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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Official Executioner

Rillington

Albert Pierrepoint born on this day in 1905.  His father and his uncle were executioners, part time hangmen.  As a child Albert wrote in a school exercise “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner”.  He achieved his goal.

He began his career as executioner in Dublin.  He was assistant executioner to his uncle in the Hanging of Patrick McDermott in Mountjoy Gaol in 1932.

In the course of his career he hanged over 400 people.  His total was boosted by the war.  Pierrepoint carried out the executions of 200 war criminals in Germany between 1945 and 1950.

William Joyce (lord Haw Haw) the Irish born Nazi propagandist was one of his “customers”.  Pierrepoint also had the distinction to hang both the wrongly convicted  Timothy Evans and the rightly convicted serial killer John Christie for the murder of Evans wife in an illegal abortion.  The events were portrayed in the film “10 Rillington Place”

Pierrepoint also hanged the last man to be executed in Ireland, Michael Manning (1954) and the last woman to be hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis (1955).  He resigned in 1956.  The British Home Office asked him to reconsider as he was the “most efficient and swiftest executioner in British history”.

Despite working as a hangman for over 20 years Pierrepoint observed that hanging was not a deterrent.

And now some selected verses from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by prisoner C33, the pen name adopted by Oscar Wilde after his release from prison.

I

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

II

The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer’s collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

IV

There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God’s sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man’s face was white with fear,
And that man’s face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.

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.

 

Feng Shui

Mess

There is a Chinese proverb that says “To advance your career clean out your attic”.  It is not meant to be metaphorical like when we say “sharpen the saw” and really mean take a new course to upskill.  The Chinese literally mean “climb up there and clean out your attic”.  It is a principle of feng shui, the Chinese philosophy that life energy is tied to design.  The weight of possessions in your attic is pinning you down.

In Western societies we have the concept of spring cleaning, a way of shaking off the confinement of winter and breaking out into the new year.  It is with this in mind that we had a combination  cleanout day today.  The Christmas lights and decorations were all taken down and stored away for another year.  Then we started into a major document cleanout.  We tore through all our stored paper and cleared out anything out of date.  Bank statements, bills, contracts, receipts, manuals, guarantees, notifications.  Drawers and drawers of the stuff is now in the recycling bin.

Then I moved my home office from the rather cold landing down into the den/music room/ games room.  Here I am in the warmth with a fully functioning office.  The old site on the landing is now a comfy seating area.

It all feels great.  Good things are ready to happen now.  Just you see!