The unbearable lightness of peeing.

cell-phone-toilet-nasty

3 reasons to block wi-fi and phone signals to workplace bathrooms.

Many workplaces recognize the drag on work time if staff are checking in on their mobile phone to catch up on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s App etc.  HR departments have introduced guidelines on use of mobile phones.  Many have restricted access to wi-fi networks to business approved usage only.  But with cheap data usage plans plenty of staff are still “always on” as long as they have a phone signal.  Maybe it is time to monitor bathroom behavior in your business.

Productivity

It is a no-brainer that staff members who are accessing their social media feeds are taking time away from their work.  In certain types of business this impact can be significant.  For people working on complex data tasks an interruption to analysis can result in a 20 minute “recalibration” penalty as the staff member picks up from where they previously left off.

If you are engaged in a complex task, or something that needs a lot of concentration (think about sitting exams) a bathroom break can be a moment when you order your thoughts on how to approach the task at hand.  How often have you worked out the solution to a problem by going for a walk, or eating lunch, while mulling over the problem?  But if that time is spent checking social media feed the brain is distracted.  Instead of working out the problem at hand the brain is leaping from photos of friends lunches to the latest on Royal Weddings.

By making the bathroom in the office a data black hole you help staff members to avoid the lure of the device in their pocket.

Health

If people are in the habit of checking their phone in the bathroom there will be implications for the spread of germs.  This is not rocket science.  When have you last seen someone wash their iPhone in the sink?

Think about that next time you borrow someones phone!  Yuck.

Congestion

The hidden cost of phone usage in bathrooms is congestion.  Staff members are taking longer to use the bathroom because they are checking the phone.  Male staff members are more likely to use a stall instead of a urinal because they can scan their feed.  This causes lost time, but hides a more insidious issue.

Buildings are designed around the flow of people.  A building is designed with an optimal number of bathrooms for staff, based on research into usage parameters.  There have to be enough toilets to handle the maximum demand periods.  If each staff member is spending just a few extra seconds using the bathroom, checking their phone, this has knock on consequences for office design and consequently the cost of office space.

Summary

Bathrooms are designed for going to the lavatory.  If they are designed to block phone and wi-fi signals they will operate more effectively for their intended purpose.

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Nominative Determinism

Originally the concept of nominative determinism arose as a humorous feedback thread in New Scientist Magazine as readers observed how authors names reflected their research topics.  Polar explorations by Daniel Snowman,  a urology article by Splatt and Weedon.

This was a build from joke books of my youth.  “The Tower of Pisa” by Eileen Over.  “Legal Jurisprudence” by Argue and Phibbs.  “Treating Tennis Injuries” by Savage, Racquet and Ball. There are lot of those:  Funny books and authors  

Erik the Red, who founded the Viking colony on Iceland wanted to keep the island for his own people.  To dissuade other Norsemen from following he gave his colony an unattractive name.  His son, Lief Eriksson, did the opposite in an attempt to encourage colonists to settle in his new discovery, Greenland.

Some people have begun to take nominative determinism more seriously.  Some pointed to the fact that many names originated in the middle ages when people were named for their trade, and families stayed within a trade.  Thatchers roofed houses.  Wrights made wheels.  Smiths beat metal.  Fletchers made arrows.  Is there a genetic disposition to excellence in a field of endeavour?

A family that has genetically poor eyesight will not survive long in the lacemaking trade.  Do genetic traits in agility, intelligence, strength etc contribute to our aptitude for certain careers?

Then there is the environment.  The child of a musician is raised in a world of music practice, has a learned knowledge of what harmonies work well, grows up playing with musical instruments.  Learning to read music comes easier than learning to read language.  Smiths know the techniques for tempering steel, learned over many generations and passed orally from Father to Son.  Fletchers know how to make good glue.  Dyers know the recipes for pigments that stain cloth but do not fade rapidly in sunlight.  Tanners are used to the smell of piss and shit.

So in the modern world, when we are socially mobile, does our heritage still carry cues to our abilities.  Is nominative determinism a real thing?

