Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes

Michael Jennings said this, five years ago. I believe he now has a new job.

Thoughts concerning To-Do lists

I have an ongoing To-Do list, consisting of a list of thoughts, in no particular order, just as they come to me, of subjects for postings that I might do here. One of the things that ought to be on my basic To-Do list, the one concerning my entire life, is: Regularly consult my Blog To-Do list. Because, it has been some while since I last did this.

But, this morning, wondering what to put here today to get things started, I did consult my Blog To-Do list (“2write4BMNB.doc”). I was curious to see (a), how many items were on the list, and (b), how many of these suggested postings I had actually done. I did not know the answer to (a), how many items there were on the list, but I was pretty confident that the answer to (b), how many of these posting I had actually done, would be zero. Because it so often is zero, when you come across a To-Do list of any sort, I find.

I’m not sure why this is, for me I mean, but I have a guess to offer. I don’t think it’s only that I am sorely lacking in willpower, although that is definitely part of it. There’s also the fact that To-Do lists don’t really contain the things that you really want to do, because if you had really wanted to do this or that, you would simply have done it, rather than put it on a mere list of things to do. I surmise, as many have before me, me included (but don’t now recall when or where), that the real purpose of To-Do lists is to decrease somewhat the chances of totally forgetting an idea about what to do that you actually don’t now want to do, but which you might later actually want to do, if only you could then remember it. To-Do lists keep alive memories of things that might one day be good to do. To-Do lists alleviate anxiety, about “forgetting” (see above) things To-Do.

The human mind is a big place. A mansion rather than a mere room, again as many have already said before me. It contains many facts and memories, hopes and fears, and it contains in particular many notions about things that you might one day want to do. You “forget” many of these. But, when reminded of this or that item you once were thinking about doing, you immediately “remember” whatever it was, and give it further thought. Maybe, then, you do it. And all because once upon a time you put it on a To-Do list.

Anyway, like I said several paragraphs ago, today I did consult my most recent Blog To-Do list. And here was the score. There were (a) ten items on the list. My recollection was that there were somewhat more than that. But no: Ten. But get this. How many of these ten had I done? The answer was an amazing, mind-boggling, in fact downright triumphant: Two. Two!!!! That’s twenty percent. I have actually done two of these postings! This is an astounding score, and I am hugely impressed by it.

For the record, the two postings in question were entitled: A national tree contrast and Two cats and a squirrel above the China Works Tower front door.

Remarkable. Truly remarkable. Hence, today, remarked upon.

When the only choice is between different risks

Alice Smith:

The opposite of risk isn’t safety.

The opposite of risk is another type of risk.

I don’t think “opposite” is quite the right word here. The truth is more that sometimes there’s a choice between risk and possible reward on the one hand, and not risk and not reward. However, there is often, as now, a choice between risks, as above. The reward of taking the right risk is that you get to avoid an even bigger disaster, and maybe also get rewarded, but maybe no disaster or not such bad disaster is your only reward.

(Think 1940. For Britain then, there was no safe or painless alternative. Both alternatives, war or surrender, were horrifying.)

But I know exactly what Alice Smith means. People often speak about health risks as if skill in avoiding a list of only the more obvious ones will confer immortality.

To talk, during a crisis, such as the one now winding down, as if the choice is between big risk and no risk is, as Alice Smith is surely saying, foolishness. If that was the choice, there would be no crisis. The definition of crisis is that there are no risk-free alternatives. Whatever gets done will have been a big risk.

I now favour the risk of ending Lockdown. But, it is a risk. I just think that keeping it going is a bigger risk.

To put it in Twitter speak, the argument is not about whether to kill your granny, but how.

Tattoos should actually make you more employable …


Tattoos should actually make you more employable because it shows you can sit in place for hours while tiny needles are jammed into your skin and that’s what every corporate meeting I’ve ever been in has felt like.

I’ve long believed that the horrors of capitalism of our time are not physical – long hours, dirty and dangerous work places, etc. Rather are these horrors now mostly mental tortures – in the form of corporate team-building, training courses, the grating euphemisms and the preposterously grandiose language used to describe doing the job, and the like. And … meetings.

Adams versus Kaepernick

I enjoyed this Twitterxchange, here.

Colin Kaepernick:

Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.

Scott Adams:

I’m pro-Kaepernick (for his effective protest on a real issue) but this is the worst life advice you will ever see. Develop a talent stack instead.

One of the classic career counselling clashes, the one between meaning and process. There is a distinct whiff of Jordan Peterson in what Kaepernick says, or is said by Nike to be saying.

I’m sort of in between on this one. I’d say: believe in something and develop a talent stack that achieves it, or failing that, something else worth achieving. And I’d add that we all end up sacrificing everything in the end, or at least losing it. We all must die of something. Let it be of something meaningful or at least having attempted something meaningful.

