Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sense and Sensibility

Just wanted to point to another of Abigail Nussbaum's characteristically insightful reviews - this time of Jane Austen's first published novel.

More recent chick pix

I have some pictures of Clare on my mobile phone. One dates back to when she was 28 a couple of year or so after we were married. I was challenged to get some more up-to-date pix restricted to within the last year. Here's what I came up with.

A gritty shot from Stourhead

Heale Gardens

Another shot from Heale Gardens

The Pyrenees


Not "the prisoner" - early morning in St. Malo


@Bristol again

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mozart's Requiem at St Cuthbert's, Wells

Saturday evening we were at St. Cuthbert's, Wells to hear the Mozart Requiem and Poulenc's Quatre Motets pour un temps de Penitence, with the Beaumont Singers and Orchestra conducted by Peter Kingston. Here was the scene in the church just before the Mozart piece started.

There's something about a live performance which no listening to MP3 files can match. The Mozart Requiem is extraordinarily controversial by the way, as is described here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thoughts on 'Persuasion'

A wonderful review of Jane Austen's Persuasion here by Abigail Nussbaum.

Anne Elliot may be the smartest woman in the room but given her frankly stupid and parochial circle of family and acquaintances is she also the loneliest?

And Captain Wentworth may be a granite-jawed alpha male, capable of exquisite romantic tenderness as well as macho naval leadership. But is he really a match for Anne’s intellect and culture?

This is Abigail’s take on the novel and what it tells us about Miss Austen herself: read it.

Why relationships fail

In my part-time and wholly unpaid role of amateur psychotherapist, today I consider the question of why relationships fail. And does Myers-Briggs add anything to our understanding?

The more curious question is why relationships happen in the first place. We are surrounded by people, we meet lots of people, we know lots of people. Almost all of them are not significant others - we treat them as acquaintances or friends which, trust me, is not the same as being 'in a relationship' with them.

The visceral (note the word!) attraction which is at the root of lust, romance and long-term attachment is not directly analysed by Myers-Briggs theory which tends to focus on personalities when not in the grip of emotion. However, the bonding deriving from the human limbic system has to overcome those feelings of mutual irritation, mutual incomprehension; those clashes of ego and objective which divide any two human beings. It’s in analysing the likelihood of these that Myers-Briggs can lend a hand.

Studies suggest that people are most likely to be friendly with people of the same, or closely allied type as themselves. They are most likely to be in a significant relationship, however, with someone whose type differs perhaps in one feature. Relationships exhibit a complementarity which friendship doesn't.

There is further empirical data that Ns are compatible with Ns and Ss with Ss. Conceptual people spark off each other and concrete people share in the immediate. A mismatch here may create ongoing irritation - just one more thing to manage.

It's also been observed that SPs and SJs tend to partner up. It’s the creative tension between the organising and conformist SJ with the maverick and spontaneous SP which stop the relationship getting stuck into a conformist SJ rut or a centrifugal 'do your own thing' SP explosion. Similarly, NTs and NFs are a good match: the NTs are calm and strategic, the NFs bring warmth, empathy and people skills.

Still, life is a process of continual conflict. We were not born to agree with each other all the time. Conflicts between two people in a relationship will inevitably arise. What happens next is critical: if the relationship (the underlying attraction) is in good shape, both parties will work to damp the tension and work towards a compromise. Conversely, if the underlying attraction is too weak then differences go into positive feedback and relationship-breakdown occurs: screaming matches, sullen withdrawals, dislike and despair. Note that it takes two to bring negative feedback to bear on crises, but only one to blow things up.

So in summary, relationships are perennially unstable and always about to tumble. If mutual attraction is strong enough then both parties can and will damp the instabilities but if either party loses the magic it's only a matter of time before events will crash the relationship. If you want relationships to succeed, nurture those feelings.

Clare's comment on the above: "You over-analyse. I just want a relationship which works." My reply (accepting of course that she's right): "Over-analysing is what I do. When it's paid for it's called consultancy."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

War Addiction

Wells Film Centre was showing "The Hurt Locker" on Saturday night. This is the film about American bomb disposal troops in Bagdad which won best picture at the Oscars. The film centre has three screens and the middle-sized one where we saw the feature was completely packed.

This was a very good movie structured around bomb-team call-outs to incidents. It's gripping, gory and ghoulishly humourous by moments and definitely worth a look - the key to its message is in the first few frames of the film which carefully spell out the dictionary definition of the term "War Addiction".