For me the funniest example of nominative determinism is given in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.  With a surname of Major a vindictive father stepped in when his wife was comatose after childbirth and named his son Major Major Major.  The child is drafted into the US Air Force in WW2 as Private Major Major Major.  It is only the work of a short time and standard military bureaucracy before the Private is promoted, by clerical error, and assigned as Major Major Major Major.

Miniver Cheevy; by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

 

Superbowl 1984

Mac

On this day in 1984 they held an annual football game in the USA called Superbowl XVIII.  Barry Manilow sang the national anthem.  Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins by 38 points to 9.  The next day nobody was talking about the game.  Nobody was talking about Barry Manilow.  Nobody was talking about the half time show, a salute to the superstars of the silver screen.

Everyone was talking about an ad that played during the game.  An ad that ran on that day only and never again.  An ad that became the stuff of legend.

Chiat/Day ad agency commissioned Ridley Scott to direct the slot.  He took inspiration from George Orwell’s novel 1984.  He depicted a controlled society in the future, similar to the dystopian vision of Orwell’s book.  Then a blonde girl in a white shirt and orange shorts throws a hammer through a very large screen.  We are then told that Apple is about to change the world.  And to be fair they did.  They launched the Apple Mackintosh, the first mouse driven GUI computer, the things we all use now.

Apple 1984 Superbowl Ad

Some said the “Big Brother” in the ad represented IBM.  Others suggested it represented Bill Gates.  Everyone wanted to know what exactly Apple was about to launch.  The ad was made before a working prototype was available so the product does not feature in the ad.  The important thing is that the ad, like all good ads followed the mousetrap analogy.  If you want the trap to work you have to leave room for the mouse.  A good ad has a certain amount of the unknown about it, the observer has to walk into the ad and try to figure out what is going on.

In this case the analogy is doubly profound because it launched a computer with a mouse.

Still considered the greatest every Superbowl ad the Apple Mac launch 1984 ad generated millions of dollars in publicity and was aired for free thousands of times in news and reviews shows.  It then went on to win multiple awards at the Cannes Lions, generating further publicity for Apple.

It took me 4 years post launch before I got my hands on an Apple Mac.  It was still fresh and new then.

Crushed by pressure.

first-step

There are times in our lives when we are crushed into immobility by pressure.  It may be the pressure of too much stimulation, like a soldier caught in crossfire who freezes instead of leaping for cover.  It may be pressure of time and work, like the office worker who faces such a towering pile of work and impossible deadlines that they can’t focus on a single task.  It may be an artist or writer facing self doubt about their personal validity leading to a mental block.

Military special forces deal with situation number 1 by putting recruits through stress again and again until stress becomes their new norm.  Special forces are special because when everybody else is running blindly for cover, or freezing on the spot, they can make rational decisions.  They assess the situation, make a decision and act.

Experienced office employees know you can only focus on one task at one time.  Don’t believe people who say they can multi-task.  Focus on the here and now.  Pick the most important thing.  This may not be the most “urgent”.  Do one thing well.  Complete it.  Then do the next most important thing.

Many people become stressed by the things they cannot change.  It is like a person standing in a room with a burst pipe worrying about global climate change.  You can’t solve global climate change today.  But maybe you can fix a pipe or call a plumber.  Keep it small, keep it simple.

For the writer or artist with the mental block there are a million pieces of advice.  For me what works is the discipline of writing something.  Anything.  This blog.  Lay some words on a page.  They may be rubbish.  They may turn out to be good.  They may just clear your mind.  The simple action of placing words on a page or paint on a canvas, with no motive, can be enough to move you forward.

Robert M Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance described an A student with a mental block.  She had to write an essay about her home town and got stuck.  So he told her to walk to the main street, stand outside the library, count bricks from the ground on the corner and stop at e.g brick number 20.  Then write about that brick.  Once she started to write about the brick she could not stop, and the story of the whole town unfolded.

In Time Management Training they describe their approach to daunting tasks as “Eating an Elephant”.  It’s hard to eat an elephant in one meal.  Much easier if you chop it up into lots and lots of meals.  Then just eat the elephant one meal at a time.  Before you know it you will run out of elephant.

A Grain of Sand:  by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

 

Make your moments

Tube

Photo by Matt Crabtree (16th Century Tube Passengers)

I spent years commuting to the big city on the train.  It is a journey of 1 hour 20 mins on a good day, 1 hour 30 mins mostly.  So that’s 3 hours daily on a train.

Say that to many people and they think you are crazy.  They think this is 3 hours a day wasted.  How little they know.

Much of my time on the train was spent working.  In fact it was the time getting to and from the train that had the potential to be “wasted”.  But you only waste time if you choose to do nothing with it.

That’s why I connect so well with the image above.  This lady on the Tube is not wasting time, she is eating it up, stealing precious moments for herself.  On a commute I had time to hear the music I want to hear, read books, write poetry.  Downloading podcasts gives me access to lectures on Byzantine emperors, audio books of many of the classics, some of them made hilarious by dreadful pronunciations by the narrator.

This photograph was taken by Matt Crabtree who said

One morning in 2016, on a tube journey into central London, I looked up to see a lady dressed in a velvet hood, seated in a classical, timeless pose. Immediately, a 16th-century Flemish painting came to mind. I looked around and suddenly found I couldn’t see anything else but people held in their own Renaissance-like, personal moments’.

I get that too, how travelling on public transport is like starring in your own reality TV show.  A stream of people pass each day through your life.  You have the regular characters and some who only appear in a single episode.  Each has their own part in the story and it is a wonderful story.  The story of life.

 

Is your pension killing the planet?

Pollution

You are a model citizen.  You recycle your glass bottles.  You separate your household waste.  You don’t run the tap while you brush your teeth.  You buy A rated appliances.  You are doing everything in your power to save the planet, except you won’t give up that foreign holiday and you don’t pay exceptional attention to the carbon footprint of the Asparagus and Avocados you eat.

You are also fiscally continent.  You paid attention to all the good advice not to spend all your cash.  You have been squirreling away a good solid percentage of your pay packet.  If you are lucky your employer has been matching your contributions.  If you live in certain countries the Government is also matching your contributions by making them tax free.  Year by year that nest egg is growing and growing to provide you with a well feathered retirement nest.

What is that money doing?  Did you think it was sitting in a bank, accumulating cobwebs?  You know that the pension fund does something with it, but what?  Do you pay attention to how your money is used on your behalf?  Perhaps you should.

We read news reports about global corporate businesses exploiting people all over the world and how they damage the environment with oil spills, or cutting down rain forest, employing child labour etc etc.  We see these news reports and we are shocked.  We wonder who these evil business people are, and how they can do this.

Wake up, the evil global corporation is you.  It’s your money out there.

Your fund managers are acting on your behalf.  What is their motivation?  The more successful their fund is the more money it attracts and the more commission they make.  In the world of cut throat financial competition the hard numbers are what talk.  Success is measured in financial return, not in how many ice-floes you prevented from melting this quarter.

Are you supplying the guns to child soldiers in Africa?  There is good money in weapon sales.  Perhaps you are funding the expansion of a large tobacco company into South East Asia.  The regulatory environment is not so strict there, so you can sell more product to the under 18’s. Maybe you are heavily invested in farming, and that’s OK isn’t it?  Perhaps you are growing soya beans, in Brazil, in cleared Rain Forest.  And those soya beans are fed to cattle in intensive feed lots, where the run off is polluting local rivers.  Maybe that beef led to an outbreak of eColi in the human population.

Truth is you haven’t a clue, have you?

Truth is, you don’t really want to know.  You kind of know that once you lift the lid on that particular can of worms it’s going to be ugly.  You want to take the empties to the bottle bank, pat yourself on the back, and call yourself a good citizen.

With one stroke of a pen, moving your fund into ethical investments, you can make a larger impact on the planet than a lifetime of visits to the bottle bank.

All those pension brochures show you the picture of the couple on the beach enjoying their retirement.  What they fail to show is the mountain of plastic waste on the beach.  If you want the clean beach you need to do something about it today.

Beach

 

How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.