perceptions and backgrounds. But no matter who you are or what you're paid, £100 is a price point ($100 in the USA - in the UK all prices are 35% higher than they should be while all net salaries are 15% lower than they should be). Seeing that £105 I paused and asked: "What am I getting, exactly?"

So now I need to tell you about an evening which I remember to this day. I must have been tired: long day at work and all that. So I took a bath, cooked dinner and ate it while watching the 7:00 pm news on Channel Four. (Channel Four at the time had sexy presenters who now all have jobs in the USA with CNN and Sky. I'm shallow like that.) Then I flipped over to The Bill (please, don't ask: I am going to discuss US vs UK cop shows in a minute). Then I flipped over to Two Fat Ladies (a cooking show). And suddenly it was 9:00 pm, time for more news and just what had happened to my evening?

The memory of that evening joined my professional irritation at how anyone could charge £105 for anything. So what was I getting for my Licence Fee?. Here's the answer: E.R., N.Y.P.D. Blue, Homicide - Life On The Street and This Life. When I got around to watching them. I loved This Life but I had to stop watching it: at the end of each episode I'd want to have a drink and light a cigarette and pretend I was in my mid-twenties again. Three shows I wanted to watch but didn't always get around to, and one I had to stop watching for the sake of my health? Plus the possibility of wasting evenings in the manner I just described? For £105? No thank you.

So I called the TV Licence people and explained that I did not want to watch television, but did want to watch videos (this was before DVD's) and what could I do? They said: unplug the aerial and de-tune anything that can receive a signal and you will be within the law. Of course they send me reminders every year to make sure I declare I have not re-connected the aerial, but that's officials for you. So I did and I've been a happy bunny ever since.

Is that all? I'm just cheap? Well, for one thing, I belong to a socio-economic group (post-graduate single men over 35 in professional-type jobs) that doesn't watch much TV anyway. We tend to watch the news, business programs and maybe some science and technology stuff (plus one soap and a cop show we are not going to own up to). We still have the idea that, if you're watching television, there's something better you could be doing - like, maybe, sleeping. No, it was something else. Take a look at that list again.

When that £105 made me think about it, I wondered why all the shows were from the US. I realised that English television had poor production values, dull photography and set design, was smug, tidy, trivial and unimaginative. The soaps are either about a working class that simply does not exist (Coronation Street, Eastenders, Brookside) or were pale copies of Dawson's Creek (Hollyoaks). English TV comedies are based on the idea that people are funny (because pretentious, bossy, pathetic, etc) whereas I prefer comedies based on the idea that jokes are funny (even Yes Minister which had a first-rate script, depended on the caste-based parodies that were Sir Humphrey and The Minister). The police dramas, oh please! Inspector Morse aside, do I have to make out a case for the poverty of UK police programmes? Is it even sensible to mention The Bill, Heartland, Cracker in the same sentence as The Shield, NYPD Blue, Homicide - Life on The Street, Hill Street Blues and others?

The difference between what the US studios and budgets could do and what the poor old Brits could do was simply too great. There is simply no way that a UK film or television company will ever rise to the standard of The West Wing: it doesn't have the money. There are British directors who make good films, but they do so in Hollywood, not on British television or for British production companies (exception: Working Title) And when the Yanks come over here and touch British subjects, something happens and everything they know about making good films falls out the back of their heads: I say no more than to ask how they could make Veronica Guerin? Yes I know that the US turns out a vast amount of low-budget rubbish: both industries can dredge the bottom, my point is that the heights are now well above the BBC's budget.

And that's why I dumped the licence: because UK television was cookery programs, costume dramas, "hard-hitting" dramas about the English Underclass. Now I have shelves full of DVD box sets. It might cost more per year than the Licence Fee, but I don't get that frustrated feeling everyone gets when they go looking for entertainment or information on the television and find instead that "there's never anything on". The evening doesn't go by while I'm slumped on the couch watching a programme made because it has a low cost-per-minute. And I get about twelve hours a week more spare time than the average bear.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Step Seven

There's a lunchtime Step meeting in Covent Garden Thursday about half a mile from where I work. I go there about two weeks out of four, stay for about forty minutes and get back to the office before the lunch hour is up. It's like a lot of meetings: the usual suspects say much the same things, which is okay if they're a good act but not if they have chips on their shoulders, and occasionally someone shares something honest and emotional that reminds me why I go to meetings. I don't say much and a lot of the time I doze a little – I wake up before six in the morning for god's sake.

It was Step Seven - “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings” - and the speaker said a couple of things that grabbed my attention. The first was that he regarded it as a Step to take every day, not just the once. The moment he said so, it made immediate sense: having a whole heap of shortcomings, it would be a good idea to remind myself to leave them behind every morning, to remind myself of what they are and to watch out for them being triggered. I'd always thought of Step Seven as a one-time thing that worked out over a while, rather as Steps Four and Five do, but I'd never been entirely convinced. The idea that I remind myself every day of the “stuff” that's still lurking deep inside, masquerading as “who I am”, and so reminded reduce the odds of tripping up over it during the day, well, that's a good one.

The second thing he said was about being “right-sized”, a term of (Recovery) art that means we have abandoned grandiose and inflated ideas of ourselves, what we're entitled to, what we can expect by way of treatment from others and other unrealistic ideas that often compensate for being slagged off for no reason when we were younger. Needless to say, for most alcoholics, getting right-sized is mostly an exercise in reduction and (gentle) deflation. Not for all of us, and not in every aspect of ourselves. We may be under-valuing our abilities and character in some things, and so, for instance, being underpaid because we don't ask for what we're really worth on the market. Thinking too little of yourself is as “wrong-sizing” as thinking too much. Getting right-sized means getting a realistic view of ourselves, and being down on ourselves is a shortcoming as much as being grandiose. So if I can sort out what opinions I have as a compensation mechanism and what I have because certain people important to me behaved like I'd never amount to anything, and correct both, I'm on my way. And that is Step Seven – every day because that stuff is buried deep.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Where Do I Go Next?

So it's August, which is a good time to think about where I want to go after The Retail Bank. I accepted a role graded below my current one – it was that or be thrown in the internal clearing house – and while I have a couple of years on my current salary, they can impose a pay cut after that unless I've worked myself back into their good graces. The Retail Bank won't be allowed to remain in its current condition by either the EU, the Conservatives or the various government authorities who were told to shut up and let the deal go through. So there will be another re-organisation within, I'm betting, the year. The short odds are on a floatation of The Scottish Bit.

So I have some time to do this right. I can't leave it too long or the CV will start to degrade a little.

My first thought is that the roles I want are “hands-on”. At and above a certain level, which I'm at, in The Retail Bank and I suspect a lot of other companies, most of what you do is about making the organisation change or do something. You attend meetings, work the bureaucracy, fill in online forms for permissions to do this and that, persuade people to do things for you and most of all, try to get IT and Operations to do stuff for free – or as part of “BAU”. You make Powerpoint presentations and occasionally crunch a few numbers. You don't learn any transferable skills or anything interesting. To me, this isn't real work and it isn't interesting: why do I want to clutter up my head with the workings of an old and clunky system? Someone has to, but it isn't me.

And it gets worse. Because it's a bank, you're working with poorly-documented old systems that no-one understands and consequently everyone is afraid to touch. It takes a huge effort in IT and Operations just to keep the normal business going and of course they downsized several times so they don't have spare people to assign to projects. So any change that the commercial people want to make has to be prioritised, assessed, lobbied for and ultimately referred to the unspoken pecking order. (In The Retail Bank, that's Branches, Telephone Sales, Current Accounts, Credit Cards, Credit Risk, Audit, Operational Risk and Personal Loans – in that order.) So there are a whole bunch of roles which amount to little more than “internal lobbyist”. If you're lobbing for a function towards the bottom of the pecking order, you are on to a loser. Another way of describing this I've used to two agents today about the same job is “silo-runner”, because the organisation is divided into silos and they want you to run between them and dodge the shells. One agent burst out laughing at that description.

I don't want to be a silo-runner. I want to do stuff. At heart I'm an engineer: I want to be designing things or processes, creating, solving problems, using tools and learning stuff. Don't get me wrong, I'll punch the air when I've used one part of the bureaucracy to beat another part, but I wouldn't want to do that for a living. Read this and this to get a pretty good picture of me, then add some charm and a few more social skills.

It's not about the size of the organisation - though I keep thinking it is. It's about the role. Large organisations do tend to have a larger number of silo-runner roles described in the most preposterous language. I was sent one recently that asked for an “acclaimed specialist” in pricing. I will take the mickey out of that one later. Small organisations don't go in for the BS but do expect a lot for the money, and the really small ones are often set up by entrepreneurs who realise they have no technical understanding, need rescuing but want to resent you for it because they thought it was going to be an easy buck.

What I don't want to do is have my choices dictated by the bad times I've had at The Retail Bank. I'm pretty sure I don't want to be in large, broken down companies, but that's not all large companies (is it?). Am I sure I want to go on doing a lot of VBA and expanding to Visual Studio? I do programming when there isn't enough brain candy in the business side of a job, not because I really dig programming. I don't rush home to learn more cool tricks on my Mac. Yet if there ever was a computer you could spend a long time learning cool tricks on, it's a Mac: it's Unix, Objective-C, it's Ruby and others, and I should be editing my own videos by now. You see what I mean? I'm making decisions not based on what I want or am interested in, but on what stops me from going barmy. If I could find an interesting management job that wasn't lobbying, Powerpoint and silo-running, I'd be interested and maybe not want to program.

It's August, I have a job and I don't have to rush this.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Who I Am (at August 3rd 2009)

You know what? I'm tired of pretending to be someone I'm not. I'm tired of pretending to be one of you. I'm not. I never was. But here's the trick: I'm not going to tell you what I can't do that you do and I'm sure as heck not going to tell you why. Because it doesn't matter why.

So here I am:

I am going to disappoint you. Because you're going to have expectations about what kind of person I am before I've even finished saying “hello”. That doesn't happen to you, but it does to me.

I guess at what normal is . I have no idea what normal is but I know it exists. I used to think it had to do with having a job, a partner and a garden shed, but that's because I was guessing. Now I know it isn't that. I have this idea that if I was ever inside the mind and soul of an ordinary person, I'd want out quickly so I could breathe and think and feel again.

I have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end. That's why I had to learn about Time Management and Project Management and Planning Stuff. I can do it as naturally as you breath. I just lose motivation or run out of money and ideas.

I find it easier to lie than tell the truth. It took me a while before I understood this, partly because we tell so many white lies at work disguised as office humour that I've lost track of when we're supposed to tell the truth. Take away the white lies, office gossip with a trusted few, comments about movies, places to get lunch and other miscellaneous bullshit, and there's nothing left of my conversation. I lie by omission and silence all the time. Actually I have no idea what truth I'm supposed to be telling to whom. I do know this: if I don't trust you, if I think you're not on my side, I can tell you black is white with a clear conscience. Of course, at any given time there are only a couple of people I trust. Sure, it's way easier to tell white lies and talk empty bullshit than tell the truth: a lot of the time, that's all people expect.

I judge myself without mercy. Anyone who has to tell themselves “that'll do, this is only rock-n-roll” is trying to silence the inner critic snarking that I missed a bit. There. And there. And look at the mess. And it took way longer than you thought. I've had to learn to turn that one down.

I don't do fun. Nothing makes me feel miserable like a paper hat at the office Xmas lunch, except the afternoon games after the morning speeches on a company team day. I can sit in a crowded cafe and be content, but put me in with a hundred people I'm supposed to be networking with and I'd rather be dead. Exception: the wonderful world of wholesale switched minutes.

I don't drink, which means I won't be doing the after-work Friday booze-up and I will be leaving your wedding reception / birthday party / victory celebration / whatever after about an hour. Just so you know, it is thoughtless to expect people who don't drink to hang around a bunch of people on their third one.

I take myself too seriously. I don't know what this means. If I did, I'd agree, probably.

I have difficulty with intimate relationships . An intimate relationship is where I share all my thoughts as long as they're the ones you want to hear? That's it, isn't it? Or does this mean I have a problem with sex? Actually, there are no such things as “intimate relationships”: the whole idea was invented by women to guilt-trip men and is encouraged by therapists because they don't know any better. So yes, I have difficulty with “intimate relationships”.

I over-react to changes over which I have no control. Well, yes, I do. Equanimity is not my middle name. I'm not so bad at it as I used to be, but man, you should see me when I have to rush the commute and can't find my keys...

Any criticism of my work or behaviour threatens my very survival. Because you're looking for a way to get me out of your life. You're plotting to sack me and I'll be without an income. Because you're going to leave me. Because you're going to pass on the pay rise and I'l be five percent or more less well-off next year than this. Because all you do is criticise and you never ever help. And while we're at it...

I don't do mentoring or being mentored. Because when Daddy was visibly not too good at managing his own life, when you can't learn from him how to make friends, run a network, build a career, you have an abstract idea of what a mentor is but don't really believe they exist, let alone how to choose a good one or be one for someone else. Ask me for advice and what I'll say will boil down to “RTFM”.

I don't do authority. I respect skill, knowledge, achievement, character, integrity, stuff like that. I respect the sergeant, not the stripes. There are far more people with stripes on their arm than there are sergeants.

I constantly seek approval and affirmation. At school the other boys used to call it “fishing for compliments” and I got the idea it wasn't too cool. I have to stop myself from doing it all the time. But there's a catch...

I don't believe your compliments. Because you don't mean it, you're just saying it to be polite or because you went on a course that told you it works. Also because your compliments are just words: there's no pay rise, introduction to a useful contact, funding, assistance or new toys. Nice words are too often a substitute for good deeds. In fact, they are little else. When a girl starts by saying something nice about you, it's pumpkin time, because you are not going to get lucky.

I don't expect you to keep your promises. I don't doubt your sincerity, but: you will forget, you will change your mind, you will meet someone else, you will hire someone else. You will decide to fund another project. You will get the next financials and decide to announce pay freezes to keep the City happy. You will be busy. You will keep your promises to someone else, but never to me. Hence my principle of diary management:

Don't tell me it's not personal. If it isn't, don't do it to me, do it someone else. Thought so. You did mean me. What people mean by “it's not personal” is “don't get upset about this because we don't want to have to deal with it”. If it's got my name on it, it's personal. If the bruise is on my skin or my soul, you know what? It's personal. I don't care if you knew my name at the time or not.

Always agree to every meeting, as they will all be re-scheduled or cancelled. (This is not true about tedious bureaucratic meetings held in airless offices – those always happen).

I feel I am different from other people. There's nothing like seeing a herd of your fellow humanity to tell you that you are not one of them. However, I bet we have this in common...

Why does the loony always get in my carriage?. See? It's not just you. Finally...

Going away is pointless because you have to come back to exactly what you left. It's not that I don't want to go on holiday, it's that if I go, I have to come back, and I don't want to come back. Because nothing has changed and I don't want to be there.

I don't know how to make it better. I don't know what “better” means: if I did, and I knew how to get there, I wouldn't be here.