On the home front we have a week of tiling to look forwards in the shower room and makeovers planned for the other two bathrooms. All the boxes are now emptied and the place is beginning to look like home. By Easter we should be there. Then the outside work has to begin (and don't mention the windows).

This afternoon we took a circular walk to the south-east of Wells, across The Park to Dulcote and back (pictured).

The author: pensive near Dulcote

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Probability of crashing a courtesy car

I have booked my Toyota Auris in for its 30,000 mile service on April 12th. And to have that irritating go-faster feature removed of course.

The garage offered me a courtesy car so I could continue on to work but there's a catch. If I have an accident I have to pay £1,000 excess. But on payment of £10 for an insurance deal the excess would be reduced to only £100.

What can be deduced from this about the probability - in the garage's opinion - that I will have a crash?

Let the crash probability be p. We assume the garage is indifferent as to which option I take (this would be their rational position) so I would end up paying the same to cover repair costs in either case. This is then a problem in expected values. So

1000p = 10 + 100p

recalling that I have to pay them £10 regardless in the second case.

So clearly p = 1/90.

This seems a high probability of crashing. Driving 270 days a year at this probability I would expect to have three crashes a year (I don't). But of course, I don't drive an unfamiliar courtesy car every one of those 270 days.

I believe the chances of my crashing their courtesy car are considerably less than 1.1% but would I pay £10 to avoid a very remote risk of paying an additional £900?

I'll have to think about it!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fine feathers

I wore my new suit (pictured) into work today. My project manager, Fleur, complimented me by noting that unlike my other suits this one actually fitted. Judge for yourself.

In fact I am so incompetent on matters sartorial that I was wandering around the office this morning with the maker's patch still attached to the sleeve (you can see it on my right arm if you look carefully) and the pockets still sewn up - I was quite oblivious until I happened to notice at which point I tried to hide it with some papers I was carrying.

I'm just looking at the Wells Film Centre to see if there's anything worth seeing this Saturday evening. I think Colin Firth in "A Single Man" might work.

The following Saturday March 27th there is an event at St. Cuthbert Wells which Clare mentioned this evening:

"Mozart Requiem, and Poulenc's 'Quatre Motets pour un temps de Penitence', with The Beaumont Singers and Orchestra, conducted by Peter Kingston. Tickets are £10.00 from Wells Music Shop (01749 679888) or on the door."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Letter from Wells

Another day and more progress. The kitchen works! The washing machine is doing that sudsy rotary thing, the fridge is gently purring away, the tumble-dryer is waiting to to become eponymous. Only our fancy induction cooker is awaiting a close study of the instructions by Clare.

Next step the bathrooms and getting the downstairs radiators to work.

Goodbye M820

So here's the letter I wrote to my tutor.

Unfortunately circumstances have conspired to make it very difficult to progress M820. I am now working on contract away from home until the end of September. As a consequence of long days I'm under severe time pressure in the evenings and I'm reluctant to allocate the required hours to OU work at weekends due to family commitments. Will there be an issue do you think in re-applying in future?

In fact I formally withdrew via the OU call centre. The very sympathetic woman who dealt with my case advised that I'd get a refund-voucher of around £200 which I could use to purchase a course when I actually did have time. So looks like the Calculus of Variations is just deferred.

On the one hand I'm immensely disappointed to have to give it a miss; on the other hand M820 does demand total immersion in the text - something which my current workload and working away from home absolutely does not permit.

What really irritates me is that it's déjà vu all over again. When I first enrolled in the OU's MSc programme in the 1980s I almost immediately had to let it go due to the demands on my time: full-time job at STL, work on my Ph.D plus family responsibilities. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Walk to Wookey

Saturday afternoon while the men were still working on our kitchen we took the West Mendip Way (which runs past our house) up into the Mendips. After a mile or so we reached the top and nestling in the next valley found Wookey Hole (pictured below).

Wookey Hole

The locals apparently call it "Wookey": being originals, we debated whether in our circle we should informally call it "Hole" ('shall we take a stroll to Hole today?').

Glastonbury Tor from seven miles away

Turning the camera in the other direction we could just make out Glastonbury Tor at the limit of the camera-phone resolution.

Our evening meal was at The Riverside, an Indian restaurant on the Glastonbury Road. The atmosphere was excellent, the place buzzing and the service fast and friendly. We felt the food didn't totally live up to these high standards though it was tasty enough. Too much reading of A. A. Gill has made restaurant critics of us all.

After much box-unpacking today, Alex and myself returned to Reading from where I write these words. Clare and the cat remain for another week project-managing our very own grand design. The cat, I should add, is absolutely lovin' it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

First vole hunt

Alex and myself drove down to Wells yesterday evening with the cat in the boot. "A long and whiny road" we observed based on the sounds of distress from the cat box. We arrived around 10 pm to be greeted by Clare into the one livable room at present, our bedroom. (Alex was dispatched to the semi-livable second bedroom for the night).

The cat roamed around his new home all night and escaped to the garden this morning. He was intoxicated by his first breath of the outdoors for months and immediately got down to hunting (pictured).

Out and about already

As I write this the workmen are drilling, cutting and sawing in the kitchen downstairs. I estimate by Tuesday the kitchen will work and the white goods currently occupying the living room will be plugged and plumbed in. Then the unpacking can start.

This will turn into the kitchen

White goods in the living room

Wells is a delight in the early spring sunshine - we breakfasted in an Italian coffee shop off the market square.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Myers-Briggs free online test

People have asked me: is there a test I can take online to find out my Myers-Briggs type?

Here is a popular test (72 questions) and here's another (48 questions).

I took the former test and came out an INTJ (actually I'm a little more P than J). I then took the second test which scored me correctly as INTP and got the strengths of each "letter" broadly right too. So I'd recommend to take both tests but maybe the second works better.

See also the general resource survey site here.

The limits of parallelism

I think it was Gene Amdahl who observed that no matter how much parallelism you throw at a problem, the inevitable sequential bits will always limit how fast your program will run.

Clare has discovered the universal truth of this observation today in Wells. The electrician has to finish his new wiring before the plasterer can hide it all in the wall before the plumber can install the sink and washing machine and ... so it goes on. We're apparently at step 1.5 but at least the water has been turned on for the evening. Cooking however will not be possible this coming weekend.

Alex and myself will visit tomorrow (Friday) for a weekend of fixing and unpacking - a cold season version of camping at Glastonbury. We'll do a lot of eating out and sharing (sequentially) the one functioning bathroom.

The cat is looking forwards to it wonderfully, I have never seen him so skittish.

In the spirit of Imelda Marcos I celebrated events this evening by buying two more pairs of shoes: one for business casual (next week at work) and a posher pair of black shoes to go with the new suit (maybe the week after).

All you folk out there who are enjoying the labour pains around our new dwelling - shame on you!

Don't you know that Schadenfreude is so last season?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


So what a day today!

I get a call from the removals men, parked outside our new home in Wells. It's 10.30 a.m. and they've been there since 9 a.m. The house is locked up, is anyone planning to open up and let them in?

Karen from Pickfords, our 'move coordinator' had assured us that they would be arriving late morning. On that basis Clare had planned to drive down from Bristol to arrive shortly before 11 a.m. Worse was to follow.

Turns out the builder had not, as he had promised, installed the kitchen. The washing machine, dryer, fridge-freezer and cooker were still where they had been delivered, parked in the living room. And the water in the house was turned off with no clear indication as to whether any pipes had been left uncapped.

Naturally the builder was not answering his phone.

I learned about this latter development after lunch and a flurry of phone calls to unanswered builder phones followed. Finally at 2 p.m. the builder got back into radio reception, called me and was redirected to talk to Clare. However, he maddeningly refused to make the call and then stopped answering his phone again. Finally, after messages were left with him asking him to drop our key through the letterbox and walk away he called Clare and we learned he'd had problems with his plumber.

He is now on notice to gather his resources (plumber, electrician) and finish the kitchen by the end of the week. If he can't guarantee that by this evening we shall place the work with someone else.

Meanwhile Clare, rather than spending her first night in Wells is on her way back to Reading. The cat will be delighted.

Update 7 p.m: Clare has let the builder go and we have engaged another one. He's due to turn up first thing Thursday morning to do the kitchen so here's hoping.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Alice in 3D

It was Clare's last night as a resident of Reading so Alex and myself decided to celebrate by taking her to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D.

Think Avatar without James Cameron's passion. The effects are great and the time passes quite pleasantly although there were two occasions when my belief unsuspended and I found myself checking the watch. The best character is the Red Queen played by Helena Bonham-Carter in a simulation of Miranda Richardson's Queenie in Blackadder (see below, what do you think?).

Aferwards we had Pizza and Italian beer in a very quiet Reading town centre.

As I came home from work this evening the cat, abandoned since Clare left for Bristol at 1 p.m. today, did his usual black fuzzy explosion of shrieking delight that he had company again. He shows his pleasure by nipping although to be fair it could be hunger.

Tomorrow while I'm writing design documents in Bracknell Clare will be showing the men where to put stuff, supervising reassembly and starting to open upwards of forty boxes ...

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Dangerous Women

Consider someone who has just started Internet dating. He’s been bombarded with advice: listen, don't talk at them; keep it light. Who could disagree? But an ENTP new to dating has to be careful and not just on account of his own performance - there are emotionally dangerous women out there!

The Ice Queen

It’s quite rare to meet an NT woman: most women are varying degrees of F. But sometimes you meet an extraordinarily attractive woman who’s an NT . How exhilarating is that? She’s smart, interested in ideas, intellectually honest, calm and organised. Yet somehow there’s a missing spark. How does she feel about you? It’s all rather ... dispassionate. And so somehow the magic never gels and two ships pass in the night.

The Femme Fatale

Women who are ENFPs are another rare species: I’ve met only a few in my life, most specifically two of my girlfriends back in the early seventies. For the NT male she sparkles, flirts, scintillates. She dazzles you with attention delighting in the mutual interplay of ideas. Her warmth makes you feel special, she understands you completely, reads your mind - she is your soul-mate.

Except that she’s maddeningly fickle – just when you think you’re communing she’s noticed someone over your shoulder and the beam flickers away. You wait and wait, hoping it will come back: sometimes it does but only till the next time.

The femme fatale delights and perplexes the ‘S’ individual but her true threat is to the NT who is hooked by her torrent of ideas. Drawn in and spun around, transfixed by her apparent delight in him, flattered by her teasing as he fails to keep up as she skips from topic to topic, he’s too late in understanding that the femme fatale has limited interest in any one man – being the focus of all men’s attention is so much more exciting!

My former ENFP girlfriends were joyfully willful, impossible to cage. They unwittingly pulverised me with longing and jealousy and moved on.

What works?

So here we have the Goldilocks’ conundrum: the ice queens are too cold and the femmes fatales are too hot. Is there some type of partner out there who’s just right?

The most emotionally-giving types are the SF(J)s: their emotional warmth directly projects to their partner and is not refracted through abstract causes or moral principles. But of course they’re ‘S’.

The less extraverted NFs (INFP, INFJ) are not as emotionally demonstrative as their ‘S’ sisters but are nevertheless more focused on individual relationships than the dangerous women above. So I would say to my ENTP colleague: look to these if you’re after a strong, enduring relationship.

I think he's tired of all this advice.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Moving in on Tuesday

Having camped for so long in Alex's flat in Reading, it's a shock to realise that our furniture is now ready to leave storage on Tuesday. Clare will be on hand to welcome it to Wells and from here on that will be our residence. I will remain during the week in Reading while my current work-contract is in force.

The cat which is going stir-crazy here should be delighted - at last a chance to explore the Mendips, meet other living things and kill them.

We have been living out of our respective suitcases ever since December. As I will soon have access to my clothes again I am preparing to migrate to business casual. This morning acompanied by my style guru Clare we visited Marks & Spencer to get my Spring Collection together: a new suit (long overdue) and a set of new biz-casual shirts.

Alice in Wonderland in 3D was completely booked for tonight so we're going tomorrow night instead.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Of lead pipes and stopcocks

Here's a picture I unearthed from 2002 when Clare was gardening at our American home in Fairfax, Virginia. Something to do with Rhubarb I recall - it does not look a particularly pleasant experience.

I got a call today from our builder as I was toiling over a hot laptop. He couldn't do the bathroom in our house in Wells because the internal stopcock was defective. They couldn't fix that because the outside main stopcock was buried in earth and they couldn't get through. I would have to call Bristol Water and get a man out.

The perils of buying a house which has seen no maintenance for four decades! Turns out there's a five day window for Bristol Water to attend so nothing can be done until they show up and allow us to turn off the water. And, the builder explained, the plumber found that the entry pipes were lead. Yes, move into our house in Wells and every cup of tea will lower your IQ. I don't think Clare's participation in the Wells U3A is consistent with such an early slide into dementia and God knows what it will do for the fortunes of Interweave Consulting.

Something will have to be done.