Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter twilight

Last year, Dorset was hit with a series of storms, but this season has been more placid all along the coast.

‘January closed, lots of good things finished.  I took a diversion on the way to the store, looking for light and contrasts in the winter twilight-around Sandbanks. 

DSC01041 (1300x515)DSC01045 (1300x954) DSC01035 (1300x966)DSC01052 (1300x975) DSC01049 (1300x1119) DSC01063 (1300x969) DSC01065 (1300x973)DSC01055 Stitch (1300x408)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

By the numbers

DSC01073 (1300x952)It’s a working week from the road, ranging from Braintree to Poole, London to Reading.  I need to moderate work and travel,  getting back into healthier habits by February.  So I’m making an effort to stay off email before 9, on the bike after 5, and to cook regular meals in the evenings.  I’m reading again, catching up with articles pushed into Pocket during my travels and popping Baldacci spy novels downloaded from the library at bedtime.

‘Among the interesting bits bobbing up so far:

hiitHIIT Training:  The New York Times has been advocating High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), periods of extremely intense activity alternated with brief periods of recovery.   The workout is supposed to promote strength and endurance – I would hope to be able to use it as a travel-friendly routine that accelerates my (re)conditioning

I’ve adapted it midway into my hour’s biking as 30 seconds on / 1 minute off, repeated ten time.  It boosts my heart rate towards 160 and the calories expended by 20% during a 50% increase (60 –> 90 rpm) in effort.  I wish that the bike could show how progressive and sustained the bursts are: I can only gauge that it’s difficult to maintain the intensity by the seventh rep.

And no, that’s not me (yet) in the graphic.

Friends and NeighborsKeeping FriendsGerald Mollenhorst, a social psychologist in Utrecht, reported five years ago that while the size of people’s social networks are remaining constant, the composition of their close relationships are changing more quickly. On average, half of a person’s close friends would likely be replaced by new ones within seven years, mostly driven by a lack of meeting opportunities.

In particularly Dutch context, Mollenhorst also looked at implications for neighborhoods, finding that “locale has not lost relevance to its residents”.  Neighbor networks have changed, becoming more superficial, contacts more about holding a ladder than discussing important personal matters.  But for the Dutch elderly, non-movers and home-owners, neighbors are more, not less, important parts of their voluntary personal networks.

The flip side would be that tumbleweeds and expats would tend to become more isolated by their lifestyles.  So, as practical advice, here are pointers for Dutch friendships.

New Habits

Forming habits: Conventional wisdom holds that actions repeated for 21 days become habitual.  That’s actually a distortion, derived from 1950’s research that surgical patients accepted their new self-image within three weeks.  A recent study suggests that new habits actually set over 84 days, with lots of individual variation averaging to 66 days.  Happily, an occasional lapse in maintaining a new habit didn’t affect its consolidation.

Business self-help writers are breaking this into a series of tasks and milestones.  I find that it’s more just simple practice: do it regularly until it becomes second nature, then celebrate with a good shared reward when its taken hold.

Optimal stopFinding perfection:  Many activities in life involve searching, for a best product, solution, maybe a partner.  How much must you search, and how do you know when to stop?  The BBC asked mathematician Matt Parker for a suggestion, and he advanced one from probability: the Optimal Stopping Problem.

Suppose that you figured that you could get to know 100 potential partners and wanted to decide when to stop and have a long-term relationship with a likely ‘best’ one.  (Note: this is his example, not mine). 

Start with a sample of the whole (n) people, sqrt(n), therefore consisting of 10 of the 100.  Date them, and rank them so that you know who was best in that group.  The optimal strategy would then be to continue meeting people until the first one came along who was better than that, then stop.

There are other strategies that might be tried, and there was a lively discussion on Radio 4 about whether there could be any general mathematical rules governing human relationships. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Three virtues

DSC01025 (975x1300)My orchid is budding this morning.

It likely doesn’t seem like a big thing, but for a ‘brown thumb’ gardener its nice when a plant responds to my clumsy TLC.  My absences, the winter cold, the radiator’s heat have all stressed the flock, but the chili has new pods, the violet is in bloom, and the vine is stretching.  The back yard herbs are recovering from the January freeze.

I set to tending and trimming, sipping coffee while reflecting, ever busy in my mind.

1- When I checked on you, I found that you have a lot of loyalty to the business and to its people.  They frowned as though that was a problem to be solved.  I held my tongue.

When I believe in an idea, a person, a course of action, then I am long-term loyal to it.  I care about circumstances and work for good outcomes, giving kindness and compassion and expecting it in return. If things go off track, I have believe in talking things through and in giving second chances.

Should we be loyal?  To what, for how long: must it be reciprocal or mutually beneficial?  The concept seems frayed.  Certainly loyalty based on mutual interest in business or nation has faded, and people are too often careless with honesty and selfish in action. 

But I still believe in personal loyalty, often to a fault.  It’s difficult for me to recognize when loyalty reaches its limits, and to understand when I need to become more dispassionate.  When I must, I still suffer remorse and regret that I didn’t do more, differently.

Maybe the investor is right, and I need to let go of some people and products.  But loyalty still matters to me: still doing the right things in times of hard change.

2- Good intentions aren’t just enough, they are everything.  This month, I feel that I will be judged by the outcomes that I achieve.  Motivation and effort are not enough: success is the only criteria.

The Shrink and Sage debated the issue, both concluding that it is better to judge ourselves by our goodness than by our accomplishments.  We should look to intentions, goals that have deep personal resonance and that bring out the best in us, rather than to the attainment of some intended end.

In this season of establishing resolutions, is it better to look to the successful completion of tasks, or to the nurturing of goodness?  Is it more important to strive for greater kindness and empathy, or to reconcile specific problems and shortcomings?

In the end, I know that my failures (should they come) may be mitigated by knowledge that my heart was in the right place, that I did what I could, and that I kept to the high road.  By holding to principles, to intentions, I avoid blaming myself for outcomes that circumstance may have dictated, or judging myself for failures that were simply beyond my capacity to fix.

3- My silence speaks volumes.  I shook my head: If a wrong is being committed, you have a duty to speak up.  Bearing silent witness sends no message; you are simply complicit.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Ellie Wiesel said I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

I am sensitive to the danger of being too aggressive and long-winded in speech, of taking umbrage or venting irritation, of being misinformed or defensive.  An appropriate period of silence can prevent me from making mistakes or helps to soften a response.  A knowing silence can reinforce authority; a reflective one denotes respect.

But silence alone cannot right a wrong: there is no kracht van de stilte.  As King observed,  In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.