I’m now catching up with Scott Adams, and in particular, am viewing this. I like how Adams’s videos to camera begin with a piece of “simultaneous sip” nonsense, because this means that you don’t have to go back to the beginning when you crank one of them up.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

McDonald’s in the sky

Nice Twitter exchange about how Ryanair provides a leg-up for young airline pilots.

Tom Chivers:

Saw the pilot of the Ryanair flight I’m on and honestly if I worked in a bar I would have IDed him

My friend and followee Michael Jennings replies:

Ryanair is a good place for a young pilot. They fly lots of hours and get promoted to captain fast. Then, with this on their CV, they go somewhere else where the working conditions are nicer.

Tom Chivers:

I remember reading that other airlines love Ryanair for exactly that reason. Steady supply of good trained pilots who are grateful not to work for Ryanair any more.

So, Ryanair is, from the employment, first-rung-on-the-ladder point of view, … well, see above.

I still miss Transport Blog.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Tim Harford at Think 2018

Here. Video, lasting just over twenty minutes. Just watched it. Good.

Particularly interested by what he says about how, without cheap paper, the revolutionary changes ushered in by the printing press could not have happened. Mass produced printed material printed on animal skins not economically doable.

Harford ends on what he thinks is a depressing note, about a woman who supplies the final bit of muscle to a huge warehouse system, by receiving verbal orders from an all-powerful robot, which she simply obeys, second by second. Go here, get this, this number, take it here, …

Well, it’s a job.

Personally, I think that having to think all the time about your work, when you are at work, is hugely overrated. Whenever I have had a “job”, I liked it when my job was my job, but my thoughts were my own. Best job? Driving a van, delivering number plates. Drove on autopilot most of the time. Thought my own thoughts. Didn’t “buy into the company vision”. Not “committed”. Wasn’t “invested” in the work. Just did it, mostly without having to think about it. Bliss.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A twentieth century bank robber gets a nagging from the cashier he is robbing

I still get cheques through the post, and then I insert these cheques into my bank account by going physically to my local physical branch of my unlocal bank and by handing the cheques over to a cashier. My bank, however, doesn’t like this. Just like Tesco, they want me to do the work. In Tesco’s case they now demand that I become my own check-out person and operate their computers for them. So, it’s Sainsbury’s and Waitrose for me, from now on. Bye bye Tesco. In the bank’s case, they want me to do their work for them while I sit at home. But, I like the exercise. In the huge bank queue, I get to read a book concentratedly, because there is nothing else to do. Good.

All of which is a preamble to the fact that when I came across this, I LedOL:

“Are you aware that you can now do all of this online?”

Genius. K. J. Lamb, well done.

One of the many techniques they use to put you off actually going to the physical local branch of your Big Bank is to keep changing the people behind the bars. And these total strangers are constantly, and insultingly, asking you to prove that you are who you are. Well, madam, I’ve been banking with your bank for the last half century. Who the hell are you? Please could you give me proof that you actually do work here?

Someone should make a movie about a twenty first century bank robbery, where the robbers, who are disgruntled ex-employees of the Big Bank that owns the bank branch they bust into, bust into the bank branch, overpower the witless bunch of newbies who happen to be running the place that day, and park them all in a back room for the day with tape over their months, and then the robbers run the bank all day long, while one of their number hacks into the mainframe computer of the Big Bank that owns everything, and sucks all the money out of it. The point is: none of the customers who visit the branch while all this is happening would find it in the slightest bit odd to be confronted by a bunch of total strangers. That would ring no alarm bells at all, because this happens all the time.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Michael Fabiano does a Master Class at the Royal College

Yesterday afternoon GodDaughter2 arranged for me to be in the audience (which was mostly singing students like her) of a master class presided over by American operatic tenor Michael Fabiano, a totally new name to me. He should not have been. My bad, as he would say. Very impressive. Very impressive.

This event was the most recent one of these. But they scrub all mention from there of the past, however immediate, so no mention there of Fabiano, which there had been until yesterday.

Here are a few recollections I banged into my computer last night before going to bed. Not tidied up much. I just didn’t want to forget it.

Sing, every note, all the time – switch off singing and then when you need to switch on again, you won’t be able to do it.

Singing is not just done with two little things in your throat. Sing with your whole body, from head to toe. Including your balls. (The student singers he was teaching were all guys, two baritones, two tenors.) I hope you don’t mind me saying such things. (Nobody did.)

You must sing to the people way up in the roof. They must hear every note you sing. Not just the people in the first five rows.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath – I’m a great fan of breathing when you need to breath – no seriously

First note is critical. Final note is critical. You can screw up in between. But first note bad can mean they’ll hear nothing further. Final note good, and that’s what they’ll remember.

Stay firmly planted on the floor. Stand how you stand in the tube, when you have nothing to hold on to. Don’t rise off the floor on your toes when it gets difficult.

Stay relaxed by going to your “happy place” in your mind.

In auditions, don’t be bound by rules that box you in. Break those rules, do whatever you have to do to do what you do. Applies to all artists.

Piano accompanists: play louder, like an orchestra. Louder. Twice as loud as that. (He spent a lot of time conducting the pianists.)

Go for it. (Said that a lot.) Be free. Fly like a bird. Never relax your wings (keep singing) or you fall to the ground.

In my opinion … this is my opinion …

Make progress as a young singer by finding one or two people whose judgement you trust. Follow their advice and work hour after hour, day after day, with them. A hundred people advising is confusion. One or two is what a young person needs.

How to make the transition from student to real singer? With difficulty. I began by doing 22 auditions all over Europe. First 21, I followed the rules, stood in the spot marked X: nothing, failure. 22nd audition: disaster. Fell over at the start, literally. But laughed at myself. Good middle notes, they knew I had a cold, but also a good personality. Got work. They trusted me to do better.

Mentor? Renee Fleming was one. Sang next to her on stage. Her voice ridiculously small, on stage. But, my agent way up at the back heard everything, and wept. I then sat way up there myself and listened to Fleming sing equally quietly, heard everything and was equally moved

Sing oh well and sing ee well, and you’ll sing ah well. (Think that was it.) …

And probably lots more that I missed. But, I now find, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube. However, the length-to-content ratio of watching something like this on YouTube is such that you, if you have got this far in this posting, are much more likely to make do with reading what I just put. So let’s hope I didn’t get anything too wrong. Plus: more mentions of this event, with video bits, at the RCM Twitter feed. Fabiano also tweets, of course. More reaction to yesterday there.

There were four student singers on show, first two being baritones, and in the second half, two tenors. The most extraordinary moments of this event came in the second half, when the two tenors took it in turns to sing things that Fabiano has presumably sung for real, as it were. And occasionally, to illustrate a point he was making, Fabiano would sing a snatch of the thing himself.

At which point, as the young people say these day: OMG. His sound was about four times bigger than what the students were doing. (The first of these moments got Fabiano a loud round of applause.) Fabiano’s talk, about filling the entire 2,500 people place, was a hell of a lot more than talk. He does this, every time he sings in such a place. The message was loud and the message was clear. That’s what you guys must aim for. That’s what it sounds like.

The good news is that the first tenor in particular (Thomas Erlank), was taking audible steps towards being an opera star, after only a few minutes of badgering from Fabiano. I think you’re great, said Fabiano, which is why I’m being so hard on you. Fabiano didn’t say those exact words to any of the others, so that will definitely have counted for something, in Erlank’s mind. You could see him getting bigger, as Fabiano both talked him up and hacked away at his mistakes.

Of the others, the one who particularly impressed me was the second baritone (Kieran Rayner), who looked and behaved like a trainee accountant, but who sang like a trainee god. By the time Fabiano had been at him for a bit, he started to get a bit more like an actual god. The sheer sound of Rayner’s voice was beautiful from the start, I thought. As did Fabiano.

Fabiano made a big deal of vibrato, which he seemed almost to equate with singing. But vibrato is, for me, a huge barrier. Rayner did do enough of it to satisfy Fabiano, but not nearly enough to put me off. I mention this because I believe that I am not the only one who feels this way. Too much wobble, and it just sounds like wobble and nothing else. Singers who overdo the wobble never break past that oh-god-it’s-bloody-opera barrier. But not enough vibrato, and they don’t get to fill those 2,500 seat opera houses. And even if they do, no OMG, Fabiano style.

Final point, by way of summary. When each singer did his performance, Fabiano made a point of going to the back of the hall, to hear how it sounded there. Fabiano made no bones about it that what concerned him was not how you or he felt about it while doing it, or how Renee Fleming sounded to him when he was standing on the stage right next to her. What matters is the effect it has on the audience, all of the audience, including and especially the audience in the cheaper seats. Are they getting what they came for and they paid for?

Deepest thanks to GD2 for enabling me to witness all this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The publicness of private life

I seem to recall posting something here, once upon a time, about the foolishness of trying to look like a goody goody on the internet. Yes. Well Ryan Healy (guesting at the Brazen Careerist) seems to agree:

The more young people enter the workforce the less risk there is that someone will Google them to look for bad behavior. Human resources leaders don’t have the time to sleuth. But also, there just aren’t enough perfect little angels in the world to go around.

Plus, are wise employers actually looking for perfect little angels anyway, even if there was a glut of them? For most purposes, wouldn’t human beings be preferable?

Now that “private” lives are starting to become as public as working lives, the pretence of “private” hundred-per-cent decorum is going to have to be abandoned.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog