Thursday, 31 October 2013

Low-Odds Campaigns (1): Making Outsiders

Most of the things we do in our daily lives are learnable and predictable: we can learn to do them properly, and what we learn works every time. Making an omelette, shaving, buying the weekly groceries, driving a car from here to there, using the diary on your phone, swiping into the office, making half-useful comments during some interminable conference call at work, booking a theatre ticket... you get the idea. Stuff where your actions interact with Nature (omelettes), or with people who are following the rules (driving), tends to learnable and predictable.

At the other end of the scale is the really important stuff: job searching, number-farming, new product development, athletic competition, scientific and mathematical research, starting a band, electoral campaigning in a hard core Opposition constituency or getting your book published or your movie made (never mind distributed afterwards)... to name but a few. Stuff where you need other people, usually pretty much people who are total strangers, to approve, buy, and otherwise accept what you have made, or in some cases, the product that you made that is you... that stuff is not just hard.

It's random. Anything that depends on someone else saying that I nailed it is always going to have a strong element of random. This isn't the random of competition where I do well but on the day someone else does better - that's fair, that's the game. This is the random where what I did yesterday doesn't work today, where what plays in Putney doesn't work in Woking and positively bombs in Brighton.

Sometimes the random gets overwhelmed by numbers: they have fifty vacancies and ten decent applicants, guess what? I get a job. They have fifty vacancies and five hundred applicants, guess what? I get a formulaic rejection. And I know someone who got one of those jobs, and they are much the same as me in all relevant respects. There is nothing I can do right, and very little I can do that's guaranteed to sink the deal. Name any rule, there's always an exception. There's little to learn from rejections, because the rejectors usually use carefully neutral language to be polite and avoid legal action. Even when they do give real-sounding reasons, those that aren't about shaming are about personal preference - unless I really did turn up drunk or unwashed. It's random.

Combine a process that requires another person to give you the nod with a high applicant-to-opportunity ratio (anything over 5:1) and you have a low-odds campaign. What I'm going to suggest is when low-odds campaigns are compulsory, or nearly so, there are unexpected and undesirable consequences.

Let's say I'm out of work, looking for a job and the labour market has a case of flu. I do two things. The first is the mechanics of the job-search process. Then there's a bunch of stuff I need to do to survive that process. I cut down on expenses and simplify how I live to conserve money; claim benefits if I can't avoid it (it's amazingly depressing to do given how little time it actually takes and it exposes me to a bureaucracy that can send me to zero-hour no-money no-skill jobs just to keep thier numbers looking good). I need to un-identify myself from employment so that I don't feel worthless because I'm unemployed; I learn to value myself because I'm fit, healthy, interesting, have an immaculately clean house (I have to keep busy, right?), can cook nourishing low-cost meals and have read the entire canon of classical literature on my Kindle for free (the TV subscriptions go in the first month). If I'm one of the creative minority, I can work on some low-cost projects. I discover that much of my social life costs way too much and as a consequence I stop seeing a lot of "friends". I discover that my "networks" weren't about me, but my role at the company, and that nobody knows who's hiring. I learn to maintain my spiritual and intellectual health independently of the world of work and a lot of normal social contact. And by the way? People who can't do almost all those things collapse and rot inside. I have no idea how a married man with children survives, but here's a clue: I don't think they do.

If you think this sounds character-building?  Well, maybe it is, but look at the character it builds. I no longer derive any sense of value or identity in the institution of employment, nor much from the company of other people. I have survived without the support of "networks", of acquaintances, of social life, and probably without, uh, adult intimacy. I don't have a career, which requires emotional investment, but a day job; I focus on skills and re-sellable achievements, not on making your institutions work; I have seen behind the curtain of the mainstream job-seeking and career advice and smelled the bullshit.

This is an Outsider. And there's more ways of getting there than being out of work.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Cascais is the seaside town where rich people live who don't want to live in Lisbon. It's where Lisbon people "go to the beach". The train runs along the coast and reminded me a bit of the run along Dawlish Warren in Devon. Go for the park, the Paula Rego Gallery and a bunch of other culture. When we went it was grey and windy, so not the best day for lingering.

The beach and fishing boats at the Passeio Dom Luis I; a small cove near the Marina; the Courtyard of the Museum Condes Castro GuimarĂ£es; a bit of the Parque Marechal Carmona, with peacock and peeling trees; the Paula Rego Gallery; and the main beach front at Cascais. I have no idea what that silly lego building is or why.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Thanks For Sharing - Review

Now this is how you make a movie about sex addiction. A swift digression brought on by a little scene at the start of the movie: one big difference between the 12 Step Fellowships in the USA and in the UK is that the American courts do order attendance at 12 Step Meetings, and it's clearly been the conscience of those groups to co-operate. I was the joint secretary of a reasonably large meeting for a year, I've done committee service and I've read the manual (yes, there's a manual) and I have never been approached by anyone asking to have me sign their card, nor have I heard of it, or even read about it in the manual. I think this is because the Courts here don't regard 12 Step Fellowships as suitably official enough, but I have a feeling that UK AA and others wouldn't co-operate even if it was asked. Can you see the headlines? "Driver who killed Annie (4) pronounced cured of alcoholism by AA". That's the British press for you. Nah. I don't think I'm voting to put anyone in the way of that.

Hollywood portrays 12 Step Fellowships sympathetically - a LOT of industry people are in it, and it's worked for them. But this movie isn't cute about it. Okay, so none of the guys will ever look like Mark Ruffalo, nor will any of the gals look like Pink (who appears as Alecia Moore and is Jolly Good Too). And I doubt there are as many slim good-looking women in New York as there were in the movie: America is the land of the obese. And of course, nobody her age looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. Not even her. 

There was just one scene that had me muttering "yeah, right, as if", when the Tim Robbins character has a row with his son after presumptuously and falsely, as it will turn out, accusing him of stealing some Percocet. Robbins goes into a Korean grocer and can't take his eyes off a black girl with hot pants and an afro who clearly time-warped in from the early Seventies, while he orders a bunch of lottery tickets and a fifth of bourbon. Just in time, his mobile rings and he's saved by the call for help from a fellow addict. My problem is that his character was a gajillion years sober, and while YMMV, mine tells me that I couldn't make that much sobriety if I reacted that strongly to anything. The people with long-term sobriety I know are nice enough and polite enough and they do their duty when called on, but they are pretty frikkin emotionally stable. After my friend's funeral, I blew off the rest of the afternoon, went home, ate some cake and chocolate (but not stuffing it), watched Rent and burst into tears over the "Will I lose my dignity / Will someone care" song. (As indeed any human being with feeling would.)  That was it. It didn't occur to me to take a drink or light a cigarette. However, I've heard people with fifteen years talking about their slips, so…

I'm not going to talk about the rest of the movie: it's full of scenes that ring true, or are true, because I've been there. The writers clearly know what they are talking about. And if you've ever worried that maybe you look at too much porn, or think about what some random woman would be like in bed too often, or your partner thinks you want sex too often, then go see this movie, and watch the scene where Josh Gan rubs himself up against a Chinese girl on the train. Yeah. You don't do that and nor do I. But those guys do.

Oh, and there was a killer line about triggers. "Anxiety, that's a big one". 

Identify? Moi? Meme pas!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Even When The Sky Is Grey, The Rest of The World Can Still Be In Colour

More than any other town I've seen outside Italy, Lisbon is about colour. And just like the title says, even when the sky is grey, the place is still in colour. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Tree in The Jardim do Principe Real, Barrio Alto, Lisbon

At the top of the hill from where we were stating was the Jardim do Principe Real. In the middle is a pond and this amazing tree, held up by ornate metal scaffolding.

There's a neat little cafe kiosk on one corner with seats and tables. I liked the hot chocolate and vanilla cake. And the girl running it.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Off the Rua do Jasmim, Barrio Alto, Lisbon

So there are going to be a heap of posts with photographs from my second visit to Lisbon with the gang this year. This is the first, for no special reason.

Walk down the Rua do Jasmim from the Jardin de Principe Real, and this is half-way down on the right. One little alley, so many images.

And those 3.5" diskettes? Who even knew there were any left in the whole of Europe?

Monday, 7 October 2013

September 2013 Review

September usually goes by in a flash.

Swimming after work is now part of the routine. I'd been thinking about doing that for a while, but it took the insomnia thing to kick me into it. My swimming has rapidly improved, and I aim for fifteen minutes of fairly serious exertion, rather than long marathons. I graduated to proper dead-lifts on the Big Wheels, and am now at 3x10x60 kgs. Stop sniggering: you don't have my curved lower spine, which means I have to be super-careful about style, and need I remind you, you're way younger than me. Pull-ups are still a sticking-point: I'm doing more reps, but at levels of support that are truly embarrassing.

Sometimes the little things make a difference. I replaced the XL tee-shirts I've been wearing for years under my blue office shirts with some L Autographs from M&S, and though those hug my abs in a non-flattering way, my office shirts now fit a lot better.

One lunchtime I went down to Byron near Spitalfields Market and ordered a Classic-no-onions to take away, and haven't looked back. One big dose of cow at half-one or so sets me up for the rest of the day. I don't feel drowsy at 15:00 and I don't feel sugar-crashed at 16:30 either. It's not the cheapest lunch, but what use is a snack that sends me to sleep and bounces my blood-sugar?

Sis and I had supper at Marco Pierre White's Steak and Alehouse on Middlesex Street, which is not as expensive as you might think and a solid meal, and was given a little drama by the Central Line halting for long enough to make me think that catching a bus in the rain at Holborn would be a good idea, which lasted for as long as it took to find out on Tube Checker that the line was running again, and so I jumped off at the next stop and went back to Chancery Lane.
Taking Krauser's comment about not listening to "Woe is me my girl walked out I hate everybody" music, I started to put more instrumentals on the phone for travel-to-work music. Much though I like Seether's Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray, it does have a negative emotional load I don't need. So as I write, I have Digweed's Structures 2, Bedrock and Live In London, Maya Jane Cole's Heaven, DJ Kicks and Comfort, Sasha's Airdrawndagger, Renaissance's The Mix Collection: The Tale of Us, and a bunch of post rock from Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai.

I saw Upstream Colour and Rush - I'm just less and less captivated by the movies at the moment; and I read a bunch of stuff, including Sandy Nairn's Art Theft, about recovering the Turners for the Tate, the first volume of Transmetropolitan (Back On The Streets)  and short studies on the history of Pop Art, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns and Nan Goldin, as well as Fight Club, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ….. Nick and Norah is way better than the movie and it's genre as a "teen novel" suggests, and I was struck by how much the Manosphere makes more sense after I read Fight Club (the movies isn't quite enough).

The end of the month was Lisbon with side trips to Caiscas and Sintra. What can I say? Amazing food, Bar Baia and Urban Beach Friday night to Saturday morning, hanging out with the guys, dodging the rain, the Paula Rego museum and Atlantic waves in Caiscas, a Sunday morning stroll round the Botanical Gardens, and generally chilling in Barrio Alto cafes and squares while the rest of the gang slept off their hangovers. There are going to be a whole bunch of posts on it.

And I finally found a decent explanation of what a twisting sheaf is and why - props to Andreas Gathmann. So the slow crawl to Riemann-Roch just speeded up a lot.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sao Domingos, Lisbon

Nothing can prepare you for being inside Sao Domingos Church in Lisbon. It burned down in 1954, was re-built it, but not re-prettified. Instead it has been left with cracked pillars, burnt rock, and a blood-red interior. This is a serious church, in which life is in danger and under threat, and God is not smiling on us and protecting us. This church reminds us that we die in accidents and earthquakes and fires, and that there is dark side to life which is God's as well. I'm a heathen, and it connects with me. Visit it, but don't do the tourist one-lap-and-out. Stay. Absorb. Take photographs because that will make you look. Notice the old women praying and sitting in silence. And still people light candles in hope, because there is hope in this blood-red darkness.