Making a splash

Lots of fun today at a family gathering at the Lea Valley White Water Centre. We were celebrating my parents’ wedding anniversary. They enjoyed watching us from the bank!

I’m on the port side – at the back in this one, where we’re paddling backwards to control our approach to the rapid:

And a bit further forward (and partially obscured) here. We did several runs down the Olympic course.

Great fun!

What is Thinking?

From the lecture ‘Solitude and Leadership‘ by William Deresiewicz:

… Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word ‘lead’. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

A mute point…

The Amazon Echo devices have a microphone-muting button on top of them.

I’ve just realised the true value of this.

It’s so you can stop them getting confused when you’re watching YouTube videos of other people demonstrating their Amazon Echo devices…

Money-changing

I was delighted to see, this morning, that my local supermarket, Waitrose, has effectively abolished the transaction limit on Apple Pay & Android Pay. It’s now £10,000, and even with my fondness for some of their products, it’s hard to imagine hitting that limit even on Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. So today, I paid for our weekly shop with my Apple Watch.

In fact, I pay for most things with my watch, now, when I’m out and about. (I could also use my phone, but that would be like the old-fashioned systems where you had to take something out of your pocket to make a payment.) Since I only really buy clothes about once a year, and I buy almost everything else on Amazon, there are remarkably few occasions when I need to use a physical card any more. (Cash, of course, is long gone: coins are mostly something I keep in the car as a kind of parking-meter token.) I even have an electric car, so I don’t need to buy petrol.

The only places, therefore, where I still regularly used a card + PIN instead of the more modern electronic payment systems (which have hitherto been limited to £30) were when eating out, and when grocery shopping. The latter went away this morning.

If the pubs and restaurants of Great Britain get their act together soon, my wallet will soon be completely redundant, and I will be delighted.

Quote of the day

I like this one:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

This is most commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, but the credit for it should probably really go to William Bruce Cameron, a Professor of Sociology.

More info on its history here.

Tree-herd

Tilly and I were walking in the woods yesterday. We passed an Ent, who turned and watched as we went by.

Cargo cult

Just because we don’t have children, that shouldn’t stop us playing with toys, right? In fact, one of the benefits of our decision not to have children is that we arguably get to play with more toys. Yesterday, anyway, I tried one of these:

It’s an electrically-assisted cargo bike, which you could use for transporting the kids to and from school, if that’s your thing. But we were more interested in transporting groceries or spaniels around, while still avoiding parking & congestion issues, and making use of cycle paths and pedestrian bridges. The electric motor allows you to do so with no more effort than cycling a normal bike, regardless of hills, wind or weather.

It’s a splendid vehicle. Tilly was nervous at first, but seemed to enjoy sitting in it once we were zooming along a straight road at 15mph, with our ears flapping in the breeze, and we got lots of cheery comments from those we passed. Will have to come up with a good excuse to get one…

If you’re curious, it’s a Bakfiets Classic Short with Shimano Steps Electric Assist, model NN7STEPS, and it’s available, for example, from here. Not cheap in bicycle terms, but not bad when compared to a car, especially when you think of all the maintenance and tax savings…

Thinking about the future and not being sad

One of the things that has always intrigued me about Elon Musk is that he’s not really a great speaker.

Most people who are leading the types of operations he’s leading, having the impact he’s having, are very confident, eloquent orators. Elon, in contrast, has these wonderful world-changing ideas and yet bumbles on about them in the sort of way that, perhaps, you or I might do. I think that’s part of what makes him so attractive. He feels like, well, one of us, but with just a bit more confidence in his gut feelings. Oh, and a few more billion dollars, but that isn’t the thing you notice most.

That’s not to say that his words, stumbling though they sometimes are, don’t have real nuggets of gold in them. It’s well worth watching this TED talk where Chris Anderson asks about his various projects, though with too little time to go into any one in any depth, alas. It’s all intriguing stuff, but the best bit is at the end:

Chris Anderson:

Elon, it almost seems, listening to you and looking at the different things you’ve done, that you’ve got this unique double motivation on everything that I find so interesting. One is this desire to work for humanity’s long-term good. The other is the desire to do something exciting. And often it feels like you feel like you need the one to drive the other. With Tesla, you want to have sustainable energy, so you made these super sexy, exciting cars to do it. Solar energy, we need to get there, so we need to make these beautiful roofs. We haven’t even spoken about your newest thing, which we don’t have time to do, but you want to save humanity from bad AI, and so you’re going to create this really cool brain-machine interface to give us all infinite memory and telepathy and so forth. And on Mars, it feels like what you’re saying is, yeah, we need to save humanity and have a backup plan, but also we need to inspire humanity, and this is a way to inspire.

Elon Musk:

I think the value of beauty and inspiration is very much underrated, no question. But I want to be clear. I’m not trying to be anyone’s saviour. That is not the…

I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.

The Razor Returns

I’ve written before about Hanlon’s Razor — one of my favourite aphorisms — but I realise that it was 16 years ago, so perhaps I can be forgiven for returning to it!

It is quoted in various forms and attributed to various people, but the version I heard originally was:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Worth repeating to oneself on a regular basis, I find.

On the topic of quotations, though, a longer recent discussion about Hanlon’s Razor on the Farnam Street blog includes this rather nice one from the German general Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord:

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent – their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy – they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent – he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

Political Correctness

I’ve always said that I am politically challenged, and that anybody who expects me to be politically correct is therefore guilty of serious discrimination, at which I am likely to take offence. 🙂

The political correctness pendulum has clearly swung too far over the last few years, and is now an appropriate target for ridicule. John Cleese rather nicely explains why.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser